Toyota Yaris GRMN vs Mini Cooper S Works 210

For cars that occupy the same class, have similar power outputs and cost about the same, you'll struggle to find two more diametrically opposed hot hatches than the Yaris GRMN and Mini 210 Works. On the one hand you have the slightly nerdy skunkworks special, drawing on WRC experience and offered with one gearbox, one passive suspension set-up and very few options. The other is, of course, a 21st century Mini, with all the personalisation, gimmickry and slight air of contrivance that entails. Consider their ideological differences this way: if the Toyota's stickers are a bit extroverted for you, they can be deleted for free. Mini, on the other hand, will sell you all manner of stickers, stripes and badges to make your Cooper stand out some more. Says a lot. They're patently not aimed at the same buyer, however they find themselves together by virtue of great performances in isolation.

Yes, really. Despite there now having been more than 15 years of 'new' Cooper S Minis - plus the various GP, Challenge, and Works models - there's still a hint that cars like the 210 aren't on many hot hatch shortlists. Too much style (or attempts at it) and not enough substance would appear to be the general consensus, however far from the truth that may be. And while the F56 generation Mini hasn't been an unqualified triumph, those who dismiss this particular one for whatever reason should reconsider. Because it's absolutely fab.

The Works 210 feels like the culmination of all the good bits of this Mk3 Mini that have never found a single home before. So it has the maturity and the luxury we know so well, but also the sense of naughtiness and cheekiness found in the Challenge thanks to that exhaust. The additional power lifts it tangibly above the Cooper S, while the avoidance of runflats means memories of the frustrating JCW can remain firmly in the past. Calling it a Goldilocks Cooper would be a tragically lazy cliché, though given some perceptions of the typical Mini customer...

The Works 210's talent lies in a very clever combination of small BMW traits along with some brilliant hot hatch ones. It's grown up but it's also exciting, and one is never allowed to dominate the other. So it's agile and eager and properly fast enough, yet with the damping quality, refinement and sufficiently easy going nature to cover a lot of miles. It's exactly what you want from a mature, modern Mini.

That isn't to say the Toyota can't show it a few things, though, specifically on the powertrain front. While the Works may now make such a juvenile racket that you'll fold the seats down for more of it, the Toyota's is the more satisfying powertrain. Both engine and gearbox reveal some softness and slack in the Mini that went unnoticed before. The GRMN is just so urgent, the supercharger giving instantaneous response and the power building and building to its 6,800rpm peak. Once there the next ratio can be flashed through with a more precise, more mechanical gearbox than the Mini or, if you're feeling naughty, the engine will run into a proper rev limiter at 7,000rpm. Which sounds brilliant, FYI. The Mini, while improved from others, still feels a tad breathless after 6,000rpm and runs into a soft limiter soon after that. If you thought the days of distinctive, involving, entertaining Japanese powertrains were over - a reasonable assumption to make - then the Yaris GRMN will put you at ease.

Moreover, those who believed that Japanese performance cars were no longer raw and no longer focused will find a lot to enjoy in the Toyota. It demands the driver's attention, whether you want to give it or not, the Torsen limited-slip diff dragging you away from corners as effectively as the brakes have slowed you into them - a drive will never be forgettable, that's for sure.

The GRMN's downfall is that it feels a bit too aggressive for its own good sometimes, which is also familiar from Japanese cars of yore. To give the Yaris a fighting chance as a hot hatch, its suspension is so much stiffer - spring rate is up 60 per cent, don't forget - that it can feel to be fighting against a road (and itself) rather than flowing with it. The car is deflected and unsettled quite often in Britain, the issue compounded by a draconian traction control system that's as much a reminder of the car's supermini origins as the lofty driving position.

While the Mini could never be described as truly supple in either of its (optional) damper settings, it has a B-road poise that eludes the Toyota, which in turn gives you the confidence to carry more speed and establish a rhythm. Moreover it's the Mini that seems to have the more neutral chassis balance, the Toyota's dynamics largely dictated by its front end. Yet thanks to GRMN's awkward driving position and slight hesitation in the first few degrees of steering - the former could of course compound the sensation of the latter - it's the Mini that has the more incisive turn in as well. The 'maximum go-kart feel' isn't entirely marketing tosh...

On track this could well be reversed, those fleeting moments on the road where you can feel the Toyota's LSD-enhanced traction becoming more frequent and the Sachs dampers probably proving their worth more effectively too. There's fun to be had in the GRMN, certainly, though there's also no doubt that the Mini offers more enjoyment, more of the time. Frankly it's a right old hoot, as should always be the way with Minis, adjustable and engaging and tremendously good fun.

