Toyota GR Yaris, What a machine…

In Car Reviews, Toyota by Peter Nunn

You will be surprised and most likely amazed, when you get behind the wheel of the extraordinary Toyota GR Yaris ….


No kidding. From the moment you press “start,” engage gear and pull away, it’s immediately apparent this is far from your usual small Toyota runabout. Yup. “It’s a Yaris, Jim, but not as we know it….”

Muscled up and hyper-fast, the compact, competition-bred Toyota GR Yaris is a car that’s been lighting up the enthusiast car world for the past six months now.

Yes, the reviews have been amazing and having just had eight days with a top-spec GR Yaris GT-FOUR Circuit Pack 1.6 turbo (to give it its full name), I can now see what the buzz is all about.

Built as a pathway to the World Rally Championship, this GR Yaris is a car with an enormous, instant dynamic appeal, packing explosive pace and exceptional levels of cornering speed, grip and grin-inducing driver feedback.

You laugh out loud, sometimes, driving this car because it’s so audacious, so well resolved, so quick, so entertaining.

And so different to all the millions of small hatchbacks that have loyally carried the Yaris nameplate, beginning right back in 1999.

The GR Yaris is the work of Gazoo Racing (Toyota’s new competition arm) which builds the car out of a dedicated section at Toyota’s Motomachi plant in Japan. As a result, much of the GR Yaris’ highly specialised assembly comes together by hand.

Here, from scratch, they’ve created a bespoke, ultra-light, stiff, three-door shell, then inserted a powerhouse three-cylinder turbo 1618 cc engine in the nose.

Underneath lies a highly capable electronically-controlled four-wheel-drive system, with this Circuit Pack edition getting front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials.

That’s quite a formula in itself, but what makes the GR Yaris so different is how everything comes together and the car feels so exceptionally all of a piece.

I’ve driven rally-based ‘homologation specials’ before and while blisteringly fast, some have been crude, noisy and ultimately for true believers only.

Not so, the GR Yaris. True, this is a hardcore drive, but there’s no harshness and it instantly feels cohesively on the pace, with perfect control weighting another piece of its highly developed repertoire. So you could very well use it as your everyday car.

How about the looks? To me, the aggressively pumped up front end with those prominent wing blisters, plus further blisters over the rear wheels and black rear spoiler works well.

Check out the trick carbon-fibre/Polymer roof too. Doors, bonnet and tailgate are also lightweight aluminium. All suitably purposeful and funky, while not too over-the-top.

A friend opined, however: “it looks like a big pig. But I like that….”

Inside, the GR Yaris is surprisingly well-appointed, comfortable and there’s a long list of Toyota’s state-of-the-art safety kit. So, no stripped out bare road racer, this.

The GR Ultrasuede sports seats look and feel good, holding you tight in the front. You do get two small rear seats, but accessibility isn’t great, it has to be said.

Cabin presentation is smart, although some may find the unremitting greyness a bit out of kilter with the car’s exuberant looks and ferocious road performance.

Key to this is the Toyota’s motorsport-derived 1618 cc engine which pumps out a meteoric 257ps at 6500rpm. Toyota claims this to be the world’s most potent three-cylinder engine (also the smallest and lightest), so it’s a bit special….

Up and running, the three-cylinder growler combines with a peach of a 6-speed manual box to deliver a level of driving performance, consistency and cornering speed that will leave even experienced pilots slack-jawed and wide-eyed.

Toyota’s turbo triple spools up fast and once past 2000rpm it’s really pushing hard. Into the ‘zone’ between 3000-5000 rpm (where 360Nm max torque peaks) and it’s a veritable grenade, packing serious punch.

All the while, however, the Yaris GR feels engagingly agile and alive, also taut and stable, steering sweetly and holding the line resolutely in and out of corners. Road holding is immense.

Toyota claims 5.5 secs for 0-62 mph (which is quick), but it’s the massive in-gear shove that also puts the little Toyota on the map, and rapidly become so addictive…

The Circuit Pack treatment brings uprated suspension and lightweight BBS 18-inch wheels. However, day-to-day, the stiff springs and dampers might sometimes be too much (expect a resilient ride quality over indifferent road surfaces).

However, serious students looking to track day or rally the car would surely go for this spec, with the high-grade Torsen diffs on board to deliver optimum front/rear torque distribution in extremis.

Talking of which, you can vary the torque split from 60/40 to 50/50 or even to 30/70 via the different driving modes, but you’ll need a circuit to see the benefit and differences.

On price, this storming GR Yaris comes at you with an on the road price tag of just £30,020 OTR. Talk about a driveaway bargain….

From there, you can go with the Convenience Pack (£32,200), which brings extra premium level kit, or the Circuit Pack (£33,520), which is the ultimate, as it stands.

What a machine. There have been fast Toyotas before, but nothing like this. Deservedly, the Toyota GR Yaris has to be one of ‘the’ cars of 2021.

Car reviewed: Toyota GR Yaris GT-FOUR Circuit Pack 1.6 turbo

on the road price £30,020 with pack as tested £33,520

  • 0-62mph 5.5secs
  • Top speed 137mph
  • Engine 1618cc 3-cylinder unleaded
  • Fuel Economy WLTP Combined 36.7mpg
  • Max Power [email protected]
  • Torque [email protected]
  • Dimensions MM 3995 L / 1805 W / 1455 H
  • CO2 emissions 175g/km
  • Transmission 6-speed DSG automatic front-wheel-drive
  • Bootspace 270 / 119 1itres (seats folded)

Peter Nunn

Motoring writer

As a motoring journalist, he’s been writing about cars for a long time, starting in London in fact around the time the Sex Pistols first began limbering up….

Thereafter his journalistic remit has covered both new and classic cars, some historic motorsport reporting plus a long spell in Tokyo, covering the Japanese car industry for a range of global media outlets. Peter is a car writer and tester in the UK. Gooner, Alfisti and former Tokyo resident. If it has wheels, then he is interested.