Unless you've been quarantining in a Scottish bothy, you'll likely know that the GR Yaris has arrived and is a big hit with virtually everyone lucky enough to have driven it. But until now all of those drives have featured the Circuit Pack, which adds (among other things) a brace of mechanical limited-slip differentials for its £3,500 premium. In the standard model - which this one is, albeit with the Convenience Pack added - you do without the Torsen hardware, relying on the multi-plate clutch at the centre of the the GR-4 system do distribute power front and back, without it going side to side. Question is, does that leave the entry-level car with one arm tied behind its three-door back? Or is it in fact a usefully cheaper way into what is still a brilliantly homologated hot hatch?
You certainly don't lose out on the ability to attract attention. Apparently everyone has read the reviews since Nic drove around Surrey unheeded, because in deepest Somerset the white Yaris with black wheels did not go unnoticed. Admittedly some of the queries were slightly wide of the mark - "is this the new hybrid, mate" - (confirmation of Toyota's brand status in UK if ever you needed it) but the basic GR, which differs visually from the Circuit Pack precisely nowhere except the 15-spoke alloys and brake caliper colour, is now on people's radar.
You'll be familiar with the cabin by now; I can confirm that after 500 miles of driving it gets no more exciting to behold than the pictures suggest. But it is certainly functional, with good space for four adults, touch points that feel decent enough and an infotainment system that operates swiftly - and thanks to the Convenience Pack (an option not available to Circuit Pack buyers) - with the added attraction of a satellite navigation button that actually works. Yes, the seats are mildly too high, but the wheel and gear lever and pedals are adroitly organised. That much you knew already.
The new 261hp engine is also unchanged. Start it up and it still projects a coarse, yet not particularly loud three-pot thrum. Initially all the intent is delivered by the increased stiffness of the GR's unique GA-B platform - a combination of the Yaris's GA-B front end with the rear of the C-HR's GA-C underpinnings. But the irrepressible 1.6-litre motor is easy to unpack: it produces the same 266lb ft of torque from 3,000-4,600rpm, accessed by the same slick-to-use six-speed manual 'box. While the latter is not on par with the FK8's oily masterpiece, you're probably going to appreciate it.
Don't expect the absence of those limited-slip diffs to make a noticeable difference at conventional road speeds. The adaptive drivetrain itself functions in exactly the same way, and permanent all-wheel drive means that it still accelerates with growing excitement after a tiny amount of lag low down. It sounds great in a blast furnace kind of way, even if some of the noise is definitely being amplified via the speakers (of which there are more thanks to the Convenience Pack). Nic failed to test the iMT auto blip mode, but I can report that it's spot on - although heel and toeing it yourself is inevitably more rewarding.
Aside from a fractionally slimmer rear anti-roll bar, there are no hardware changes in standard car's chassis aside from the alloys which are cast (the lighter Circuit Pack BBS wheels are forged). Otherwise Toyota says the difference is all in the suspension tuning. Certainly it has not dulled the GR's impressive bump absorption - it rides admirably well. The front end is still terrific, too. You can fling the Yaris at corners with confidence and perfectly predict the outcome, thanks in no small part to feedback offered by the steering. On a dry road, the standard car is never found wanting for more lateral performance or agility - even with its Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres swapped out for Dunlop SP Sport Maxxes. Don't expect them to feel overworked either; the chassis is too evenly footed for anything like that.
This is true even when the GR-4 system is in 'Sport' mode, where 70 per cent of available torque is diverted rearward, delivering hip-wiggling rotation when you're really on it. In its default mode, where 60 per cent of remains at the front, the nose tugs you through and out of a corner like a conventional AWD hot hatch; in 'Track' it nails each corner down flat. Which would suggest that - as Toyota engineering team implied a fortnight ago - you're not going to be yearning for the Circuit Pack on your favourite B-road.
Or not in the dry at least. In the drizzle, possibly. But only if you're very keen to use the lower grip limits to unlock the car's full potential. Obviously the basic merits of the chassis balance is retained no matter what the weather, but you might notice a split second of understeer, just as you're likely to find that exiting a wider slip angle (which is hilariously easy to develop) is not perhaps as fluid a process as it might otherwise be. It is in those slightly fraught moments that you'd likely appreciate an increased flow of torque to the inside wheels.
On track that feeling would no doubt be amplified. Unsurprisingly, Toyota says the Circuit Pack car definitely laps quicker, and alongside the stickier Michelins, lighter unsprung mass and Torsen's assistance, this experience bears that claim out. (Let's not forget either that Toyota built the GR to work on gravel - and in that situation you'd absolutely want the car to find every transitional millimetre of traction.) But on the road the composure, pace and positivity of the Yaris are still in remarkable abundance. Which means that in the standard car you're getting 90 per cent of the performance for 89.5 per cent of the cost - and this being Toyota, the close relationship of those ratios is probably not coincidental. We'd be delighted with either. But slightly quicker and poorer and happier in one.
TOYOTA GR YARIS | SPECIFICATION
Engine: 1,618cc, inline-three, turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Torque: 266lb ft@3,000-4,600rpm
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 143mph (electronically limited)
CO2: 186g/km driving
Price: £29,995 (£32,175 with Convenience Pack)
1 / 14