Toyota Yaris GRMN: Driven

The little Yaris GRMN will be received in one of two ways. Some people will think it's a fun and refreshingly uncomplicated junior hot hatch. But given that Toyota has built the car specifically to draw a link between the showroom Yaris and the company's World Rally Championship cars, others will think it's a bit of a copout. After all, it isn't particularly fast, it doesn't have bundles of power and it's still front-wheel drive.

I sit in the former camp. Having spoken at length with project leader Stijn Peeters and chief engineer Yoshinori Sasaki about the Yaris GRMN, it seems incredible the project has reached this stage at all. The car itself is relatively simple, but the challenges the pair faced during its development were enormous.

Take the engine as an example. It's a supercharged 1.8-litre four-pot, which makes a nice change from all the 1.6-litre turbos the GRMN's rivals seem to use. But actually getting it to fit into the Yaris's tiny engine bay was a massive headache.

And then there's the not inconsiderable matter of making the two components marry together on the normal Yaris production line in France. Toyota's global guidelines dictate a minimum clearance of 20mm in all directions between engine and body so that the motor slots in quickly and easily, keeping the entire production line moving freely.

Here, though, the clearance is more like a few millimetres, which means it's more difficult to squeeze into the shell, making costly stoppages much more likely. The factory wouldn't stop the line if Akio Toyoda's cat had wandered into the press shop and was about to be stamped into a door skin.

Anyway, you get the point. The Yaris GRMN shouldn't really have happened at all. 'Every single day people told us this project was too challenging,' says Peeters. 'They told us to stop, but we always had the support of the management.'

Toyota is deadly serious about getting back into the performance car game and this project demonstrates that. The GT86, launched back in 2012, was a step in the right direction; the new Supra is on its way, and soon enough there'll also be a long overdue replacement for the MR2. After several years of being the dreariest, most spirit-crushingly earnest car manufacturer out there Toyota is becoming interesting again.

The Yaris GRMN will run to just 400 units in Europe, with no more than 100 coming to the UK. Does that justify the £26,295 (€29,900) list price? Probably not. The somewhat clumsy moniker comes from Gazoo Racing, the in-house competition division responsible for Toyota's LMP1 programme, and Meisters of Nürburgring, referring to the super handy drivers who'll test and develop all GRMN products at the 'ring. Yes, it does sound a bit daft.

The supercharged four-cylinder will develop around 213hp (the car is yet to be homologated). Toyota's stated objective for the car is clear and concise: for it to be the lightest, fastest and most powerful car in its class. The body structure has been stiffened significantly and the springs and dampers are GRMN specific, while the front anti-roll bar is thicker. There's even a Torsen limited slip differential and four-pot brakes on the front axle.

The development programme still has a few months to run, but we got behind the wheel for an early taste nonetheless. As well as testing it on some of the difficult roads close to the Nürburgring we also squeezed in a single lap of the Nordschleife itself.

The first thing you notice is the seating position. The well-bolstered seats themselves are really supportive, but they're mounted too high. And the GT86-derived steering wheel doesn't reach out far enough. And the pedals aren't particularly well spaced for heel and toe downshifts. Unfortunately, all of that stuff is governed by Toyota's pesky global standards, which meant the engineers' hands were tied.

Then you notice the exhaust note. It's loud and rorty. Quite tinny, too. But it's entirely authentic, with none of the contrived pops and bangs that some hot hatches seem to favour. The engine itself is very good, for although it lacks the torquey punch of a turbo motor it's strong, it revs keenly to 7,000rpm, it's perfectly linear and throttle response is instantaneous. No turbo hot hatch can make that claim. The LSD allows you to get back on the power the moment the car is turned into a corner.

The six-speed manual gearbox is snicky and direct enough, meanwhile, and the steering allows you to place the car exactly where you want it. The chassis, however, is pretty uncompromising. The springs are fairly tough, which is where the car's poise and agility come from. There is just enough quality in the damping to deal with really broken, rutted surfaces, but day-to-day comfort could well be on the challenging side.

There are no complicated drive modes or adaptive dampers or any of that stuff. Being so small and light (1,135kg) the Yaris GRMN is just a huge amount of fun to fling around, which is what really matters. There's a degree of adjustability in the chassis and grip levels are modest enough that you can hang the car right over the edge at perfectly sensible road speeds.

All of which is very promising indeed. No, it isn't a WRC car with carpets and yes, it is pretty expensive. But it's also as entertaining to hoof along a road or track as any small hot hatch you'll ever come across.

: 1,798cc, inline-4
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 212@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.3 - 6.5secs*
Top speed: 143mph (limited)
Weight: 1,135kg
MPG: 37.6* (NEDC combined)
CO2: 170g/km*
Price: £26,295

* subject to final homologation









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Comments (52) Join the discussion on the forum

  • alpha channel 17 Jul 2017

    I rather like the look of that, no driver modes/active dampers, liner acceleration and instant throttle response is just what I like in a car i.e. not that complicated (in the grand scheme of things anyway). Doing any kind of work on that engine though is, I suspect, going to be an engine out job if the tolerances are that tight, I'm thinking belt changes, etc...

  • Bencolem 17 Jul 2017

    Blah, blah, blah. Why didn't they chuck this engine in the GT86 and GRMN that instead.

  • Ultrafunkula 17 Jul 2017

    I like this much more than the VW UP GTI as a basic hot hatch.

    Will it be as good to drive as the Fiesta ST? I doubt it but it appeals to me more somehow.

  • bungz 17 Jul 2017



  • Integroo 17 Jul 2017

    Lot of things I would buy with 27k than a hot Yaris.

    I mean, 220 odd bhp isn't bad at all - it will be a quick car, especially as it's so light. However, an extra 2.5k would get you a Type R, with 306bhp, and a lot more bells and whistles...

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