Toyota GR Yaris review
The Toyota GR Yaris is basically a rally car for the road – it’s fast and extremely good fun to drive. There are more practical hot hatches if that matters, though.
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The all-new Toyota GR Yaris is (pretty loosely) based on the latest version of the dinky Yaris and packs serious performance thanks to plenty of mechanical upgrades developed through Toyota’s World Rally programme.
Just take one look at it – that’s not the face of a car that’ll spend its life pottering to the Post Office, is it? The standard car’s grumpy, downturned grille has been ditched in favour of a huge, barn-door-like opening in the front bumper with enough mesh to keep all the colonel’s chickens safely cooped-up.
Add to this some gaping air intakes, contrasting black trims and a set of wheel arches so swollen that someone should pass the GR Yaris a giant icepack, and you’ve got yourself a seriously menacing little hot hatch. In fact, it’s our favourite hot hatch – picking up the Best Hot Hatch and the overall winner of the 2021 carwow Car of the Year Awards.
The GR Yaris’ roof is 10cm lower than the standard car’s, and it’s made from carbon fibre – just like on a BMW M4. You also get a unique three-door layout instead of the standard Yaris’ boxier five-door shape. The changes at the GR Yaris’ back end are comparatively subtle but include a pair of real exhaust pipes and a slim rear diffuser – although this probably does little to improve the Yaris’ aerodynamics.
If you were hoping for some kind of raw, stripped out interior, you might be a touch disappointed by the new Toyota GR Yaris’ cabin. There’s no roll cage, no low-slung bucket seats and you get conventional seatbelts instead of any fiddly five-point racing harnesses. You might struggle to sit in it wearing a crash helmet, too.
The steering wheel does get some contrasting red stitching, however, you’re treated to some snazzy metal pedal trims and a set of more supportive sports seats. There’s also a healthy smattering of GR badges (21 on the car in total, in fact), and the gear lever has been raised up by 5cm over the standard Yaris to help you reach it more easily.
The back seats are less spacious than in the normal Yaris, and you only get two of them – the standard car’s central seat has been thrown out and replaced by a small tray. It’s not particularly comfy for anyone back there, either. Boot space has taken a bit of a hit, too – the GR can only carry 174 litres of luggage compared with the standard Yaris’s 286-litre capacity. You can thank the GR’s revised rear suspension and new four-wheel-drive system under the rear floor for that.
For the best driving experience, make sure you go for the Circuit Pack model, not the Convenience Pack. Head to our deals page for the best price!
Four-wheel drive, yes – not something you expect to find in a staid and sensible Yaris. However, very little about this GR car’s engine and drive system is sensible. Under the bonnet – but tucked as far back as possible for better weight distribution – sits a 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine pumping out a whopping 261hp. It’ll blast from 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds, which is even quicker than the 320hp Honda Civic Type R.
When you put your foot down, it takes a second or so for the turbo to draw breath but once it does the Yaris accelerates like it’s been hit from behind by something very large moving very fast. The standard four-wheel drive means traction is never an issue.
On a twisty road, you’ll be changing up and down through the six-speed manual gearbox pretty often, but this only adds to the fun. Add in the clever optional differentials (more on these later) and you’ve got yourself a tiny hot hatch unlike any other.
Separating it further the standard Yaris, the GR comes with fully independent rear suspension to help maximise grip in corners. Pay extra for the optional Circuit Pack and you get stiffer suspension, lighter alloy wheels, and a set of upgraded differentials that can split the engine’s power to whichever wheel has the most grip for neck-snapping corner-exiting acceleration.
In Normal mode, this system sends just over half of the power to the front wheels, while Sport mode ups the ante and sends 70% of the power rearward to make the GR Yaris feel more agile when accelerating through corners. Track mode splits the power 50:50 but it can send as much as 100% of the engine’s power to either the front or rear wheels to maximise traction at any given moment. This is something you might expect to see in a Mercedes-AMG A45 or Audi RS3, not a tiny tuned Yaris.
All of the controls are bubbling with feel, while the steering is neither too light nor too heavy, and the huge brakes let you make the absolute most of the brick-wall stopping power. So, there are more practical hot hatches about, but as a driver’s car, the Yaris is never short of sensational.
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The GR Yaris’s cabin features great figure-hugging seats and a smattering of sporty touches, but those hoping for full rally-spec bucket seats and five-point harness belts will be disappointed.