Don’t panic, the all new GR Yaris hasn’t turned to the darkside and gone all electric, however, nor have they upped the cc’s to gain more power, oh no, this WRC inspired, 4WD road and track monster has a hybrid chassis, bespoke good looks and an all out racing attitude – and Toyota New Zealand took us to the track to prove it.
GR or Gazzo Racing may be a relatively new moniker but Toyota’s racing history spans over six decades and includes wins at iconic race meets such as the 24 hour of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Nürburgring Endurance Race, Dakar Rally and Rallye Deutschland. In its simplest form, GR stands for Garage Racing and in many ways, the ethos behind it all is to ‘build ever-better cars’ and thankfully for those of us that don’t get to the track often enough, it means ever-better road cars too.
The new 2021 GR Yaris is a perfect case in point. Upon consultation with WRC partner Tommi Makinen Racing, President of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda (Master Driver and Rally racer) and his team at Toyota have taken their normally mild-mannered compact car and turned it into a fire breathing track monster – bless their hearts.
Don’t think for one moment that GR has simply added a few motorsport accessories, slapped on a badge and called a sports model, oh no, this new, top of the Yaris tree only shares three, yes three items with its domesticated siblings (front and rear lights and mirrors) the rest is all GR Yaris specific and that includes the chassis.
A hybrid of Yaris and Corolla, the GR’s platform has a wider stance, lighter and sturdier/more rigid frame. It’s all-wheel drive too and thanks to its electro-mechanical torque distribution, configurable to your driving conditions and locations. Normal drive mode offers more front wheel bias, Sport more to the rear and track produces an even split between the two for more neutral handling. It’s manual, yes manual and the 6-speed box happily blips when downshifting for easier gear engagement. It has GR performance suspension, 4-pot (red-caliper) performance brakes and 10-spoke BBS wheels to ensure you stick to the tarmac and stop on a dime.
The GR Yaris comes with a special uprated clutch that marries the sports gearbox with the 3-cylinder 1.6L engine. It’s at this point I hear you all sigh, only 3-cylinders? Yep and what a powerhouse it is. Lighter and Turbocharged with motorsport developed multi-oil jet piston cooling technology, it produces 200kW/370Nm (+130% on the regular Yaris) and propels this hyper hot hatch from zero to 100km/h in 5,2 seconds.
On the subject of lighter, the GR Yaris’s carbon fibre roof and aluminium bonnet, doors (just two) and tailgate means that this hatch has a power to weight ratio of 6.4kg/kW – now that’s impressive.
Don’t think for one moment that it’s all stripped down naked inside thought, it comes with race seats, Toyota’s latest tech and their safety suite for when you’re bumbling around town or as I found out, stepping in when you run out of talent on the track.
That’s right, Toyota showcased this GR sports hatch on the racetrack at Hampton Downs and added in some torrential rain to help spice things up.
Our first exercise was on the skidpan, super slick concrete that when doused with water (this time supplied by Mother Nature) offers very little traction and a fun ride experience. Evidently not to be trusted, (actually AWD drifting is hard to do) we became passengers as NZ race car driver Daniel Gaunt adroitly paddled the GR’s leather clad wheel and massaged the accelerator to have the compact sports hatch power drifting here, there and everywhere. No doubt I could have done better, ahem, but we’ll keep him on. Next stop, the track.
For those that haven’t been around Hamptons (seriously find a way to do it), it’s a reasonably technical track that offers sharp turns, drop offs, fast straights and requires plenty of concentration. Throw in plenty of rain and things start to get even more interesting. Toyota NZ weren’t worried, so nor was I. Following a nervous pee, I took to the track.
With just under two laps available, it was a case of exiting the pits rounding the track, wheezing over the start/finish line and then back around to the pits again, sure just a taste of this new hatch but a chance to stretch its legs and test its handing, oh and in my case, mess up some gear changing, set off the traction intervention and smile like Cheshire cat.
Despite the downpour and sodden tarmac, despite my inability to hit apexes and correctly turn in and despite the red mist that limited the amount of information/direction I absorbed from the trained racing driver beside me, the GR Yaris took me around the circuit at terrific speeds. In track mode, the throttle response is quick and the steering even quicker. I felt balanced and alive, fun and yet perilous – the hype is real my friends.
Toyota New Zealand says that the initial stock allocation of the GR Yaris is all but sold out and I can see why. With its WRC attitude and stoic looks and handling, this ‘precisely assembled by skilled Takumi craftsman’ is a world away from its mass manufactured sibling and its NZ$54,990 drive away deal only adds to its desirability. Thankfully I get it again soon, so stay tuned.
Pics (the good ones) by Bruce Jenkins