The unlikely hero. To launch its new GR performance brand, Toyota unveils a rally-inspired hot hatch – based on the Yaris city car. Words Steve Sutcliffe.
It might not have quite the same ring as ‘Mercedes AMG’ or ‘BMW M Division’ but Toyota’s new high-performance GR brand – which stands for Gazoo Racing, until now Toyota’s in-house racing department – is set to go global from this year. The £26,295 Yaris GRMN here is the first true taste of what’s to come. And a right little nutcase of a hot hatchback it is, too.
In this case GRMN is short for ‘Gazoo Racing Meisters Nürburgring’ but in the fullness of time there will be GRs, GR Sports and GRMN Toyotas, each being more potent than the previous, with GRMN being the top dog. In the case of the diminutive Yaris this means a 209bhp 1.8-litre supercharged engine that’s been pinched almost unchanged from the Lotus Elise, plus a heavily reworked chassis that includes a Torsen differential, Sachs dampers, 60% stiffer springs all round and bigger, vented disc brakes.
Why pick the Yaris rather than, for example, the more obvious GT86 to introduce the GR brand to UK and the rest of the world? Because the Yaris is the car Toyota currently runs in the World Rally Championship, so the connection seemed obvious… as long as you follow the WRC.
Either way, on road or track the Yaris GRMN is an absolute scream to drive. It weighs only 1135kg and, as such, has enough power and torque (184lb ft) to fire itself to 60mph in just 6.1sec and to a top speed of 143mph. Experienced within the confines of a front-wheel-drive car that doesn’t feel a whole lot bigger than a telephone box, this sort of performance is properly dramatic on the road. And because the engine is supercharged, there’s zero delay between opening the throttle and the car accelerating.
Even down at 2000rpm the response is instant and strong. Third gear has an especially broad range, hauling the Yaris out of corners from as low as 2500rpm with genuine conviction – to a point where there’s not much point dropping to second, even though the six-speed manual gearbox is decent – and then staying strong all the way to the 7000rpm cut-out.
The traction the Yaris has courtesy of its Torsen diff is borderline extraordinary, although, having said that, the merest whiff of understeer has been engineered into the chassis, just as a warning. Overall, however, the handling, steering, brakes, cabin (which features a pair of excellent but rather high-set bucket seats) and performance of the GRMN are right where they need to be to take on all but the very best hot hatchbacks. As indeed they need to be at this elevated price.
In total Toyota will make just 600 Yaris GRMNs, around 100 of which are destined for the UK. So even though it’s heinously expensive, exclusivity is guaranteed – and they’ve all been sold. In ten years’ time, when the GR brand is well and truly established, who knows? Maybe the Yaris GRMN – the very first of the breed, after all – will be worth its weight in gold. Maybe…