As the world pivots towards electric cars and autonomous driving it’s amazing to jump into the Toyota Yaris GR Rallye.
For a start, it has an old-school six-speed manual gearbox. And it’s all about going quickly in a modern pocket rocket that can trace its roots all the way back to the Mini Cooper S in the speedy sixties. It has no right to exist, apart from the belief by the top man at Toyota – Akio Toyoda – that some people in 2021 still enjoy old-fashioned fun in driving.
Toyoda personally drove production of the Yaris GR – it’s called Gazoo Racing after his private business – and it has becoming a cult classic in less than a year. In Australia, the Yaris GR has been a sellout from the start, even if Toyota was so scared of over-stocking that it sold the original batch at a heavily-discounted price. That was a huge mistake, as the cars sold-out in less than a day. Right now, Yaris GR deliveries have topped 1700 cars and the focus has shifted, slightly but rightly, to the Rallye version of the car that injects a little extra performance but bumps the price to $54,500.
The most-obvious change is front brakes which are painted racy red, but the car also gets better wheels and grippier Michelin tyres, a pair of limited-slip differentials, and a numbered plaque on the dash.
To backtrack a little, the Yaris GR has almost nothing in common with the regular Yaris. Basically, it’s the windscreen and mirrors. The rest of the car was designed and developed, from its shape and carbon-fibre roof panel to the three-cylinder turbo engine, to mimic the appeal – and the rally potential – of the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo.
Parked alongside a ‘regular’ Yaris shopping trolley, the GR is considerably smaller and lower, as well as looking more aggressive with wider arches and bigger wheels. Jump inside and, apart from a driver’s seat that is set way too high for regular Aussies and compromises the driving position, it’s all great. There is a predictable infotainment screen, but also a slick six-speed shift and controls that give instant response. The engine, a 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo, makes great power but it’s the torque that is most enjoyable. There is some engine thrum but from 2500 revs it pulls strongly and once it gets cracking at 5000 revs its a little stormer. A claimed 5.2-second sprint to 100km/h proves it’s more than a shopping trolley, although it can get thirsty – for a baby car, and the 50-litre tank is not enough for fun runs.
The Rallye version of the GR turns the wick up on cornering grip, with instant response the steering and great balance in corners. The limited-slip differentials are not obvious when tootling around, but find a twisty road – or wet corners – and the grip is fantastic. The Michelin tyres, up several grades from the Dunlop rubber on the regular GR, are way more sticky but the downside is huge road noise. It’s more like a Lamborghini than a Camry. But it’s a small price to pay for a car which is so much fun.
Not surprisingly, the price of the GR Rallye is up and now close to $60,000 on-the-road. And there is a waiting list that stretches out for nearly a year. But people, a lot of people, love the car and Toyota Australia has another hit in its showrooms and a sure-fire collectable classic in its future.
TOYOTA YARIS GR RALLYE
Engine: 3-cylinder 1.6-litre petrol turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Position: pocket rocket
Plus: driving enjoyment
Minus: seats set too high, undersized fuel tank
THE TICK: It’s a bewdy