We Review the Toyota GR Yaris

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The Car.co.uk verdict:

4.3

Rarely does a week go by without news of another race car for the road, another supercar, hypercar or car that you can’t even drive on a public road. They appeal to the select few, collectors in the Middle East with a massive storage facility where they drive them once a year, but for most of us they’re just a desktop wallpaper. 

Years ago a race car for the road was a little more down to earth. Think of the Cosworths, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale or the Lotus Carlton. Now those days are back and surprisingly the brand that has us really excited is Toyota. There’s a waiting list for the new homologation special GR Yaris, low mileage examples are already commanding a premium on the secondhand market and it’s being praised by just about everyone. And it’s a Toyota. Did we mention that already?

Naturally we grabbed one at the earliest opportunity to decide for ourselves if the hype is all justified. It is.

Pros

  • Brilliant driver’s car
  • Excellent build quality
  • An icon of the future

Cons

  • Expensive compared to main rivals
  • Lacks practicality of other Yaris models
  • Boot space is not great

At a glance

  • Looks
  • Practicality
  • Interior
  • Equipment and options
  • Engine and power
  • The drive
  • Safety
  • Reliability
  • Cost
  • Why buy

Looks

5 out of 5

It’s a Yaris but not as you know it. Just look at it, it looks like a proper little scamp, something that has loads of attitude but is compact in a way that hot hatches of the 80s and 90s were. It’s a pocket rocket, a feisty terrier, a road warrior, in fact it’s all the clichés. 

It starts with that deep, aggressive front bumper with its discreet GR badge. The bulging wheel arches hint at the 60 mm wider track front and rear and its 100 mm lower roofline gives a more dynamic look. It’s purposeful, athletic, poised, not adjectives we have ever really used about a Yaris before.

Practicality

3 out of 5

Practicality is where the Yaris bit really comes in. Yes it only has three doors instead of five and that slightly lower roofline means it can feel a little more claustrophobic in the rear seats, but amazingly the GR Yaris is fairly practical.

It’s compact making it easy to drive in traffic as well as to park in town where you also have things like a reversing camera to make parking a breeze. 

Interior

4 out of 5

The interior is comfortable with great space for those up front. The lower roofline could make things a little cramped for adults in the back and moving the front passenger seat to get in and out is a bit of a mission. The boot space is a bit rubbish, suitable more for the weekly shop than sticking a pushchair in and don’t even think you’ll get golf clubs in there, but this isn’t really a family car is it. 

Even so, we packed in the kids and headed out for a socially responsible picnic with friends. Clever packing got everything into the boot and the kids (5 and 7) were able to sit in their car seats without the thing every parent hates, feet pushing into their back.

Build quality is good with an acceptable mix of hard and soft plastics and there’s plenty of adjustment on the front seats. The infotainment system isn’t the greatest but it works well enough and frankly, is not what this car is about. All the controls are well placed with an easy to read trip computer and you have plenty of buttons on the steering wheel to access various things.

Equipment and options

4 out of 5

Standard equipment is good, which you’d expect in a car costing over thirty grand. Satellite navigation is a disappointing option which wasn’t on our test car, but you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can just use the nav on your phone through the 8-inch touchscreen. Not surprisingly you get sporty bits, like GR Ultrasuede sports seats, a three-spoke leather sports steering wheel, carbon fibre reinforced plastic roof and that athletic bodykit.

Other standard stuff includes LED adaptive headlights, electric windows and mirrors, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio. There’s also lots of safety kit which we detail elsewhere and plenty of cupholders because we all know they are almost as important as being able to stream your favourite tunes these days. 

The options lists isn’t long. You need to look at whether you want the Circuit Pack or not, which gives you front and rear Torsen limited-slip diffs, 10-spoke 18-inch BBS alloys and GR Circuit-tuned suspension. Then there’s a Convenience Pack which includes front and rear parking sensors and an 8-speaker JBL sound system.

Engine and power

5 out of 5

The numbers only tell part of the story, but for the number crunchers here you go. The 1.6 three-cylinder turbo produces 257 bhp at 6,500 rpm and torque of 360 Nm between 3,000 and 4,600. Toyota claims it’ll reach 62 mph in 5.5 seconds and go to a top speed of 143 mph. Driven carefully, very carefully, it should do around 34 mpg. 

You need to push the revs high to get maximum enjoyment from it but this is a driver’s car, so you would wouldn’t you. The engine will happily respond to your every request and the traction control is remarkably trusting, waking up only if it really has to and then going back to reading the paper. 

The drive

5 out of 5

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.

Safety

5 out of 5

Euro NCAP gave the regular Yaris a maximum five-star safety rating which applies to the GR too, in spite of it having a completely different body structure. It’s packed with safety systems, thanks mainly to the Toyota Safety Sense package which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Trace Assist, Lane Departure Alert, Pre-Collision System with Emergency Steering Assist, multitude of airbags and Isofix child seat anchors. It’s all very comforting in a small car surrounded by SUVs but it’s not all perfect. The Lane Trace Assist, essentially a lane keeping system is downright annoying, beeping constantly every time you get near the white line and occasionally pushing you back towards a cyclist when you give them a polite wide berth. It’s a common problem and you can turn the system off when it gets too neurotic. 

Reliability

4 out of 5

It’s a Toyota, so the chances are you won’t get better reliability. It’s always difficult to predict reliability in a new model, but we expect it to be good. Hot hatches can be driven hard so if you’re buying secondhand then you’ll have to be a little more cautious when you check the car out. Even so, it comes with a 5yr/100,000 mile mechanical warranty, a three-year paintwork warranty and a twelve-year anti-corrosion and perforation warranty. Plus if you’re buying new, you get 12 months AA roadside assistance, so you’re pretty much all covered.

Cost

3 out of 5

With a starting price of £30,020 the GR Yaris is definitely not cheap. In Yaris terms its downright expensive. It’s not only pricey compared to key rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTi, but it costs more than the larger Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane R.S and is not far off the price of the Volkswagen Golf GTi. But before you sigh and go and look at one of these, read our review of the drive again, because while the feisty Fiesta is much better value and offers superb performance and handling, the GR Yaris is deservedly in a league of its own.

Why buy

5 out of 5

Right, the GR Yaris is expensive, you’ll probably have to wait a while to get one, it doesn’t have rear passenger doors or satnav and it’s got an annoying lane keeping system. So you should buy a Fiesta or a Polo. Hell no, buy the Yaris. It’s the closest you can get to a rally car for the road without bolting in a roll cage and spending a fortune prepping your Vauxhall Corsa. Yes it has technology, but it’s also as old school as they come in terms of driver involvement and driving pleasure. You won’t find a car that’s as analogue, as involved, as grippy, as feisty and as downright fun to drive as the GR Yaris.