That the Lotus Elise S1 triumphed in our competition to find the best sports car of the past 25 years probably came as little surprise. By their very nature, iconic sports cars don’t come around all that often, and the Elise was about as close to perfect for winning hearts and minds (and votes) as could possibly be imagined. It was the beautiful, fast, innovative, decent value, stunning to drive Lotus that saved the company. Of course it was going to win.
The hot hatch vote was always going to be a closer run thing. Put simply, there have been too many brilliant ones launched since 1998 for one to stand head and shoulders above the rest. In 1998, Peugeot launched the 306 Rallye; in 2023, the first FL5 Honda Civic Type Rs reached UK customers. In between that, dozens of brilliant cars have made it to market. With the barren mid-1990s preceding PH and the future for hot hatches not looking all that brilliant (unless they’re SUV-shaped ones), it was quite the pool of talent to pick from.
You’d have surely got good odds on the GR Yaris winning, given the PH preference, typically, for the old school. But in the course of researching Toyota’s latest icon for this PH25 vid, it became clear just what an impact this little 4WD hatch has had: the thousands and thousands of forum comments, the YouTube love, the sheer number of PHers who now own a GR Yaris. Once you get to fully appreciate the scale, the fact that the Toyota won our best hot hatch poll becomes much less surprising. So many of you have bought into Toyota’s vision for a new kind of hot hatch - and the car itself is such a phenomenon - that it was always going to be in with a shot of victory.
Moreover, while the Yaris is new enough for even the oldest cars to be a few months from their first MOT, to drive one again on a wet and windy Wales is to be taken back in time. It’s been said before (and it’ll probably be said again) but the GR is the Japanese road-going rally car for a new era. What it represents has won the Yaris as many fans, I’d say, as its actual (and considerable) ability. We thought the days of boring Japanese cars made into legends with complex four-wheel-drive systems, boosty and exciting turbo engines, pumped-up bodywork and great manual gearboxes were done; yet here we are, 30 years after the Impreza Turbo launched, with a Toyota that proves what a brilliant idea it all was in the first place.
To prove just how perfect it is for our unique climate, the weather gods arranged for the entire Irish Sea to be dumped on us while trying to film the GR. Nothing else would have revelled in the conditions quite the same way. One powered axle would have been flailing, a larger hot hatch might have felt cumbersome, Haldex all-wheel drive wouldn’t have been as engaging. No car should be capable of entertainment in conditions one step from a sharknado, and it’s to the GR’s enormous credit that it did. Toyota deserves all the plaudits it gets for this car because, from a unique (and fantastic) three-cylinder turbo to its carbon roof and aluminium bodywork, the Yaris feels properly special, and it's seldom that any £30k car offers that. Let alone a Toyota supermini. It’s a worthy winner of your best hot hatch title.
There’s another car in the video, though - the hot hatch that very nearly beat the GR to the crown. The race to first was so close between the Toyota and the Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy that it would have been rude not to have the Capsicum Red rascal along as well, especially as back in 2019 you voted it best hot hatch of the century. They also neatly represent two contrasting approaches to hot hatch glory; the Yaris thrills with its formidable ground covering ability and boost-surge, while the Clio never fails to entertain with its rorty 2.0-litre four-pot up front and little more than a tonne to fling along. Plus, of course, those very special Sachs remote reservoir dampers, gifting the Trophy incredible composure. Both are unforgettable hot hatch experiences - no wonder so many of you were keen to vote for them.
This obviously wasn’t a conventional twin test, even as their respective values continue to converge, but rather a celebration of two hot hatch greats that we love as much as you. It was heartening to find that the Renaultsport Clio built for Britain and the Yaris that evokes much loved old rally saloons both still feel so at home here. We’d hoped to do so much more with the day, but the weather really didn’t play ball. Hope you can still enjoy it - and keep a lookout for a new vote next week!
SPECIFICATION | TOYOTA GR YARIS
Engine: 1,618cc, turbocharged 3-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 261@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 266@3,000-4,600rpm
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 143mph (electronically limited)
Weight: 1,280-1,310kg (minimum and maximum)
CO2: 186g/km driving
On sale: 2020-date
Price: £29,995 (2020, before Circuit Pack or Convenience Pack)
Price now: £30,000-£40,000
Huge thanks to Simon Burnard (Clio) and Ben Corner (Yaris) for allowing us to drive your brilliant cars. It couldn’t have happened without you - cheers!
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