Hot hatches always used to follow a proven formula – take a small car not traditionally associated with performance and jam a bigger engine into it to bring that performance. But things changed over the years as engines got smaller and the cars got bigger, and now Toyota brings us a new hot hatch that both perfectly conforms to the traditional formula and completely breaks from it – the superb GR Yaris.
Okay, what are you going on about? Perfectly conforms to it AND completely breaks from it?
Here’s my reasoning – just stick with me here: the GR Yaris is, on the surface, a hot hatch made from the most Nana-ish of Nana cars – the Toyota Yaris.
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Okay, so the new one is brilliant, but there is still possibly nothing in the entire history of the motor car that has been less associated with performance and more with lawn bowls club parking lots than the Yaris (okay, there were a few pretty good warmish versions over the years, but they were tiny anomalies in the grand Yaris scheme of things…), and then Toyota jammed a frankly monstrous (for the segment) 200kW engine into it.
A small, usually-boring hatch with silly amounts of power? Yep, that’s a proper hot hatch.
Where Toyota shattered that mould is the fact that the GR Yaris is actually far more closely related to Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC car and really only shares its interior and a few things like headlights, door handles and the front bit of its platform with the standard Yaris. And a badge, of course.
The three-door body shell is only shared with Toyota’s WRC challenger (also called a Yaris) and it’s 1.6-litre version of Toyota’s excellent three-cylinder petrol engine is derived from the WRC car’s as well.
So it’s not really a Yaris then?
Well, it’s a Yaris if Toyota wants to call it a Yaris, much in the way Holden sold four totally different cars as the “Barina” over its life – the Suzuki Cultus, Opal Corsa, Daewoo Kalos and Chevrolet Sonic – or, in an opposite sense, the way Subaru currently insists the Impreza and XV are actually different cars…
But you know what? Literally none of that matters, because the GR Yaris is simply a thoroughly superb hot hatch that shows exactly what Toyota can do when it really gets serious about something.
Just how serious has Toyota got with the GR Yaris?
Very. If you started to doubt Toyota’s ability to make a proper sports car after it climbed into bed with BMW for the Supra (and we all did), then the GR Yaris effortlessly dispels all of those doubts.
In fact, it would probably be fair to say that the money Toyota saved developing the Supra with BMW is the only reason it could justify the GR Yaris, and we are very thankful for that…
The GR Yaris is, simply put, one of the most delightfully fun and seriously capable sporty cars on sale today. There, I said it.
There’s no real need to go into looks, because… well, just look at it – the aggressive, bulging WRC-exclusive three-door body is superbly aggressive and, when viewed from a rear three-quarter angle with those massively flared rear wheel arches on display (because the GR Yaris’ platform is part Yaris, part Corolla to get a wider rear track), it leaves you in no doubt of its rally origins.
Climb inside and you are… mildly disappointed. The GR Yaris shares the standard Yaris interior, which is no bad thing as it is a modern design with good quality materials, but apart from a few Gazoo Racing badges, there is little special going on in here.
But fire up the 200kW/370Nm three-cylinder turbo engine and all disappointment is flushed away with a grumpy, blaring roar that settles into a smooth, but nicely menacing idle. Yes, there is some enhanced amplification going on through the audio system speakers, but the sound is exactly what you hear on the outside, simply boosted so the driver can appreciate it too. Which, I kinda don’t mind, despite seriously disliking artificial engine sounds in modern cars.
But the real pleasure comes when you slot the slick shifting manual (yay!) l into first, bring the revs up and drop the nicely weighted clutch to launch the little Yaris into feral and furious forward momentum.
Toyota claims a 0 to 100 time of 5.2 seconds, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t being quite conservative with that (they traditionally are), as the GR Yaris feels quicker, providing you get the launch hooked up right.
The wonderfully insistent acceleration is accompanied by a fantastic three-cylinder bellow that is not entirely unlike the one the magnificent BMW i8 produced (it ran a 1.5-litre triple alongside its electric motors) and is utterly addictive.
Come to the first corner, however, and things go to another level again.
Wait, wait! Let me guess… it’s good?
Better than good, the GR Yaris drives exactly how we all hoped it would – a boisterous little belter the size of a Polo GTI only with WAY more attitude.
Even better, its purposely not as tightly-focused as the likes of the Civic Type R, nor is it tailored for the track (although it is great fun there too). Nope the GR Yaris very much has the attitude of a rally car and it really wants to have fun.
Unlike a lot of AWD performance cars, the GR’s mechanical grip isn’t absolute and can be adjusted by the driver through any stage of the corner – want utter precision through the whole comer? Yep, it’ll do that. Want a lairy, tail-happy exit to a corner? Why not? It’ll happily do that too.
And if you absolutely make a mess of it, it is stupidly easy to catch and correct, or simply defaults to a safe, predictable understeer state that very much feels like the car letting you know how disappointed it is in you…
Any other cars I should consider?
Taken purely on size, the Yaris sits alongside other thoroughly awesome hot hatches like the 147kW Ford Fiesta ST, the 147kW Volkswagen Polo GTI and the thoroughly mad 132kW Abarth 595 Competitzione, all of which start at $39,990. So not looking good for the GR then.
But consider it in terms of sheer power and performance, then the AWD 200kW GR Yaris actually takes the fight to the larger hot hatches such as the $59,990 206kW Ford Focus ST, the $56,990 169kW Volkswagen Golf GTi (a new one is imminent) and the $54,990 202kW Hyundai i30 N, all of which are only FWD.
So, yeah, the AWD 200kW $54,990 GR Yaris really is in a class of its own. And it is a superbly quick, delightfully controllable and, most importantly, massively fun class it is too.