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2021 Toyota GR Yaris review

By Tom Fraser, 07 Apr 2021 Car Reviews

2021 Toyota GR Yaris review

Toyota’s road-going homologation hero gets a run around as part of our long-term Yaris test, is it really as good as everybody says?

What is the Toyota GR Yaris?

Have you been living under a rock?

There have been few cars released in recent memory that were hyped as much as the Toyota GR Yaris. It’s with some trepidation that I even begin this review because it’s the car that everyone’s quick to share their opinion of – good and bad. 

But, as part of my ongoing Toyota Yaris long-term test (I’m finding out whether Toyota’s smallest range can back up its marketing team’s “Small now has it all” slogan) I saddled up in a GR Yaris to see what all the fuss is about.

It’s a two-door hot hatch version of the latest generation Yaris small hatchback, though it only shares three exterior components with the regular Yaris  headlights, taillights and mirrors. The rest is a bespoke widebody affair featuring aluminium panels for the doors, bonnet and boot, while sporting a carbonfibre roof.

Read next 2021 Toyota GR Yaris officially launched

Our base-spec car is painted Feverish Red (a $500 option and coincidentally the nicest GR Yaris colour) and misses out on Rallye-spec kit that includes 18-inch BBS forged wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, Torsen front and rear limited-slip differentials, ‘Circuit’ suspension tune and red brake calipers.

Why have I just told you what it misses out on? It’s significant and we’ll get to that soon.

But as it stands, this GR Yaris costs $49,500 before on-roads and stocks a swathe of cool kit as standard.

You’ve probably heard a lot about it already, but as a refresher the Toyota GR Yaris equips a carbonfibre roof, black 18-inch Enkei alloy wheels, Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres, power-folding mirrors, LED lights, small-diameter sports steering wheel, aluminium pedals, and sports seats lifted from Toyota’s ZR variants.

Screen wise, there’s a 7.0-inch main infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability joined by a smaller 4.2-inch display nestled within the instrument cluster that provides information such as turbo pressure and shift lights.

Safety was also high on Toyota’s engineers’ minds throughout development, owing to its sporting intent.

As a result, the GR Yaris includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, intersection assist, blind-spot monitor, a head-up display, reverse camera and six airbags as standard. 

Read next Transmission fault sparks hybrid Toyota Yaris recall

While it does say ‘Yaris’ on the box, in reality, this is not like a Yaris at all. Toyota combined the front end of Toyota’s GA-B platform (Yaris) with the rear of the GA-C platform (Corolla) for a dedicated standalone architecture that houses a special suspension design and bespoke GR-FOUR all-wheel-drive system. It can theoretically send up to 100 per cent of torque to either the front or rear axle.

A 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine powers the GR Yaris. It produces 200kW and 370Nm in a 1280kg body, resulting in a 0-100km/h claim of just 5.2 seconds. There’s plenty of opportunity to stuff up fast launches too, as the GR Yaris only comes with a six-speed manual transmission.

Read next The Toyota Yaris GR is a modern homologation hero

What is the GR Yaris like to live with?

From the outset, it should be noted that this isn’t a car that you buy with joyous daily driving experiences in mind. First of all, it should really have been sold as a two-seater with a bigger boot because the second row is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

But Toyota has made the best of a compromised situation. It comes well equipped as standard with various helpful driving features such as the head-up display that shows rpm, a speedo, speed limit and radar cruise information, as well as the intelligent manual transmission that can rev-match if you want to be lazy.

Other features that make the Yaris friendly around town include keyless entry and start, clear and concise satellite navigation maps and a fast-acting dual-zone climate control system. Not to mention, the various safety measures all worked in harmony during my test, picking up minor driving errors such as me wandering out of my lane or reacting to a hard-braking vehicle ahead.

Various infotainment features are all easy to access using the button shortcuts mounted around the 7.0-inch screen, and there are cool boost and all-wheel drive gauges to play with in the instrument cluster's multifunction display. There are relatively few bells and whistles about the cabin, but it’s a comfortable and focused place to spend time.

Speaking of driver-focused, the small-diameter leather-covered steering wheel deserves a special mention for ease of manoeuvrability and the leather shifter feels great in-hand. 

Read next: Which small SUV is the most fuel-efficient?

The seats are very comfortable and hold you in place well thanks to the microfibre material and huggy bolstering, though I found they were mounted just a smidge too high for my liking. The passenger seat is also mounted high, though it can’t be lowered like the driver’s seat.

