Is this rally-bred pocket rocket as good as everyone says it is?
I don’t know about you, but I’m always a bit suspicious of a new car when it’s universally acclaimed and wins major awards before it’s even hit the roads.
The Toyota GR Yaris is one such vehicle, but don’t worry, it actually exceeds expectations. Here is a car that bears some resemblance to its sensible (and very good) supermini sibling, but in reality it’s totally different and has been developed with the World Rally Championship in mind.
In fact, Toyota says the only unchanged exterior parts are the headlights, door mirrors, rear light clusters and the shark fin antenna on the roof – everything else has been redesigned or adapted to meet targets for downforce, aerodynamic performance and stability.
The most obvious visual difference is that the GR Yaris has three doors, a lower roof line, flared wheel arches and bigger wheels, plus spoilers and air intakes aplenty.
Weight-saving aluminium body panels have been used, along with a forged carbon composite roof, while under the bonnet the regular Yaris’s hybrid 1.5-litre 114bhp petrol engine has been replaced by a bespoke 1.6-litre turbo producing 257bhp and 265lb ft of torque – the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine and also the smallest and lightest 1.6 turbo.
What’s more, Toyota has also developed a sophisticated full-time four-wheel-drive system for the GR Yaris and the result of this this tech and attention to detail is impressive. A dinky hot hatch that can sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds, and on to an electronically limited top speed of 143mph.
For the record, this road-going rally special can return up to 34.3mpg and CO2 emissions are 186g/km.
Of course, outright speed is only half the story, it’s how a car uses that performance that matters, and this little fella doesn’t disappoint.
From the moment you fire it up, the GR lets off a low-level growl and is straining at the leash. Pedal to the metal and it’s like a bat out of hell, especially when that turbo boost kicks in.
Flick through the slick six-speed manual gearbox, with its sporty short-throw, and it not only feels fast – it is fast.
There’s impressive grunt, even lower down in the rev range, and thanks to a little acoustic enhancement, the engine note builds to a throaty roar to add to the theatre of the driving experience.
In short, the GR Yaris is among a select group of cars that puts a smile on your face from the moment you press the start button.
There are three driving modes (Normal, Sport and Track), but frankly default Normal will do most owners just fine in everyday driving.
Even if you let your inner Boy Racer get the better of you on more challenging roads, the nimble GR Yaris’s intoxicating blend of supreme handling, remarkable traction, sharp steering and powerful brakes will flatter your driving ability.
No car is perfect, and the GR is no exception. As you’d expect from a hardcore hot hatch, it’s engineered more for performance than comfort. Sure, the sports seats are suitably supportive, but the ride is on the firm side.
I wouldn’t expect anything else, but to make this a true daily driver, a Comfort setting might have helped smooth out our pothole-ridden roads on those few days when you’d rather cruise than enter a rally stage.
On a practical level, the rear seats and restricted headroom mean these spaces are only acceptable for children and small adults, while the luggage capacity is a modest 174 litres (the 60/40-split seats fold down should you need more room).
Like its standard little brother, the Yaris is well put together, but it also shares much the same interior, which means functional black plastic mouldings and a lack of soft-touch surfaces.
On the plus side, it comes with a generous five-year/100,000-mile warranty and benefits from Toyota Safety Sense as standard, which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights.
Prices from £30,020, the GR’s formidable rivals range from Ford’s Puma and Fiesta STs, to the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS, Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Verdict: The Toyota GR Yaris is a little gem. Hot hatch looks and on-the road thrills combine to make this dinky thoroughbred a real driver’s car and instant classic.