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Toyota Yaris GRMN 2019 review

By Glenn Butler, 06 Jul 2019 Car Reviews

2019 Toyota Yaris GRMN reviewed

It’s the hot hatch Australians cannot buy with big plans for our future

What is it?

The Toyota Yaris GRMN is a hot hatchback bubbling over with the frantic, unbridled energy of a bounding puppy dog. Its exuberance, dynamism and endearing charm make it hard to resist.

But it’s not coming to Australia.

That’s a good thing, because as invigorating as the Yaris GRMN is to drive, it’s a hot hatchback built to satisfy a demand that doesn’t really exist in Australia.

As a country, we like our sporty hatchbacks a little bigger – Corolla-sized – and more affordable than the Yaris GRMN’s potential mid-$50K price tag, and with automatic transmissions rather than the manual-only Yaris.

So why is WhichCar bothering to drive it and report on it? Because the Toyota Yaris GRMN gives us clues to what Toyota’s Gazoo Racing (GR) performance sub-brand (GR is to Toyota what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz and M is to BMW) could do to the extremely popular Toyota Corolla to create a rival for the Volkswagen Golf GTI and other larger hot hatches.

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One drive of the Yaris GRMN is enough to know that a Corolla hot hatch would be worth salivating over.

The Toyota Yaris hatchback on which this GRMN model is based is smaller than the Corolla, roughly the same size as a Mazda2 or Honda Jazz. There are three Yaris models in the Australian range – the Ascent, SX and ZR – and all are five-door hatchbacks with either a 1.3-litre or 1.5-litre petrol engine.

The Yaris GRMN is based on a three-door bodystyle Toyota doesn’t offer to Australians. It also has a bigger 1.8-litre petrol engine with a supercharger for considerably more performance. Additional body bracing and suspension tuned by Lotus makes it a sharper drive, and changes to the exhaust system to make it sound as fast as it goes.

This is a full-fruit sports hatchback, in case the lairy red, white and black bodywork and the rear wing don’t give it away. Bigger 17 inch wheels add to the visual flair, while internally the changes are mostly around the body-hugging sports front seats, leather armrests, aluminium pedals and Gazoo Racing logos.

The Yaris’s budget beginnings are still evident in the moulded plastics used on the dash and doors.

 

How much is the Toyota Yaris GRMN?

The Toyota Yaris GRMN – the MN stands for Masters of Nurburgring, which is a bit cheesy -- was launched in Europe in late 2017. Just 400 examples were produced so Toyota could test demand for a potential hot baby hatch.

Australia was not part of the plan, so unless you want to spend a chunk of your own cash to privately import one, you can’t have it.

The Toyota Yaris GRMN’s European price tag of €31,250 equates to a bit over $50,000 in Australia, which puts this little fighter up above bigger, angrier beasts like the Renault Megane RS, VW Golf GTI and Hyundai i30N – and the Yaris has no chance of matching their performance despite its enthusiasm and energy.

 

Who is it for?

Not Australia, because of the reasons outlined above (too small, too pricey). For this car to work Downunder, it needs two extra doors, more room inside, a more powerful engine, an automatic transmission and a price reduced by about 20 percent.

Basically, it’d need to be a Corolla GRMN with a mid-$40,000s price.

After driving the Yaris GRMN, though, it does give us hope that should Toyota give the very popular Corolla the same treatment, then that would be a hot hatch worthy of attention.

 

Is the Toyota Yaris GRMN easy to live with?

Surprisingly, yes. It’s still a Toyota Yaris at its core, which means it’s easy to get in and out of, and extremely easy to manoeuvre in daily driving, and in tight spaces.

Inside, the cabin is relatively spacious – for a very small, three-door hatchback, that is. Plenty of headroom up front, and a few places to drop your phone or keys or wattle bottle or whatever.

The driver’s and front passenger’s seats are sporty bucket seats that hold occupants in place very well, although the driver’s pew is situated a touch high in relation to the pedals and the steering wheel, which detracts from the feeling of speed and dynamism.

Getting into and out of the back seat is not easy, unless you’re an agile pre-teen.

Boot space is competitive if not generous, though nobody shopping at the smallest end of Auto Alley is going to mark the Yaris down for only having 286 litres of luggage capacity.

How well does the Toyota Yaris GRMN drive?

This is the Yaris GRMN’s reason for existence. Forget the price, forget the diminutive size, forget the fact your mates can’t fit comfortably in the back. This is where all is forgiven – almost.

Short story is the Toyota Yaris GRMN is an absolute hoot to drive.

Start with the engine, a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder with ‘only’ 156kW of power and 250Nm of torque. This is not a lot by hot hatch standards, but when it’s packaged in an 1100kg vehicle there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Toyota claims an impressive 6.3sec 0-100km/h acceleration time, which is respectable and brisk. The Yaris also has little trouble putting the power down in corners because a limited slip diff up front keeps wheelspin to a minimum.

Toyota’s fitment of a supercharger rather than a turbo may seem old school but it brings some benefits. The advantage of supercharging over the more common turbocharging is that the power boost is always ready to deploy, whereas turbochargers take a moment or two to spin up to speed – although modern turbocharging is shortening this lag with every passing year.

But still, the immediacy of a supercharged engine is a joy to play with. It gives the Yaris boundless energy and exuberance that will have you prodding the accelerator again and again just to feel the car’s spring-loaded enthusiasm -- and to hear the gravelly growling soundtrack bursting from its centrally mounted exhaust.

This muscular drivetrain is the Yaris GRMN’s best feature. We drove the Yaris on Belgian backroads and freeways at speeds from 40km/h to 140km/h, and the Yaris’s engine is strong and willing in all real-world scenarios – even pulling manfully in sixth at overtaking speeds. 

The Yaris GRMN’s uprated suspension and steering complement the drivetrain’s enthusiasm with dynamism and poise. The ride quality is mostly good, although the suspension’s limited wheel travel runs out quickly and some bigger bumps can crash through. 

 

Verdict

To dismiss the Toyota Yaris GRMN for its very obvious failings against Australian wants and needs is unfair. Yes, it’s too small, underpowered and overpriced for our market. But it’s cheaper than a VW Golf GTI in Europe, so it’s appropriately priced and positioned for the market for which it was intended, where tiny hot hatches like the VW Polo GTI, Renault Clio RS, Peugeot 208GTI and others are very popular.

In short, we are spoiled in Australia. And we should be thankful that we get bigger hot hatches with serious sporting potential for less than our European cousins.

If you evaluate the Yaris GRMN as a portent of the future, an example of what Gazoo Racing can do to a Toyota econo-car, then it’s a resounding success. There’s enough here for us to be excited should GR turn its attention to cars Australians will buy, like the Corolla.

And we are strong supporters of a future where Toyota’s sporting spirit and driving enthusiasm is expressed in more cars than just the Toyota 86 and Supra. Bring it on!