That it will also settle down to a more relaxed cruise than the Toyota, in a vastly more welcoming interior, means the conclusion of this twin test hopefully won't take too much deciphering. Let's not lose sight, however, of what Toyota has achieved here, and what the GRMN represents. Toyota didn't have to make fast cars again; it could have been content making millions of hybrids and crossovers. But it saw the worth in a tangible link to motorsport, the brand-building value of halo models and the relevance of the enthusiast market, which deserves to be applauded. Furthermore the Yaris is not some cynical 'motorsport special', it's a car brimming with intent and purpose and, just as validly, potential for the future. Lots of the reasons for why the Mini wins this test stem from the whole car being devised with a Cooper S in mind, from ground up. The GRMN team was always working with one hand behind its back because the Yaris was not, and its origins can never be fully escaped. Arguably that makes the car more of a success than originally suggested. Making a hot hatch from a Yaris is like making a hurdler from my Nan, because however much expertise you throw at it the architecture is fundamentally unsuited.

So yes, the Mini is the better hot hatch here. It could be one of the very best out there, in fact, thanks to its vast array of talents. The Toyota certainly offers thrills, though perhaps its greatest triumph is in showing the dedication of its maker to entertaining fast cars. If only there were, let's say, some front-engined, rear-drive sports cars the GRMN boys and girls could turn their hands to...

Mini deserves credit here for finally realising the potential in the F56 Cooper S; if Toyota and GRMN can tap into its own potential with a more suitable base product, however, then we could have some superb performance cars on the horizon.

Toyota Yaris GRMN - Specifications
Engine 1,798cc, supercharged 4-cyl
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp) 212@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft) 184@4,800rpm
0-62mph 6.4 sec
Top speed 143mph
Weight 1,135kg
MPG 37.7 (NEDC combined)
CO2 170g/km
Price £26,295 (and £26,295 as tested!)

Mini Cooper S Works 210 - Specifications
Engine 1,998cc, turbocharged 4-cyl
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp) 210@4,700rpm
Torque (lb ft) 221@1,250rpm (!)
0-62mph 6.9 sec
Top speed 144mph
Weight 1,220kg (EU, with driver)
MPG 47.1 (NEDC combined)
CO2 139g/km
Price £19,994.40 (for standard Cooper S. As tested £28,344.40 comprising £475 for Melting Silver metallic paint, £300 for Mini active from 12/06/17 to 11/06/20, £1,695 for Works enhanced kit, £75 for John Cooper Works sport leather steering wheel, £375 for variable damper control, £80 for black bonnet stripes, £120 for Anthracite roof lining, £220 for sun protection glass, £215 for front seat heating, £2,710 for Mini hatch tech pack, £2,000 for Chili pack for JCW sports pack and £85 for LED headlights with extended contents).







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Comments (85) Join the discussion on the forum

  • T S Magnum 04 Apr 2018

    I'm biased but think the Audi S1 should also be considered at that segment and price point. 230bhp and 4wd, Audi build quality, racing pedigree, relative rarity (not as much as the Yaris admittedly).

  • rare6499 04 Apr 2018

    If I had to live with it everyday I would take the Mini, if I could use it as a second car I would take the Toyota. Minus the stickers of course.

  • Ryvita 04 Apr 2018

    Gee Arr Emm Enn? German? Garmin? Gurrmun? (Dave) Gorman?

    Yes I known what it's supposed to stand for but I just can't make it come out that way in my head as I read prose... I cannot think of a more awkward automotive brand naming.

  • dukebox9reg 04 Apr 2018

    T S Magnum said:
    I'm biased but think the Audi S1 should also be considered at that segment and price point. 230bhp and 4wd, Audi build quality, racing pedigree, relative rarity (not as much as the Yaris admittedly).
    Perceived build quality. VW group for many years are quite low on various surveys etc. Yaris would most likely last a lot longer. Have to admit though, interior doesn't do it for me on the Yaris.

  • dukebox9reg 04 Apr 2018

    I'd love to see a twin test of the Yaris and mk1 R53 mini Cooper S JCW.

    Same weight and power just with 12-13 years between them.

    I have had a few mk2 minis of different flavours and decided to go back to a mk1 R53 to tune as a track car.

    Engine though a little rough round the edges it is so responsive and the car is so adjustable and raw. Sounds like this new Gremlin

    Edited by dukebox9reg on Wednesday 4th April 08:32

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