Due to this, vision out isn’t great, especially as the rearview mirror housing is gargantuan and takes up a large portion of the windscreen.

While it’s genuinely grin-inducing looking back through the side mirrors and seeing the wide haunches ballooning out over the rear wheels, rear vision through the back window is poor due to a narrow aperture.

Space in the second row is difficult to access, as there’s no one-touch easy slide mechanism to fold the front seat and slide it forward in one go. Despite a more commodious hatchback shape, rear-seat space is best described as being similar to the Toyota 86 – ideally kept for emergencies only. 

Storage wise, the GR Yaris only caters for the basics. There are some storage spots around the centre console (you’ll also find a neat WRC plaque next to the shifter) for phones, keys and wallets, and the door bins are large enough for big water bottles and other loose items.

However, there is no centre console bin to hide valuables once you leave the car.

Under the infotainment screen and above the glovebox are two storage slots, though be careful what you use it for because I guarantee whatever’s stored there will fall out with every hard acceleration.

Toyota says the GR Yaris can only fit a miserly 141 litres of luggage, though the seats fold in 60/40 fashion to bolster that somewhat. Sports cars aren’t known for their storage capacities, but a 141-litre boot is very small for a hatchback. A rear-mounted battery also takes up functional boot space.

What is the Toyota GR Yaris like to drive? 

The GR's 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder produces 200kW/370Nm and the car weighs just 1280kg. This sort of performance in a car of the GR Yaris’ size is very entertaining. It feels every bit as powerful as its 200kW/370Nm outputs suggest, and as numerous reviews have already stated, it feels as mechanically old-school as its 80s rally heroes.

The gearchange is one aspect that feels particularly awesome, slotting into gear with a nice, solid thunk and there are a few mechanical noises about the cabin to remind you you’re driving something special.

Speaking of cool GR Yaris aspects, a quick rip of the handbrake is a very effective way to get the GR Yaris to rotate around on a private road thanks to a system that decouples the drive to the rear wheels. Small unique tricks like that aren’t especially useful off a rally stage, but are extremely fun and hark back to what this car’s all about – a road-going homologation special.

Its small, unique body with the tapered roofline forms the perfect dimensions to blast about a rally special stage – or your favourite tree-lined back road. While I didn’t venture off-tarmac with it this time (keen to keep its Feverish Red paint in good nick), I did hit a number of different rally-style spots in my time with the GR Yaris. 

Up through Arthur’s Seat and through to the quiet bits of the Mornington Peninsula, the GR is a genuine point-to-point rocket ship. Its ability to pull itself out of a corner and crack on, putting all 200kW to the ground, is remarkable.

The steering is pleasantly tactile around pock-marked bends and the thin-rimmed GR-branded steering wheel itself is a nice unit to hold. Likewise, the ride strikes a great balance between comfort and sport, though it does have a tendency to skitter over rougher roads at speed.

Handling wise, you feel the GR Yaris wants to change direction fiercely and it has the capability to do so, though the standard Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres feel like the weak link. Especially so in the wet. I couldn’t place ultimate confidence in ‘chucking’ the Yaris through a bend at speed on public roads, like you’d want to in such a small and light all-wheel-drive hot hatch, for fear of the front tyres pushing on.

So too, the tight corners leading up to the top of Arthur’s Seat caught the GR Yaris a little unstuck as it tried to clamber around 180-degree bends without limited-slip differentials. 

The GR Yaris Rallye edition comes with Michelin Sport 4S tyres and limited-slip differentials at both ends, which may just address these shortcomings.

Aside from a pleasantly placid ride quality on the freeway drive back home, there’s a fair amount of road noise and vibration to endure. Exhaust noise is fairly muted, despite being fake-amplified into the cabin to big up the car’s sporty nature. 

During my time with the GR Yaris, I managed a fuel consumption figure of 10.2L/100km – higher than you’d expect for a small sports hatch but not altogether horrible.

Verdict

As a performance hatchback that punches well above its weight grade, the GR Yaris is just about there, save for some minor understeer issues. 

Could it be worth waiting for the Rallye-spec GR Yaris and all its performance-focused upgrades? It’s hard to know without having driven the car, though it’d be a safe bet to at least sample both before plonking down your hard-earned.

2021 TOYOTA YARIS GR SPECS

Engine: 1618cc inline 3-cyl, DOHC, 12v, turbo
Power: 200kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 3000-4600rpm
0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)
Weight: 1280kg
Price: $49,500