TOYOTA GR YARIS UNLEASHED
THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL THREE-POT. ALL-WHEEL DRIVE. FETTLED BY FOUR-TIME WRC CHAMP TOMMI MAKINEN. TOYOTA’S GR YARIS IS PACKING SOME SERIOUS HEAT
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.
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