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A light­weight rally-replica hatch with 200kW and a man­ual gear­box. Where the heck do we sign?

THE DE­VEL­OP­MENT of any new car is a con­stant bat­tle be­tween the engi­neers and the ac­coun­tants. Gen­er­ally, the for­mer want to spend the money and the lat­ter want to save it. In cre­at­ing the Toy­ota GR Yaris, the engi­neers def­i­nitely had the up­per hand. This is a baby hot hatch with a car­bon roof, alu­minium pan­els, mon­ster brakes, and a be­spoke en­gine and all-wheel-drive sys­tem.

Toy­ota has pushed all its chips in, and with good rea­son, for the GR Yaris is the ba­sis for its next World Rally Car, set to de­but in 2021. More im­por­tantly, it’s the first all-new, purely Toy­ota per­for­mance car since the 2001 Corolla Sportivo, if you’re feel­ing char­i­ta­ble, or the 1994 ST205 Cel­ica GT-Four if you’re be­ing re­al­is­tic. No joint ven­tures here. There’s a sig­nif­i­cant amount of pride at stake, the engi­neer­ing team keen to prove it can pro­duce a world-beat­ing hot hatch.

There were hur­dles, the largest of which was Toy­ota’s re­cent paucity of ex­cit­ing ma­chin­ery lead­ing to a lack of knowl­edge within the com­pany on how to pro­ceed. “When I started to de­velop this car, no-one knows how to make a sports four­wheel-drive sys­tem,” says chief en­gi­neer Nao­hiko Saito. “So we went to the Toy­ota tech­ni­cal li­brary and we found ar­ti­cles from 20 years ago.”

Saito and his team were also in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion of be­ing able to call upon some­one within the Toy­ota fam­ily with ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of all-wheel drive: four-time World Rally Cham­pion Tommi Maki­nen. Maki­nen is now the team boss at Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing, whose Yaris pow­ered Es­to­nian driver Ott Tanak to the 2019 ti­tle. “We learn so many new things from Tommi Maki­nen Rac­ing,” says Saito.

The GR Yaris, sched­uled for an Australian ar­rival late this year, is po­si­tioned at the top of the new-gen­er­a­tion Yaris range that will launch lo­cally within five months.

Maki­nen’s team, in­clud­ing his crack ros­ter of driv­ers, was in­stru­men­tal in help­ing de­velop the all-wheel-drive sys­tem that sets the GR Yaris apart from sim­i­larly sized com­peti­tors like the Ford Fi­esta ST and VW Polo GTI. It uses what Toy­ota calls a ‘high-re­sponse cou­pling’ – an elec­tro-me­chan­i­cally con­trolled clutch pack that ap­por­tions drive front and rear. There are three modes, each us­ing a dif­fer­ent base torque split: Nor­mal (60:40), Sport (30:70) and Track (50:50), though in each mode 100 per­cent of the drive can be sent to ei­ther axle de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion.

It works. The GR Yaris dis­plays ex­cel­lent trac­tion and largely avoids the ‘pulled by the nose’ feel­ing that af­flicts Haldex-equipped ma­chin­ery like the Audi RS3. How­ever, it doesn’t de­liver on the throt­tle-steer­abil­ity sug­gested by Sport mode’s rear-bi­ased 30:70 torque split, ei­ther. Floor­ing the throt­tle in se­cond gear out of the tight chi­cane that’s a trade­mark fea­ture of Por­tu­gal’s iconic Es­to­ril cir­cuit, the

Yaris mo­men­tar­ily spins an un­loaded in­side rear wheel be­fore re­gain­ing its com­po­sure, rather than arc­ing into a grace­ful, Fo­cus RS-style drift as hoped. Re­gard­less of the base torque split, once tyre slip is de­tected it pri­ori­tises re­gain­ing trac­tion.

The op­tional Per­for­mance Pack cures the mo­men­tary wheel­spin by adding Torsen limited-slip dif­fer­en­tials front and rear, al­low­ing the torque to be split left-to-right in ad­di­tion to front-to-rear, as well as re­plac­ing the stan­dard Dun­lop SP SportMaxx tyres with grip­pier Miche­lin Pi­lot

Sport 4 S and re­tun­ing the dampers to suit. Sounds good, right? Don’t get too ex­cited. Toy­ota Aus­tralia has no plans to of­fer the Per­for­mance Pack lo­cally, though says it’s happy to re­con­sider should there be suf­fi­cient cus­tomer de­mand. If you want to use your GR Yaris on track, the Per­for­mance Pack is a worth­while up­grade, but on the road you’re un­likely to miss the ex­tra grip.

