(Pocket-lint) - Isn't a Toyota Yaris something your nan would drive? Not in this hot hatch form, we suspect. For the Yaris GR is a whole other ballgame to the car with which it shares its name. Indeed, the Yaris GR is barely a Yaris at all - it's an absolute beast.
The Yaris GR started life as the homologation for Toyota's 2021 World Rally Championship (WRC) entry. Because rally cars have to be based on an existing road car, the GR took up the job. But then Toyota canned its rally presence, but not this car's production, so it seems to be a case of rally's loss as the road's gain.
For the Yaris GR comes packing the world's most powerful three-cylinder engine, is a three-door - rather than five, as per all other Yaris - and sports a design that's lower, sportier, and not really very Yaris at all. But all this makes it even more exciting to drive.
A car that probably shouldn't exist - but we're very glad it does, as this pint-sized powerhouse delivers a rally-car-for-the-road experience unlike anything else of its stature.
And if you're thinking "a hot hatch Yaris, what the?" then let's stop you right there. The base Yaris and the Yaris GR are so far removed that it's only really the name that's shared.
While not all will look at the Yaris GR and think it's a car of visual splendour - we might be on that team too, to be fair - we're already confident that this special little car will still inspire a generation of enthusiasts.
Seeing as the UK wants to ban petrol and diesel cars within the next decade, if you've always wanted a souped-up hot hatch then this - a car which we've not seen the likes of for decades, really - is one of your last genuine chances to get in on the game.
Toyota Yaris GR
- Road-going rally car drive style is its big sell
- Comfortable enough as a daily driver
- Capable tech setup
- The Civic Type-R is a potentially appealing alternative around this price
- Those muscular thighs won't appeal to all
Power on tap
This tuned three-cylinder 1.6l engine produces 257bhp and its single turbo can see it fling from standing to 62mph is just 5.5 seconds. Keep in mind: this is a Yaris! By comparison to a Fiesta ST that's over one second quicker. And you can really feel it when stomping through the six-speed manual box (no auto here, but of course).
Part of the reason it's so quick comes down to materials. The roof is carbon fibre. The bonnet, doors and boot lid are aluminium (we're surprised the tail hasn't been formed of moulded plastic - like Toyota does on the UX - to save even more weight). Every kilo counts and the Yaris GR is positively trim - despite its massive hulking thighs.
All of that, plus four-wheel drive - which Toyota calls GR-Four - makes the Yaris GR a much more powerful little beast than the aforementioned Fiesta ST. It's a fair chunk of change pricier, but it feels a whole lot more unique. Indeed, the GR is largely comparable to the Honda Civic Type R, which we've recently driven. That's pretty astounding.
While the Yaris GR might be rorty in a rally-like way, that three-cylinder doesn't have the start-up grunt - more audibility, really - of something like an Audi RS3. It's more contained (perhaps literally, as it pumps engine sound into the cabin intentionally), more about the drive than the look-at-me exterior growl when you press the button to fire it up. It pulls hard at low revs, holds on tight, and feels more fully-formed than the engine's numbers would even suggest.
There's a lot more going on behind the scenes depending on which mode you pick too. While even 'Normal' comes across as maniacal at times, this feeds that four-wheel system with a 60:40 front/rear split. Select 'Sport' and that's switched to 30:70, while 'Track' goes half-and-half at 50:50. The differences between all are slight, really, but then we drove on real roads - not like a rally driver on a track (oh what fun that would be). There's also an iMT button to activate intelligent manual transmission, which Toyota reckons gives more "rhythmical" changes to gears.
Last up, and very much in the vein of "rally", is that the GR's handbrake: give this a tug while driving and it disconnects the front wheel drive, making for the most handbrake turn-capable road car you're likely to set foot in. Not that we'd ever endorse that, of course, but it's kind of refreshing when most modern cars have automatic electronic parking brakes (a simple switch or button rather than a lever). The GR feels much more raw.
Interior and tech
Inside and those front seats feel well proportioned: nicely coddling, not excessively firm over the bumps, for a reassuring comfort and hold.
It's not especially large inside, obviously, and the presence of the rear seat bench - apparently a Toyota demand, when the Gazoo Racing team was trying to do away with it - is rather squashed in. But it'll do as a spot for your packed lunch (just make sure you strap it in, eh?).
Technology highlights come in the form of a floating 8-inch screen to the centre dash, which is positioned just so it doesn't catch your eye to excess and allows you to focus on the fun of driving.
Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, so it's easy to plug a phone in, sync up Spotify, trigger Google Maps, and so forth, with total ease. We followed a plotted route to Devil's Dyke in the South Downs and having such a familiar system meant we could more or less forget about any technicalities.
The second screen beyond the driver's wheel is flanked by two dials - the rev counter and speedometer - which we're really pleased remain classic and not digitised. That screen in-between helps inform of various settings - it changes the whole background colour depending on Normal, Sport and Track mode choices, too - and is ideally positioned for at-a-glance viewing without overdoing things.
Although you might not be looking at the screen much, more likely one of those two dials. Because the Yaris GR is so nippy that you'll wonder how far up the speedo you can get it (the dial amusingly tops-out at 180mph, but the GR is restricted to 143mph just in case you're wondering). And we're sure you'll be pushing to the redline plenty too.
Overall the tech setup is capable rather than other-worldly, but with the must-haves all ticked here it sets the Yaris GR up for a future without compromises.
A car that probably shouldn't exist - but we're very glad it does, as this pint-sized powerhouse delivers a rally-car-for-the-road experience unlike anything else of its stature. Whether you like its looks or not, we're sure this special little car will still inspire a generation of enthusiasts.