Toyota Yaris GRMN
The effervescent Yaris GRMN may not be offered for sale in South Africa but it’s an exciting sign of things to come
WITH just three of the 400 Yaris GRMN (Gazoo Racing Masters of Nürburgring) units produced globally made available to Toyota South Africa Motors, our short stint behind the wheel served more as a teaser of the brand’s intentions with the newly repositioned Gazoo Racing performance-focused brand than an in-depth consumer review.
Based on the three-door version of the European-model Yaris – the one offered in SA before the latest-generation model debuted earlier this year – a host of alterations has been made to the donor vehicle to create the Yaris GRMN, chief among which is the 1,8-litre supercharged motor producing a boisterous 156 kw and 250 N.m.
Inside, meanwhile, there’s a small-circumference, leather- wrapped steering wheel similar to the one found in the GT86 and substantial Gazoo Racing-branded bucket seats (that feel positioned a touch too high).
The most significant difference between the run-of-the-mill Yaris and the GRMN, however, is in how it drives.
Prod the branded start button and the character of this hot hatch is immediately apparent, with the supercharged, four-cylinder mill fizzing to life. Conduct the customary gearlever wiggle to ensure you’re in neutral and engage first, and you’re given a glimpse of the sheer mechanical quality of the six-speed manual transmission. There are no drive modes to adjust or variable dampers to set here; you simply get in and go.
The 170 km launch drive from our accommodation to Port Shepstone revealed cruising at the national speed limit in sixth gear sees the revs hovering at a fairly relaxed 2 800 r/min. We discovered there’s enough stopping power to avoid a stray cow that made its way onto the N2 and more than sufficient overtaking urge to pass slow-moving trucks. For such manoeuvres, the dropping of a couple of cogs
gave us a proper feel of the tactile gearshift and clutch action, plus the opportunity to hear the raspy intake note as the dual-vvt-i system came on song.
Off the highway, the wheeland-tyre combo works in harmony with the Torsen limitedslip diff serve up prodigious mechanical front-end grip. The Yaris GRMN is eager to be pushed and gleefully rewards its driver when it’s worked hard. It offers a sense of driving enjoyment and precision not too dissimilar to that of the outgoing Ford Fiesta ST200, albeit with a slightly more manic personality and an even more unforgiving ride at low speeds.
Once on the smooth surface of Dezzi Raceway, I had a chance to experience just how engaging a drive the Yaris GRMN is. Tipping the scales at 1 135 kg, the vehicle feels light on its feet, with its plucky powertrain delivering a level of responsiveness not offered by turbocharged rivals with their often laggy reactions.
Once loaded up in a corner, the steering is well weighted and provides a pleasing level of feedback from the front tyres. There’s just a whisper of corner-entry understeer before the limited-slip differential hooks up and the nose of the vehicle is dragged to the apex of the corner.
The 2ZR-FE motor pulls heartily above 5 000 r/min and urges the driver to push all the way to the 6 800 r/min redline. Downshifts are slick, too, with a pleasing punch forward as the gear engages smoothly thanks to a spot of rev-matching using the well-positioned aluminium ped- als. Again, we found ourselves wishing for a lower driving position, with the fast off-camber sweeps of Dezzi Raceway making the Yaris GRMN feel a touch top heavy when perched so high.
The uprated brakes, though, provide predictable feel and demonstrate little sign of fade, even in this punishing environment. In short, the Yaris GRMN delivers an experience to savour on the track and, rather refreshingly, asks its driver to commit fully to the experience.
If this hot Yaris is anything to go by, we can’t wait to see what Toyota’s racier wing does next. This plucky hot hatch is proof the Japanese firm can create responsive, communicative and ultimately fun cars that work equally well on the commute and at full attack.
clockwise from top Central exhaust and black spoiler confirm this is no ordinary Yaris; lightweight 17-inch BBS alloys wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050 rubber; aluminium pedals are perfectly positioned; bucket seats are comfortable and supportive; Gazoo Racing-branded start button and model-specific instrument cluster.