A lot of cars try to be all things to all people — so it’s kind of refreshing to see something as built-for-purpose as the Toyota GR Yaris.
Where other hot hatches are usually the next size up so as to be practical as well as fun — think the Volkswagen Golf GTI/R, Hyundai i30 N, Renault Megane RS, Honda Civic Type R and the like — Toyota has opted to throw all of its performance know-how at the pint-sized Yaris so it could gain homologation for the World Rally Championship.
So this is a car created not to make money, but to be a solid base on which to enter top-flight global motorsport.
Which means, for those who associate the name with cheap, boring vehicles, it’s a Yaris in name only: the shared components between the three-door, all-wheel-drive GR and regular five-door, front-wheel-drive Yaris are the headlights, tail-lights, wing mirrors, and antenna.
Plus, it’s completely different underneath. Although the front uses the Yaris’ lightweight platform, the rear is from the Corolla to take advantage of its double-wishbone suspension.
So … the GR is a bit special.
It certainly looks the part, with an abnormally wide stance —which is even more pronounced at the back end thanks to bulging wheel arches — and the lowered carbon-fibre roof.
Thankfully, the GR Yaris is certainly no all-show, no go.
A 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo may not immediately leap off the page but it’s the most powerful three-cylinder in the world and is an absolute firecracker.
It will cover 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds but it’s once on the move where it really shines. Paired solely to a six-speed manual — making it even more niche — the engine’s max outputs are high in the rev range, encouraging you to work the gearbox to stay in the sweet spot.
There’s a rorty three-cylinder yell but with an added artificial boost which is a tad distracting but not too video game-y. It’s not all that loud and there aren’t any snap, crackle and pops but hearing the whirring and whistling from the mechanical componentry doing its thing is rewarding in its own way.
Enthusiasts will enjoy the manual box, which offers quick and easy throws, while a rev matching button allows for smooth and rapid downshifts when going hard regardless of how clumsy you are with your left foot.
There are three drive modes which alter the torque distribution between the front and rear: Regular (60/40 split), Sport (30/70) and Track (50/50).
On public roads, all offer plenty of grip. Track might be the quickest but Sport is the most fun.
Throw in some excellent steering with great feedback and pinpoint accuracy and you have a car which is brilliant to drive on public roads, while still clearly having a lot more up its sleeve to exploit on track days.
And you’d want to be the type of person who loves driving enough to head to the track often to make the GR Yaris worth its hefty price tag — because your $49,500 plus on-road costs is paying for the performance.
It’s fairly well equipped inside, with dual-zone air-con, a great head-up display and other perks, plus the seats are comfortable and nicely bolstered.
But the interior is rather drab and the infotainment display a rather stingy seven inches — however, practicality is the biggest sacrifice.
The roof is lowered 95mm, which leaves rear passengers taller than pre-teen kids with next to no headroom.
Front passengers don’t fare much better thanks to a seat without height adjustment, while storage is an issue throughout: there are cup holders up front but not many spots for wallets and the like, while the boot is a tiny 141 litres.
Given hard driving is the GR Yaris’ sole reason for being, we were disheartened to constantly be told to not accelerate hard due to temperature (it was regularly below 30C when the message was displayed), but we never felt any ill effects.
A no-holds-barred rally car which looks the part, offers exceptional performance and is also mostly comfortable. There are big practicality sacrifices and it’s a lot of money given the size but the driving on offer is a rare experience.
- Price: $49,500
- Engine: 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol
- Outputs: 200kW/370Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, AWD
- Fuel economy: 7.6L/100km