We all dared to dream, didn't we? The old Yaris GRMN had offered a substantial glimmer of hope, further bolstered by the Supra's resurrection and the promise of a returning '86. With this level of commitment to fast cars from Toyota, we thought, perhaps the Yaris GR really could be the hot hatch icon it looks like being.
As it has transpired, the Yaris is even better than we hoped. It represents a fulfilling of the potential we all knew was in Gazoo Racing when the supercharged GRMN came along; with a bespoke platform, that expertise has really given a proper chance to shine. Imagine now what the GR Super Sport hypercar could be like...
That the Yaris GR has been so well received across the board is not only good news for Toyota - it is also music to the ears of Japanese car enthusiasts across the globe. Why? Because it marks a return to the motorsport-inspired, four-wheel-drive hero from the home of sushi and sake, and that's important. Because how many of us got into fast Japanese cars thanks to something like the Yaris, one typically so innocuous yet turned into a cult hero thanks to the rigours of motorsport? Both rallying and circuit racing have created Japanese icons with four-wheel drive and forced induction; maybe if the Yaris sells in volume, it will encourage a whole new generation.
Before then, it's time to celebrate the originals. For this week's Six of the Best challenge, the team are being tasked to find the best Japanese, four-wheel drive heroes that they can for the price of a GR Circuit Pack - £33,495, and not a penny more. With three decades to choose from and a healthy budget, they ought to be spoilt for choice. To the classifieds...
This had to be first, didn't it? Given the success of various rallying Celicas over the years, plus a healthy dose of notoriety thanks to 1995, it's a wonder that GT-Fours haven't acquired more of a following in the UK. Certainly, Toyota will be hoping the Yaris captures more hearts and minds than the Celica did a quarter of a century ago.
Although, perhaps what held the Celica back in the 1990s works in its favour right now. Because back then, it was more expensive than an Impreza and lacked the emotional appeal of an Escort Cossie. Nowadays at least one of those tables has turned, this Celica also offering homologation kudos, turbocharged performance and four-wheel drive security for less cash than the others - this one is just £10k. It says much, too, that this 135,000-mile car still looks so good. Or perhaps Yaris GR excitement is clouding my judgement.
Whatever the case, the Celica is guaranteed some more (and well-deserved) time in the limelight with the Yaris's arrival and spookily similar brief. GR-Four versus GT-Four basically writes itself, doesn't it?
Show us a person who knew of the Isuzu Gemini Irmscher R, and we'll show you a liar. Actually, who are we kidding? This is PistonHeads, the owner's club chairman is probably a member...
And even if it is harder to find a Fugu chef, the Gemini Irmscher R represents, seemingly, all that we love about this breed. Like the Yaris, it's based on distinctly ordinary underpinnings (what could be more ordinary than a Gemini?) but given an incredible overhaul in aid of... well, we're not sure. Unless there was an also unknown WRC campaign. Presumably Isuzu did it just because they could. But overhauled it most certainly was, Irmscher R featuring a 1.6-litre turbo good for 180hp, with standard four-wheel drive as well - enough for 60 in less than seven seconds, in 1991! It's a mini Evo, if you squint. And turn around.
Is £10,000 a lot for what appears to be a 30-year-old minicab? Given I found out about this car half an hour before writing it, who knows. The pictures certainly imply it's a clean and tidy Isuzu beneath the very iffy bodykit, and don't those Recaros look brilliant? I'm intrigued by the Irmscher, put it that way. And fast Japanese cars, from GT-R to Yaris GR, should be intriguing if nothing else. So, by my reckoning, the Isuzu easily makes the cut.
As a massive rally fan, I'm super excited to see the return of the homologation special from Toyota. It's just a shame we're not actually in the office together so I can grab the GR keys. The formula is nothing new in a hot hatch, though - who can forget the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R? And, perhaps just as memorably, there was that time Subaru ditched the iconic Impreza saloon shape for a five-door...
For many, the switch to a hatch was a huge disappointment; it looked a bit like a Hyundai and therefore a far cry from the saloons that they'd grown to love, driven by the likes of McRae, Burns and Solberg. But the hatch has slowly been growing on me over the years, and I've found myself browsing the classifieds to see what's on offer and keep an eye on prices.
Sadly, the 2.5-litre lump in the hatch has the same suspect reputation as when it was used in the saloon. That's where the JDM cars come in, with the more reliable EJ20 2.0-litre engine. The Spec C was a limited run model of 1,000 cars and only available in Japan, but thanks to importers like Torque GT, we can get our hands on them now in the UK. Don't be surprised if you see one added to the PH Fleet within the next year or so...
I'm sure a lot of PHers whiled away their childhood hours on Gran Turismo, and continue to do so now as adults. For those as grey haired as me, that obsession started on the original PlayStation game; and that will have also meant, without doubt, some time driving an R32 GT-R. Here's a little trip down memory lane for you...
This 1991 example landed on our shores in 2015 and looks pretty honest; a straight, near-standard, rust-free car in gunmetal grey. (There aren't many of those left!) It's a shame there aren't any engine bay or interior shots, but that would just mean an excuse to see it in person. And cabin ambience has never been the GT-R appeal, has it? An R32 is desirable for the iconic look, famed RB26 engine and innovative four-wheel drive, just for starters.
Given the money currently asked for some GT-Rs and similar Japanese icons, £25k for this doesn't seem unreasonable. Even if it's about £25k too much for me. Back to Gran Turismo.
Back in 2004, Mitsubishi launched its Evo VIII MR RS in the Japanese domestic market for 3,438,750 yen. That's about £26k in today's money (accounting for inflation and the present exchange rate), showing just how cheap they were. Unlike almost every other manufacturer, Mitsubishi charged less when it gave less. And for the Evo Rally Sport, it was a lot less: wind-up windows, optional door locks and steel wheels set the tone, backed up by firmer Bilstein dampers, modified all-wheel drive and new LSDs. It was so focussed it could be converted to a Group N competition spec without much drama, as many did - there are cars inspired by motorsport, and then there are RS Evos...
Which makes this one all the remarkable. Because the point of an RS was to compete, or at least use it extensively on track days. Or why else forego everyday amenities? Yet somehow this one has survived, entirely original and having covered just 2,000 miles a year since 2004. Which makes for 32,000 in total, and perhaps the most immaculate Evo you ever did see. Is it too nice to use? Would the stripped-out appeal of a genuine Evo RS be too much to resist? I only need £30k to find out...
Chaps, I'm going to be honest here and say that with £33,495 to spend, I'd buy the GR Yaris. I love a JDM legend as much as the next person, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that Toyota has outdone itself. And it's not just that it's great fun to drive - because there are several other cars here which can lay claim to that accolade - it's that it also works terrifically well when doing the mundane job of being a supermini in 2020.
It is comfortable. It is well made. It will not regard your mobile phone as a mysterious device from the future. It comes with a five-year Toyota warranty. It is fast and frugal(ish). Post deposit, it only costs £299 a month. If I were in the market for a new car, I'm not sure I would think twice.
Of course, that's against the rules so for the purposes of Six of the Best, let's pretend I'd have this, the Subaru Impreza P1. Like the GR, it too was a stiffer, few-door prospect in a five-door world, and the chassis famously tuned by Prodrive so it also has a bonafide claim to rally-bred credibility. Moreover it launched when I was 20, and I wanted one bad. Here's a lovely looking example with trifling miles and a fully documented history for £5k less than the car I want 20 years later.
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