Can any discussion of the
Toyota Yaris GRMN
avoid the price? Rather like Drift Mode on a Focus RS, the noise of a four-cylinder Porsche, or how a McLaren Senna looks, most probably not. So let's begin there.
It's easy to smirk at £26k. It is, after all, a lot of money for a hot supermini with similar power to its rivals and a very pricey Yaris. It's more even than a GT86. Crikey, even a Golf R isn't massively far off £26k, and what more motor vehicle do you need than a Golf R?
However, spend a little time with the GRMN and the case for its defence becomes a lot stronger. There will be just 600 of these little cars made, with only 100 coming to the UK. It's chock full of expensive components too, like Sachs Performance dampers, a Magnuson Eaton supercharger, forged wheels and a Torsen limited-slip differential. Combine all that with the effort involved in bringing to production a car which was never intended to have a performance variant (on the regular Yaris line), plus the impact required to launch a new brand, and it's easy to see why the Yaris costs what it costs. Finally, if none of that can convince you of the Yaris's RRP, bear in mind that every single UK car has an allocated buyer and half a dozen Belgian buyers have been forced to pay €44k because of taxes. So there you are. Bruges would probably seem less of a fairytale city if you'd been made to stump up that.
The Gazoo Racing Meister of the Nurburgring heralds the launch of a more cohesive motorsport project from Toyota, even if that doesn't yet extend to the nomenclature. See, Toyota has actually accrued its fair share of motorsport kudos over the years, yet arguably still doesn't have the brand recognition that others do when it comes to fast cars. In the past 20 years it's fielded the GT-One at Le Mans (then returned to endurance racing at the height of Audi dominance), won the WRC in its final season (then come back as drastic rule changes were brought in), raced at every N24 since 2007 (including with cars such as the LFA and, this year, the C-HR) plus created a GT86 rally car. Because the world needed more rear-wheel drive rally cars. With all that and so much more, you should expect a lot from a tinkered Toyota, even if your first instinct isn't to.
The GRMN feels like the very definition of a skunkworks project. A group of dedicated enthusiasts have pleaded with management to have this car made, with parts purloined from wherever they could be sourced, to create their vision of the best fast Yaris. So it has the steering wheel from a GT86, the stronger subframe from the Yaris Hybrid, a catalytic converter from a Lexus and the regular six-speed gearbox, albeit strengthened for this installation. More than that there's an apparent attention to detail that you only seem to get when the very committed few are involved. For example the wheels could have been bigger for the sake of style, but they were kept at 17-inches for the sake of unsprung mass; same for the brake discs. The steering wheel has been modified to improve the driver's grip and thus their connection with the car. In the press conference we're told that, although 62mph comes up in 6.4 seconds, that's with a change into third and so - this being the UK rotation and all - it was deemed necessary to tell us that 60mph takes "about 6.1 seconds". They're an enthusiastic bunch, exactly the kind you would want building your hot hatch.
A competitive bunch too, it would seem, because the GRMNs used on track are running a very aggressive Bridgestone Potenza RE11S (as opposed to the standard RE050). They won't be offered to customers and aren't actually legal in Europe, the logic being that the rubber shows off the car to its best ability and that a dedicated customer would need only change their tyres to have a proper track tearaway on their hands. Personally it feels a little disingenuous, rather like Justin Gatlin and the assistance he employed to show off to his best ability. A track tyre option is not unheard of nowadays, but to fit something not even offered for sale is slightly cynical. And will buyers of a car so rare really invest in another set of wheels and tyres for track days?
So all GRMN track observations run with the proviso that it was on a tyre as focused as a Michelin Cup 2, if not more so. Unsurprisingly traction and grip are huge, the Yaris's purchase seemingly unimpeachable for the first few laps. Beyond that though there feels a chassis of real quality too: it's nimble and adjustable in that impish hot hatch fashion, without behaving erratically. It's not just lairy oversteer but the kind of balance that really helps you around a lap, flighty yet not frightening. The brakes are fantastic, the supercharged engine is punchy and the steering is decent. What must be wrong with it on standard tyres? If there are any GRMN owners on PH out there, get it on track soon and let us know...
Fortunately the Yaris proves anything but undriveable and uninteresting on the road using the standard tyre. In fact it's raw, raucous, and engaging; the antithesis of so much offered today and all the better for it. Toyota would have struggled to make a Polo GTI style hot hatch and so has trodden its own path, creating something so tremendously exciting that it's hard to level such a result with the same progenitor as the Auris. It's as much of a shock to the system as the GT86 was in 2012, perhaps more so.
There are no modes to configure or settings to mull over, making the Yaris refreshingly simple. So while it's firm around town (that'll be the 60 per cent increase in spring rate) the pay-off is an addictive agility and eagerness at speed, the kind that makes you just want to drive and drive and drive. The Sachs dampers - reworked since the prototype drive for more compliance - deliver outstanding control, allowing you to carry all the speed you want with great confidence. They're also said to contribute to the traction, aided of course by the limited-slip diff - full throttle out of second gear hairpins sees nary a flicker from the traction control light, the Yaris locked on line and driving out hard without any of the lag found in its turbocharged rivals. And while the exhaust looks naff, this GRMN is the best sounding hot hatch out there: an angry, fizzing rasp accompanies full throttle, with hints of supercharger whine too.
To say the Yaris GRMN feels old-fashioned would be to sell it short, because it's a car of far greater ability and talent than a lot from the past decade. Traditional feels a better fit, because it delivers everything we've always wanted from a hot hatch: it's a proper giggle to drive fast, begging you to push harder and entirely capable of accommodating that. It makes a bit too much noise, the stickers are brash (though they can be removed) and people who value image in their fast car will hate it; as a result, therefore, the Yaris GRMN is quite brilliant. Different, yes, but still brilliant.
As an introduction to the Gazoo Racing brand in the UK there's much to be encouraged by with this car; a series production version is being investigated, but we wouldn't hold out too much hope given how difficult the GRMN's gestation has been. What it has proved is that Toyota is more than capable of producing a feisty and focused hot hatch. One that, on this experience, feels about as good as supermini pocket rockets get. Of course it will take a full test in the UK to fully establish that - plus the arrival of some key rivals - but be in no doubt: those 100 British buyers are in for an absolute treat, and the Yaris will feel like money well spent.
SPECIFICATION - TOYOTA YARIS GRMN
Engine: 1,798cc, supercharged 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 212@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.4 secs
Top speed: 143mph (limited)
MPG: 37.6 (NEDC combined)
1 / 4