This is, in part, due to the com­pe­tency of the base car. A four-link rear-end re­places the tor­sion beam found in the boggo Yaris, wheels are 18s and wrapped in 225/40 rub­ber, and the brakes are hu­mungous for a car of this type. At 356mm, the slot­ted, two-piece front ro­tors are larger than those of the Supra (348mm) and are gripped by four-pis­ton calipers. The rear ven­ti­lated discs are 297mm and are han­dled by two-pis­ton calipers.

Vic Her­man, Toy­ota’s Euro­pean Master Driver and the man re­spon­si­ble for the lion’s share of GR Yaris de­vel­op­ment work, was left unim­pressed by the stop­ping ef­forts of most of the com­peti­tor ve­hi­cles used for bench­mark­ing: “A lot of those sporty ve­hi­cles, the thing they are re­ally miss­ing is the con­sis­tent and durable brake sys­tem – it’s the weak­est thing on the ve­hi­cle.” Her­man also laughs when Wheels points out the GR Yaris re­tains a man­ual hand­brake: “It can be use­ful.”

Her­man also laughs when Wheels points out the GR Yaris re­tains a man­ual hand­brake: “It can be use­ful”

De­spite what must be a se­ri­ous in­jec­tion of boost, the Yaris keenly re­sponds to throt­tle inputs

Speak­ing of man­ual op­er­a­tion, a six-speed DIY gear­box is the only choice, an au­to­matic dis­missed for pack­ag­ing and weight rea­sons. It’s a great ’box. In fact, you barely no­tice it, which is ac­tu­ally quite the com­pli­ment; each gear slots home smoothly and ac­cu­rately and the short ra­tios make the most of the en­gine’s avail­able grunt. And what an en­gine; the per­fect il­lus­tra­tion that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that mat­ters, but the size of the fight in the dog.

The be­spoke 1.6-litre tur­bocharged three-cylin­der is phys­i­cally diminu­tive but packs a mighty punch, its 200kW and 360Nm putting the GR Yaris closer to the likes of the mid-spec Subaru WRX (197kW/350Nm) and the Hyundai i30 N (202kw/353Nm) in terms of pure per­for­mance. Toy­ota is promis­ing a 0-100km/h time of less than 5.5sec, which eclipses the N (6.2sec, tested) and the 6.0sec claim of the WRX Pre­mium. At 1280kg , the Yaris en­joys a weight ad­van­tage over both, which are 1429kg and 1504kg re­spec­tively.

What’s far more im­por­tant from a driv­ing stand­point is the ex­cel­lent re­sponse and wide spread of torque. De­spite what must be a se­ri­ous in­jec­tion of boost, the Yaris keenly re­sponds to throt­tle inputs, even in higher gears at rel­a­tively low rpm. It runs out of puff slightly to­wards its 7000rpm red­line – you’re bet­ter off shift­ing up at about 6500rpm and us­ing the torque – but the fact it has that high a ceil­ing is im­pres­sive.

The sound­track is the only ques­tion mark. Be­ing a three-pot it sounds… dif­fer­ent, but it’s a fairly tune­less note. There’s a hint of old 911 in cer­tain parts of the rev range, but some rally-car style ex­haust the­atrics would add wel­come char­ac­ter. Sadly, the lat­est emis­sion reg­u­la­tions mean such fuel-burn­ing histri­on­ics are a thing of the past.

The steer­ing wheel is fan­tas­tic, the ana­logue di­als nice and clear and the seat sup­port­ive enough, though mounted a lit­tle high. A quick look around the in­te­rior re­veals key­less en­try and go, cli­mate con­trol, touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment with satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and heated seats. En­try to the two rear seats isn’t easy thanks to the three-door bodyshell, and head­room is com­pro­mised by the heav­ily raked roofline, but Maki­nen wanted a stiff, aero­dy­namic base for his new World Rally Car, so there you go.

The de­mands of the WRC also dic­tated that car­bon roof and the use of alu­minium for the bon­net, doors and hatch, the body-in-white weigh­ing 38kg less than the pre­vi­ous Yaris. While the engi­neer­ing team ob­vi­ously re­ceived vir­tu­ally a clean slate to make their ul­ti­mate hot hatch, the one re­main­ing ques­tion is the most im­por­tant: what’ll it cost?

The price in Ja­pan equates to about A$52,000, though Toy­ota has yet to con­firm pric­ing for Aus­tralia, of­fer­ing only: “We un­der­stand that the car’s got to be at­tain­able.”

It’s a talented and en­joy­able car, but pric­ing will be the key to re­al­is­ing Toy­ota’s vol­ume am­bi­tions. The engi­neers have done a great job with the GR Yaris; now it’s the ac­coun­tants’ turn.

Ballsy brakes and all-paw grip a clear ral­ly­ing cry

Swoopy roof low­ered by 91mm for bet­ter aero­dy­nam­ics

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