In his book ‘Why We Drive’, Matthew Crawford discusses the deep connection we have to driving and how it connects us with the concept of freedom and independence. He looks at how autonomous cars are the exact opposite to this, they remove our ability to just get in the car and hit the open road, in control of a machine rather than handing control to it.
The GR Yaris epitomises Crawford’s view. It’s a car for the love of the drive, a car that we can choose to push to the limit or not, a car that we are in control of. You can even hear the mechanicals at work. It is the very definition of a driver’s car, a rally car for the road.
A big message in the instrument cluster asks you to “Avoid excessive acceleration due to temperature” but one’s it’s warmed up it’s time to unleash the devil within. Firstly there’s the grip, which seems almost infinite. Subaru Impreza STi owners will understand this level of adhesion, where it feels almost impossible for the car to break traction. The GR Yaris is like that, except with a specially developed all-wheel drive system that splits drive 60:40 to the front in normal mode, 50:50 in Track mode and 30:70 in Sport, it’s possible to have some oversteer fun. Plus it has a proper physical handbrake and while we obviously don’t condone handbrake turns on public roads, go find a private playground and you’ll definitely be apologising for being late home for tea. Also, if you spec the Circuit Pack which we had on test, you’ll get Torsen limited slip diffs.
The 257 bhp is channelled through a six-speed manual gearbox that is great to use. Like a Mazda MX-5, the whole car feels like it pivots around the gearstick, a perfectly balanced design that further emphasises that feeling of being in control. It’s an analogue feeling in a world of digital progression.
The three-cylinder turbo provides an intoxicating soundtrack while the power is always readily available, eager to leap from the traffic lights or give you plenty of revs to slingshot through the next corner. The steering is spot-on, providing ample feedback and the only thing missing is that little red line created by rally driver Rauno Aaltonen in the centred position.
You may think that this is the perfect point to point car, which it is, but while it’s on a dedicated platform that makes the most of the power and engineering, it also has the same everyday character that typifies a rival like the Golf GTi. My wife, who knows a thing or two about uncomfortable cars having raced a few, declared the GR to be surprisingly comfortable, so it’ll easily dispense with the miles on a longer journey.