REVIEW | 2021 Toyota GR Yaris is born to be wild

It is eye-wateringly expensive, but the rally-bred hatchback is an enthralling drive

05 October 2021 - 16:08
The GR Yaris is expensive but drives like a true enthusiasts’ car. Picture: SUPPLIED
The GR Yaris is expensive but drives like a true enthusiasts’ car. Picture: SUPPLIED

Toyota’s new GR Yaris is priced at R606,600 for the basic model and R715,600 for the Rally version, but the first batch of cars has already been sold out in SA and there’s a waiting list for the second allocation arriving next year.

It’s clear enthusiasts are willing to pay top dollar for a compact hatch if it’s a limited-edition, high-performance special from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing motorsport division.

Non-enthusiasts may balk at such prices but the motorsport tweaks have turned a runabout into a racy package that excels on curvy roads.

Toyota has stuck to the go-faster script in crafting a high-performance car out of a modest hatch: more power, improved traction and less weight. It’s capped off by aggressive styling and optimised aerodynamics.

Based on the car that competes in the World Rally Championship, the Yaris GR combines a 198kW three-cylinder 1.6l petrol turbo engine with all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. No auto is available, in line with the car’s enthusiasts only brief.

The GR Yaris Rally version additionally has a Circuit Pack with a Torsen limited-slip differential on both the front and rear axles, performance-tuned suspension, revised power-steering assistance and an upgrade to 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels wearing sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.

It is the Rally version I drove on not one but two racetracks at the recent GR Yaris launch in SA: first the Formula K circuit in Benoni and then the Redstar Raceway near Delmas.

Both are tight, twisty tracks that highlighted one very important thing about the sporty Yaris: its lack of understeer, which will come as music to the ears of enthusiast drivers.

The motorsport-bred Toyota is an entertaining handler that scampers around a racetrack like a startled rodent. It has a great deal of grip in the dry and wet (we experienced both), hugging curves even on an aggressive throttle, with high-performance brakes that stand up well to punishment.

Drivers can adjust the four-wheel drive system to suit the driving situation using a 4WD mode dial switch. In normal mode the base front/rear torque distribution is 60:40; in Sport mode the balance shifts to the rear with a 30:70 split; and in Track mode the setting is 50:50. It’s a forgiving, easy-to-control track car with neutral manners, and even in rear-biased Sport mode the Yaris didn’t become a tail-happy handful.

It’s an appealingly balanced power/handling package with an engine that feels zesty without being intimidating. The car is perky through the gears with strong midrange acceleration, and the engine sounds a charming three-cylinder chortle without making an intrusive drone.

Toyota quotes a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 5.5 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 230km/h.

Sporting touches inside the cabin include red stitching, with synthetic leather/Alcantara for the Rally version. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sporting touches inside the cabin include red stitching, with synthetic leather/Alcantara for the Rally version. Picture: SUPPLIED

Sports suspension keeps the Toyota hunkered down in tight turns without feeling overly firm on regular roads, and the ride felt settled on suburbia’s bumpy tar.

The three-door body shell is made from lightweight materials, including carbon fibre polymer and aluminium, and the car features a widened rear track, new double-wishbone rear suspension system and body reinforcements.

The GR’s styling swagger comes from a lowered roofline and wide track, a grille with a signature GR “functional matrix” design, a large rectangular lower grille with a honeycomb mesh, and aggressively flared rear fenders.

Sporting touches inside the cabin include red stitching and GR branding, including a WRC commemorative plaque. The standard GR Yaris has premium textured fabric upholstery and the Rally version has synthetic leather/Alcantara.

This limited-edition purist car is aimed at people looking to compete in local rally competitions or track days, and they’re unlikely to be disappointed. Not every hot hatchback successfully translates good on-road performance onto the demanding environment of racing circuits, but the GR Yaris Rally does exactly what it says on the tin.

All it’s missing is a “born to be wild” bumper sticker.


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