Toyota, with almost no back catalogue to call upon in the hot hatchback department previously, dangles the H-bomb of 'homologation' in front of us and then delivers a performance three-door for the ages in the blistered, brilliant form of the GR Yaris. Buckle up for what must surely be one of the most sublime on-road fast cars of recent years - size irrespective.
In the Metal:
It's full marks for the exterior, four out of five for the cabin. But seriously; style us a better hot hatchback than the Toyota GR Yaris. It takes the excellent source material, namely the latest Yaris, and builds upon that, but the keen-eyed among you might have noticed that this is a bespoke shell. Because the GR is a three-door, whereas the regular Yaris is a five-door only. Indeed, underneath its chassis is an amalgamation of GA-B (the front of the Yaris platform) and GA-C (the back end of a Prius or similar), so while it might say 'Yaris' on the box, it's a machine with its own, distinctive DNA.
Nevertheless, trying to avoid over-used descriptors like 'pugnacious' and 'aggressive', there is little doubt that anyone will mistake this compact thug for a Yaris going out on the shopping run to Aldi. It stands on the road with real intent, the flared arches and socking great intakes at the front making sure that onlookers will know you're in something serious, while around the back are twin pipes and the chunky edges of the bumper to accommodate those wide wings. It is a cracking little piece of design that looks good in any colour you care to clothe it - Toyota's stylists ought to take the rest of the 21st century off, because they're not likely to pen anything better than this in the near future, in our opinions.
The interior is excellent, as it uses the new Yaris's basic architecture and this Japanese supermini has a cabin which, nowadays, stands comparison to the best in its sector. That said, we actually think a standard Yaris in a high trim spec has a more visually appealing dashboard than the GR's, mainly because there are additional gloss-black finishes and chrome highlights to be seen, whereas the GR's fascia is very... monochrome. But, in its defence, the 261hp Yaris has a pair of stonking bucket seats up front, a speedometer that reads to 290km/h and Ultrasuede door cards to match the seats, all of which heighten the ambience. There are also specific read-outs of a technical and enthusiast nature pertaining to the GR's WRC links, a plaque down near the mechanical handbrake (the latter an item that has been fitted instead of a electronic parking brake, so that drivers can enact 'cornering in rally-stage driving') and then a rotary dial ahead of the high-set gear lever; this controls the GR-Four all-wheel-drive system through Normal, Sport and Track. The only slight shame is that the most important bucket seat is mounted marginally too high, so taller drivers will feel they aren't quite sitting 'down' enough in the car. It's a minor observation, mind, and ergonomically the GR's cabin is otherwise spot on. Particular kudos to Toyota for fitting a perfectly sized and perfectly round steering wheel; you'd be surprised how many car companies fall at this 'hurdle'.
Toyota Ireland hasn't confirmed which versions of the Yaris GR will be sold here. In some markets, the regular car has 18-inch wheels on Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres, as well as GR suspension, twin exhausts, Smart Entry and the Active Noise Control system. From there, you can specify added driving pleasure, or increased comfort - but you won't be able to mix-and-match bits from the two. Go for the comfort-oriented Convenience Pack and you get navigation added to the car's infotainment (it runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, so you can always hook up your phone for mapping), as well as a JBL eight-speaker audio system, ambient lighting in the cabin, a head-up display for the driver, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and parking sensors front and rear.
But you don't want that on a Yaris GR. Instead, go for the Circuit Pack, which sharpens the Toyota's dynamics even further. Easily denoted, if you've got a keen eye, by the fitment of red sports callipers for the braking system, the Circuit Pack further equips torque-sensing limited-slip differentials on both axles of the GR, changes the standard wheels for a set of forged BBS 18s with a ten-spoke design, clothes said rims in 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (a step up from the Dunlops in terms of seriousness) and then tunes the suspension even further in what the company calls a 'GR Circuit-Tuned' state of readiness. We drove a GR Circuit Pack for the purposes of this test drive.
It's worth remembering that for all Toyota's world dominance in terms of vehicles sold, the Japanese company has next-to-no heritage at all in the hot hatch market. All right, there was the Corolla T-Sport of the ninth-generation hatch, which arrived in the early 2000s, and if you want to stretch the boundaries of credibility to the max then you could also cite the legendary Corolla AE86 of the 1980s as a progenitor, although we'd argue that was a coupe and not a hatchback. Therefore, aside from the limited-production Yaris GRMN of a few years back, there really is no precedent for the GR Yaris whatsoever.
Which makes its astonishing driving experience all the more remarkable. Fire up the 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo and its angry growl resonates around the cabin, immediately telling you that this is not a car to be trifled with. Set off and yes, there's maybe a touch too much augmentation about the noise, but it cannot be denied this engine is a hugely charismatic lump. It is also mated to a glorious six-speed manual gearbox, which has a tight, mechanical and deeply satisfying throw action, and which is also geared sensibly to the car - this isn't some eco-legged transmission that'll pull 160km/h in third, but rather a sweet, perfectly matched set of ratios that allow you to access the engine's broad array of talents.
