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In-Betweener: 2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport Hybrid Review

Despite it only being two years since the Toyota Yaris Cross went on sale in New Zealand (three internationally), it already feels like an aged product. As a general assumption, I suspect this sort of thing will happen even more frequently as cars and technology become more intertwined but I digress. Returning to the topic at hand and there’s a very good reason for my opening statement.

Having spent time last year in the excellent Corolla Cross Hybrid and updated RAV4 Hybrid XSE, both of which set a very high bar for me as far as Toyota’s tech and Hybrid Drive are concerned, it’s hard to see the Yaris Cross making a case for itself against those two. However, this particular Yaris Cross has something that neither of those two can offer currently and that is a GR badge.

Front three quarters view of a 2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport in a white and black colour scheme on the rooftop of a mall.
Yaris Cross has undergone a comprehensive transformation under Toyota’s GR arm

In fact, it’s not just a singular GR badge but rather a sleuth of them! Now GR or ‘Gazoo Racing‘ has some proper credibility behind it. GR was the pet project of Akio Toyoda, the brand’s previous CEO who used motorsport development to create the GR Yaris, GR Supra and later on, the GR Corolla. All of which were fabulous sportscars, especially when configured as a manual.

If Toyota have just gone and stuck such a respectable badge on the carpets of an SUV just to flog more sales, this would be the motoring equivalent of blasphemy in some countries (kidding). However, you’ll be pleased to know that the Yaris Cross does not feature GR branded floor mats, yes there’s sporty trim but the upgrades are more than just skin deep.

Rear three quarters view of a 2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport in a white and black colour scheme on the rooftop of a mall.

To start off with colours, the Yaris Cross GR Sport Hybrid is available in two shades. You can either have the ‘Frosted White’ pictured in this review or the ‘Ruby’ red colour which would actually be my pick. Both work well with the contrast ‘Ink’ roof though and seeing as black cladding has been used liberally on the car, fans of the monochrome look are in for a treat!

On the GR front, this particular model comes with unique 18inch wheels and red painted brake calipers all around with the fronts receiving a GR logo too. There’s two more of these logos, one on the front and rear respectively to round up the suite of changes. The interior tows a similar line too with plenty of cosmetic upgrades doing exactly that, upping the look and feel.

Sitting in the interior, there are a number of changes immediately apparent to the eye. Firstly, the contrasting brownish panel on the dashboard has now been ditched in favour of a black unit. The cloth door inserts have been swapped out for faux suede as have parts of the seats. The chairs themselves are now GR, sporting a branded patch on the headrests. Put your hands on the steering and you will find a leather wrapped piece featuring a GR logo on the bottom spoke.

Legs forward and you will find aluminium pedals underneath too! For a second, this could very well be mistaken for a proper GR car but then when it comes time to leave, you reach for the impossibly placed door handle and are reminded that you are sitting in a Yaris Cross. The location of that handle still puzzles me and in the dark, I had to switch the light on so passengers could find the handle and escape my company! No gripes with the interior otherwise and the integrated Panasonic nanoeX technology helps keep the cabin air clean.

Side on view of a 2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport in a white and black colour scheme.

On the topic of clean, I do genuinely commend Toyota on their pursuits in the hybrid department, they have certainly provided great proof of that as a solution for an eco-friendly future. In that regard, the Yaris Cross does well. Making use of a 1.5L three cylinder turbo engine, coupled with a Hybrid Drive system to make 67 kW and 120 Nm of torque. This then becomes the domain of an e-CVT gearbox that helps the car alternate between pure EV, hybrid and petrol mode.

A 0.7 kWhr battery placed in the rear of the car, helps aid the low speed driving especially. But it’s on higher speed roads where things get a little less friendly. The Yaris Cross did not do well on the motorways, it felt like a strain to maintain 100kph, the engine revving away noisily especially on uphill climbs. Once on higher speed roads, you’d lose the ability to drive in EV only mode barring downhill coasts and even at lower speeds, a poke of the accelerator would see the petrol engine jump to life. As someone who does plenty of highway driving and has the gift of mechanical sympathy, this did not feel right to me and I certainly did not expect to return an efficient result.

A close-up of the digital instrument cluster on the dashboard of a 2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport.

It was to my absolute bewilderment then that the Yaris Cross GR Sport Hybrid recorded an efficiency figure of 4.5L/100km during my drive. A number which then dropped to an even more impressive 4.4L/100km when I dropped the car off to Toyota. Considering the factory rated figure is 4.2L/100km, this was absolutely spot on from the Japanese carmaker. Speaking of which, applying the GR expertise to the suspension of this Yaris Cross was also pleasing.

The chassis felt nimble, handling itself excellently around corners, only let down by the engine’s power delivery when exiting a twisty section of road. A firmer suspension was to be expected but with 50 profile sidewalls, the cabin was still well separated from the road surface below.

The Verdict

Overall, the addition of a GR Sport package to the Yaris Cross range has provided an excellent lease of life for Toyota’s small SUV and broadens its appeal to those wanting a motorsport stamp. However, at $44,490, it is an awkward place, only $1,400 shy of a Corolla Cross GXL Hybrid and $4,100 shy of a RAV4 GX Hybrid (all prices excluding Clean Car Discounts). Given the choice, I’d go with the Corolla Cross GXL which not only provides a newer infotainment unit but crucially, an improved Toyota Hybrid Drive system over that of the Yaris Cross.

2023 Toyota Yaris Cross GR Sport Hybrid: 3/5

Thanks for reading! For more Toyota news and reviews, visit Tarmac Life.

Car courtesy of Toyota New Zealand. Words and photos by Matthew D’Souza.

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