The Toyota Yaris GR is a modern homologation hero

The entire hot hatch genre has been redefined thanks to Toyota’s pocket rocket Yaris

2021 Toyota GR Yaris review
Gallery52

Overall Rating

5 0 5

Plus & Minus

  1. Plus WRC pedigree, oily bits, body bits, polished execution, bang for buck

  2. Minus No DCT option, limited availability, synthetic sonic enhancement

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There’s a cresting right-hander at the Sutton Road Training Centre track, Canberra, hell-bent on thrusting any hasty machine’s rump towards the hilly scenery and the GR Yaris seems born for it.

In Sport mode, Gazoo Racing’s new poster child jinks hard to a mild throttle lift, its Dunlops settling rotation into a neatly cocked slide as safe as houses.

Poise, for such a scant wheelbase, is wonderful, the slip angle easily adjusted at 4000rpm, in the thick of the world’s most powerful turbo three-cylinder engine's torque band. A small flick of opposite lock correction is its only demand.

Sport offers 70 percent static rear torque, though it’s infinitely variable at the machine’s own whims. It sacrifices shades of pace for throttle-balancing friskiness, with uncanny telepathy between right foot pressure and oversteer angle.

It’s a hoot.

Next lap, Track mode. It’s split 50:50 static, until the GR Yaris decides otherwise.

The chassis cocks urgently and then settles on the outside rear with Sport-like aplomb, then transmits stronger front axle torque feed and a sharper recovery.

It’s tidier and more focused for swifter A to B transit, without robbing much from Sport’s theatrics.

Sport or Track? Distinctively different, both excellent, each a well-honed ally depending on driver whims and conditions. Bravo.

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HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM A REGULAR YARIS?

Its maker claims sorting the GR-Four all-paw system was the most difficult task of what was a clearly challenging project.

Grafting the GA-C Corolla rear end to the GA-B Yaris front architecture was primarily designed to contend with AWD torque, the double-wishbone suspension, bespoke with added trailing arms, was a convenient by-product.

Then there’s the body, five centimetres longer, six wider and nine and half lower in roofline and just sharing lights, mirrors and fin aerial with Aunty Beryl’s five-door Yaris grocery getter.

Its three doors and bonnet (saving 24.1kg) are aluminium and its roof carbon fibre polymer (shaving 3.5kg), a 38-kilogram body-in-white reduction in the project where weight management ruled over most everything else.

It’s why a 1.6 three-pot was favoured over a two-litre four. And why it’s a six-speed manual rather a heavier if perhaps more WRC-aligned dual-clutcher. 

Its stiffer, slipperier form is perhaps the crucial homologation element of a road-goer its maker says was backwards engineered from the existing WRC racecar to then be repurposed back into rally-dom with an optimum competitive advantage.

For instance, the doors and hatch must carry over from the mandated 25,000 donor cars for rally homologation.

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WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

Serving motorsport wasn’t GR Yaris’s only key mandate: it’s the first properly bespoke model from Toyota in two decades since Celica GT-Four ceased production in 1999, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s key gambit being accepted as road car skunkhouse of the likes of BMW M and Mercedes-AMG.

It’s also a dedicated GR model, not merely a lower GR Sport enhancement that’ll roll out in the likes of C-HR.  

It not only drives better than a mere component-cobbled racecar donor has a right to, it’s seemingly supremely well built.

The 1100 Aussie order holders that snapped the GR Yaris up so quickly primarily for collectability and investment reasons were and are in for a surprise treat on-track and on-road.

It’s built on a dedicated line at the Motomachi plant in Japan, former home of Lexus LFA production. And on the road, there’s a sense of solidity, integration and refinement not as evident in the recently launched ‘new’ Yaris or Yaris Cross.

It’s tight, honed, connected, and despite as cabin design as conventional as its exterior is unorthodox, there’s a certain premium feel to on-road manners.

Its ride is compliant, it’s powertrain flexible, and would make an easy-to-live-with daily driver. And from safety kit to servicing costs, it’s thoroughly ‘normal Toyota’, not some highly-strung prima donna requiring ownership babying.

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IS IT A TRUE PERFORMANCE CAR?

But there’s no shortage of purpose: 200kW, 370Nm, 156kW-per-tonne, 5.2-second 0-100km/h, these sorts of figures local V8 muscle mustered back in the Group A homologation heyday.

The little 1.6-litre swells rather than punches, hauling 1280kg off the mark assertively. If you’re racing the stopwatch, though, a quick getaway demands little mechanical sympathy.

It wants to be well north of the 3000rpm peak torque entry figure to come on song, complete with a swell in its neat if synthetic soundtrack, though the dig-in nature of its output delivery suits the rally-esque vibe just so.

Aim for the hills and there’s enough swing from the three-pot to refrain from needing to constantly rowing through the gears to find the redline.

Rolling muscle is impressive and it only really founders a touch falling off the boil in hairpins. Direction change is brisk and in Sport much is it done with the right foot.

The shift is slick and positive, and the pedals are ideally staggered for heel-and-toe shifting, which is handy given the (switchable) rev-matching is so tardy. The lack of a proper dead pedal to brace with during cornering G forces is an oversight, though.

At one point during the local launch program, a film plays of motorsport-addicted Toyota boss Akio Toyoda, hands-on in the car’s development, demanding “more steering feel” from some anonymous engineer.

I imagine he and his colleagues lost sleep over the result: clear, even, linear, with a nice moderate weight that only reveals its somewhat simulated nature by becoming sudden too light when the car pulls to a stop.

It’s that sort of car: someone, somewhere, likely sweated bullets to arrive at the details of its driving experience.

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SHOULD YOU WAIT FOR THE GR YARIS RALLYE?

Does this regular GR Yaris's lack of mechanical LSDs front and rear - offered on the forthcoming harder-core Rallye version - hurt it? On dry tarmac, by the seat of the pants, no it does not.

Flat-knacker around the 2.5-kilometre Sutton Road closed circuit, there’s only one in its relentless second- and third-gear corners where an unloaded front wheel cries freedom for a brief moment.

That it sits as flat as it does, offering up as much grip and drive from its Sport Maxxs as it does, is remarkable.

As for wet, snow, gravel, skidpan, or anywhere else where the GR Yaris might pull you, the jury is still firmly out. I suspect that the three-pot’s swelling torque delivery isn’t quite enough to unhinge traction in dry sealed conditions.

That it feels fast and frisky as a pace that won’t threaten your licence is a big drawcard, but you do need to tap Sport’s tail-happy nature to drive around the torque lull in tighter corners on road.

Often, the GR Yaris leaves you wishing for more front-end point and more steer-induced rotation in order to get back onto the loud pedal harder and quicker.

I imagine the switch to Rallye-spec Michelins might return instant dividends in point-to-point pace.

The Rallye will undoubtedly be the track version of choice. But that doesn’t take away from just how good the regular version is, particularly as an all-rounder.

It was a laughably good sub-$40k driveaway prospect for the early adopters and a $45k bargain for those who snapped up the ‘extras’ Toyota Australia has scrounged to date.

Even at full-whack $49,500 retail price for further examples - not due until later in 2021 -  still looks like incredibly enticing value.

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2021 TOYOTA YARIS GR SPECS

Engine: 1618cc in-line 3, DOHC, 12v, turbo

Power: 200kW @ 6500rpm

Torque: 370Nm @ 3000-4600rpm

0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)

Weight: 1280kg

Price: $49,500

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