Not that you need worry about needlessly shifting the lever around the H-gate too much in daily driving activities, however, because 360Nm of torque hitting at 3,000rpm and powering a mere 1,280kg of car is what could be described as 'overkill'. Genuinely, the Yaris GR's drivetrain is a delight to operate when you're just keeping up with traffic on the road, because the throttle response is beautifully crisp and immediate, the engine exhibits minimal lag tendencies and the whooshing noises of the turbocharger only amplify the sensation of acceleration as the Toyota picks up strongly and insistently in gear.
The ride's firm, on the flip side of this. At very low speeds and on lumpen urban tarmac, you begin to worry if the Yaris has gone down the MINI GP route of completely intransigent suspension. Thankfully, it soon eases into a firmer-edged but more yielding gait at about 50km/h or so, and once you get the GR up to speed then you will not give its suspension a second thought.
Because the Yaris GR comes alive once you're out of the confines of towns and cities. And when it does, you soon realise why Toyota is keen to reinforce the idea that it's not just a heated-up Yaris - it's a thoroughly different beast entirely. The steering is tremendous, with genuine feel and an immediacy that allows you to key the snub front end of the Yaris GR into the tarmac at will come corner turn-in time. The lack of mass over the front means zero understeer and instant responses from the leading axle, whereupon you will encounter body control that is absolute yet damping that allows for the maximum of tyre contact with the asphalt's surface. Link that to grip that is off the charts for such a short-wheelbase machine and what you have is a simply amazing car with which to enjoy any road you wish to point it at.
It is barmy. It is hilarious. It is everything you could want from a small, fast car. It's rabidly quick enough and noisy enough to feel like the WRC refugee that it is, yet it's not so dementedly fast and powerful that you cannot exploit its glittering talents on the public road. Get it boiling away in third and fourth gears and you can still be within the legal speed limits, only you'll have an enormous great grin plastered over your chops while you're motoring along. It also utilises its minimal road footprint - the GR is 3,995mm long and 1,805mm wide - to blistering effect, as you can pick lines through corners and not worry about the girth of the car in the event something comes the other way. That it's so nimble and agile, able to make flick-flack direction changes without the loss of a single ounce of its sure-footed stability, only makes it all the more adorable.
And when you want to get the power down, you can access all of the GR's thump, all of the time. It doesn't tramline or torque-steer in the slightest, it doesn't bounce waywardly all over the road on its focused suspension; it just plants 261hp and 360Nm to the tarmac and fires off into the distance, cleanly, assuredly and downright fabulously. Oh, and Normal, Sport and Track modes? They alter the torque split of the GR-Four system, from 60:40 front-to-rear in Normal, 30:70 front-to-rear in Sport and then 50:50 even in Track, but in any mode you care to choose, you can sense the back axle of the GR Yaris is a big part of proceedings. Power it out of junctions in slippery conditions in first or second, and it'll even slide the back end out for you if you want. Magnificent.
Are there any flaws at all about the way it drives? Well, it has a tiny 50-litre fuel tank and you can get its consumption up to the level of 15.6 litres/100km (18.1mpg) if you start enjoying the Yaris as Toyota intended, so much so that we emptied half-a-tank in the course of 100km. So don't expect much more than 300km of range from a full tank. However, if this is a major issue for you, please go and buy a Yaris Hybrid and please leave us alone to keep enjoying the GR Yaris while the petrol still lasts, thanks. Ahem.
Anyway. What a car. The GR Yaris is as exhilarating and as lively as something stripped out and minimalistic like a MINI GP, only without the latter car's histrionics or tiresome long-distance behaviour. It is as wieldy and lightweight and fleet-footed as a Fiesta ST, only it isn't all nose-dominated and it's much more specialised in its intent and purpose. It is every bit as fast as a Civic Type R or a Renault Megane RS Trophy, only it's a good 100- to 163kg lighter than either - and certainly dynamically better than the Megane. It is, in short, not just one of the greatest hot hatchbacks committed to production, but also a superb performance car of any shape, size or price.
What you get for your Money:
While we don't have Irish pricing for the GR Yaris as yet, we can tell you is that this 261hp special will not be priced to match the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, the Volkswagen Polo GTI and any host of B-segment hot hatches. This is because Toyota does not view it as a B-segment car, despite the Yaris bodywork and the Yaris badging, as it is a bespoke, homologation vehicle that isn't based on the regular Yaris's underpinnings. In fact, due to its storming performance and power, Toyota cites a whole host of C-segment hot hatches as the key rivals to the Yaris GR, so you might as well reckon on the Toyota costing in the region of €50,000 or thereabouts, once prices are set in stone. Worth it, though; so, so worth it.
Toyota kicked off the Gazoo Racing performance brand with the GR Supra, a fantastic machine that set a high standard for the company to continue to live up to. The Supra employed a lot of BMW parts in its make-up to impressive effect, but the GR Yaris is all Toyota and it is a sensational piece of kit as a result. It's clearly one of the best hot hatchbacks of all time, not just in 2020 - and, given the lack of a proven track record in this department, it's therefore a quite staggering performance from the Japanese marque in serving this blinding, bonkers Yaris up to the world.