Priced from £26,295 Release date On sale now (sold out)
Having eyed the glory reflected on its rivals for so long by long-standing performance sub-brands like ‘GTI’, ‘ST’, ‘Cupra’ and ‘Type R’, Toyota is getting in on the act with its own factory tuning outfit. Last year it decided that Gazoo Racing, the company that’s been running its various global motorsport programmes, would produce warmed up versions of some of its showroom models, and duly tested the water elsewhere in the world with a few go-faster makeovers that never came to our shores.
And now comes the first for European buyers: a rally-liveried Yaris supermini that’ll be made in seriously limited numbers, priced at a seriously eye-watering level, and has pretty serious performance ambitions to match.
The Yaris GRMN (which stands for Gazoo Racing Meisters of Nurburgring, and which will identify every top-level performance Toyota for the foreseeable future) has a supercharged 1.8-litre petrol engine tuned by British sports car maker Lotus, which is good for 209bhp and, Toyota claims, gives the car a better power-to-weight ratio than any other hot supermini.
Its suspension, steering and brakes have had thorough overhauls to match, its body has been stiffened and its cabin has been fitted with lightweight sports seats and a downsized steering wheel adapted from that of a GT86 sports car.
2017 Toyota Yaris GRMN on the road
Though you expect a car with rally-homage stickers and a roof spoiler this size to make absolutely no concession to comfort or good cruising manners, you may be surprised to discover that the Yaris GRMN doesn’t actually ride too harshly and, though it’s noisy even by hot hatchback standards, it isn’t particularly demanding to drive.
There is one gearbox option – a six-speed manual – as well as one sports suspension set-up, and neither is there a drive mode button with which to fiddle or an exhaust you can turn up or down depending on your mood. This is a pleasingly honest, unreconstructed, old-fashioned hot hatchback that’s at its best when you simply set about it physically and muscle it down the road.
The car’s supercharged petrol engine doesn’t quite deliver the crushing pace Toyota promises on account of a relative shortage of mid-range torque compared with a modern turbocharged engine, but it’s a very responsive and likable motor in any case. Coming on song at around 4000rpm and spinning all the way to 7000rpm more freely than most hot hatchback engines, it’s a joy to wring out and equally a delight to listen to when working hard, having the audible character that some would say affordable performance cars have been lacking for so long.
Toyota’s engineers, meanwhile, can take plenty of credit for the way the car is capable of taking apart a twisting mountain road. The car’s steering is sharp but not unsettlingly so, and its grip level is high but not so fearsome as to make it hard to gauge.
The Yaris GRMN rides firmly but has expertly tuned body control capable of suppleness over shorter lumps and bumps, and also of allowing the car to settle down at speed rather than restlessly jiggling around as rivals can. Through corners it isn’t quite as incisive or pointy-feeling as the most compelling hot hatchbacks, the Yaris being higher-sided than plenty of superminis, having a higher centre of gravity and therefore needing a split-second to shift its weight before changing direction. Still, it feels more than keen enough to be huge fun, and has fine high-speed stability and usefully sophisticated electronic aids too that feel like they help rather than hinder.
2018 Toyota Yaris GRMN interior
The GRMN comes in three-door form only, and since it isn’t the most accommodating of small hatchbacks in any form, only grants full-sized adults a slightly cramped back seat. There’s room in the boot for a couple of smaller bags or one good-sized suitcase.
In the front, you sit several inches higher at the controls than you’d really chose to, and in a slightly bothersome, antiquated-feeling relationship to the car’s pedals (too close) and its steering wheel (somehow too far away) that reminds you of how hot hatchbacks used to be laid out decades ago. Still, the car’s seats are excellent – comfy, well-bolstered and grippily upholstered – and you can adapt yourself to its challenging ergonomics without too much practise.
Having sought to justify its premium pretty solely with the driving experience, Toyota certainly hasn’t gone out of its way to inject much tactile richness or performance styling flavour into the interior – having fitted steel-effect ‘sports’ pedal caps to both clutch and brake pedal, for example, but apparently forgetting to jazz up the accelerator pedal to match.
The Yaris’ dashboard remains stock – and it’d feel decidedly monotone and plasticky even for £16k – and its touchscreen infotainment setup is laggy and not particularly easy to use, and it looks unsophisticated compared with systems in the supermini class’ latest additions.
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