Toyota GR Yaris review

Category: Hot hatch

One of the most characterful and entertaining hot hatches of the decade. 

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 front right cornering
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 front right cornering
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear right cornering
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 RHD dashboard
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear seats
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 infotainment
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 left panning
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 front seats
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 boot open
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 front right cornering
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear right cornering
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 RHD dashboard
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear seats
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 infotainment
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 left panning
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 front seats
  • Toyota GR Yaris 2021 boot open
What Car?’s GR Yaris deals
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What Car? says...

Say hello to the Toyota GR Yaris, and the return of the homologation special. And if you’re wondering what a homologation special is, don’t worry – we’re here to help.

You see, in rallying, the rules dictate that your race car has to be based on an existing road car, and a certain number of them must be built to 'homologate' the model so it gets approval to be used in the sport. If that sounds like an expensive way to go racing, well, it is.

In the Nineties, though, when viewing figures for the World Rally Championship (WRC) were through the roof, the instant popularity of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Subaru Impreza WRX STI and other star cars made it worthwhile for manufacturers to get involved in the hope they'd 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday'. 

Fast-forward to today, though, and homologation specials are largely a thing of the past. With the WRC attracting a tiny percentage of viewers compared with its heyday and tighter homologation regulations in force (you now need to build tens of thousands of a model to race it), rally cars are now based on run-of-the-mill family hatchbacks – less exciting, sure, but far more cost-effective. 

So why are we telling you all this? Well, it shows just how special the GR Yaris really is. Toyota has done what every other manufacturer has been afraid to do and created a rally car from the ground up. Forget that it shares a name with the regular Toyota Yaris, it's very much its own entity. 

Want proof? Well, for starters, it shares just four exterior body parts with the standard Yaris, has a carbon-fibre roof, is available only as a three-door, and features an all-new platform under that muscular body. The rear section is a mix of bits from the larger Toyota Corolla hatchback and the CH-R SUV. Oh, and did we mention that it features the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine? 

It develops 257bhp and 266lb ft of torque, which is sent to the road via a six-speed manual gearbox and a clever all-wheel drive system. The result is a car that can accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and has a limited top speed of 143mph. That puts this Ford Fiesta ST sized car in the same performance league as larger, more powerful hot hatches such as the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS

How does the Toyota GR Yaris's rally pedigree translate to the road, though? Read on through this review and we’ll tell you. Then, if your appetite for a hot hatch has been whetted, you should check out the free What Car? New Car Buying service to find how much you could save on your next pocket rocket. There are some impressive GR Yaris deals

Toyota GR Yaris image
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Don’t let the fact that it shares a name with Toyota’s regular five-door Yaris hatchback fool you – the GR is a truly special machine. Not only does it pack the firepower to embarrass far more expensive performance cars, but it’s also perfectly suited to UK roads, with its startling all-wheel drive traction, diminutive dimensions and incredible high-speed composure. As long as you’re prepared to live with a few compromises on the practicality front, what you’ll be getting in return is one of the most characterful and entertaining hot hatches of the last decade, especially if you opt for the Circuit Pack.

  • An absolute riot in the bends
  • Scintillating straight-line performance
  • Competitive finance deals
  • Limited rear seat space
  • Bland interior
  • Poor rear visibility
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Thumb the Toyota GR Yaris's starter button and that three-cylinder engine fires into life with surprisingly little drama. In fact, when the engine is cold and you’re simply pootling around town, the GR feels, dare we say it, a little ordinary – as one colleague put it, “aside from its rather firm ride, you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re driving a regular three-cylinder family hatchback”.

However, that feeling doesn’t last very long. Once the engine is up to temperature and you’re on the move, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the GR’s raw pace. Maximum grunt is available from 3,000rpm, but it pulls with real enthusiasm from even lower down in the rev range. In reality, it feels even stronger than the numbers suggest, which left us wondering how much slower it is than a 316bhp Honda Civic Type R

To find out, we strapped some timing gear on and were left gobsmacked when the GR completed the 0-60mph run in just 4.6sec – a whopping 1.2 seconds quicker than a Type R in the same (albeit damp) conditions. 

Of course, all-wheel-drive traction certainly provided a significant advantage, but that’s only one part of a complex puzzle. The GR’s performance is further boosted by tightly stacked gear ratios, an engine that loves to be revved – up to and beyond its 6,500rpm peak power point – and the fact that it weighs around 100kg less than the physically larger Type R. 

Granted, the engine itself isn’t particularly sonorous and the Active Noise Control (this pipes the engine note through the speakers) sounds a little artificial, but that doesn’t stop you from rowing up and down the snickety six-speed gearbox just for the sheer fun of it. 

But where the GR really stands apart from the current crop of hot hatches is in the corners. As we mentioned earlier, the GR features a clever four-wheel drive system that allows you to choose how the power is split between the front and rear wheels: Normal mode delivers a 60:40 (front/rear) split, Sport 30:70 and Track 50:50. The idea of this is that Normal mode gives you an approachable and predictable driving experience, Sport allows you to emulate your favourite rally hero by sliding the car through the corner, while Track gives you the best balance for quick lap times. 

Unlike front-driven hot hatches, such as the Civic Type R, which can at times feel a little one-dimensional, the GR allows you to enjoy every stage of a corner. It’s not just about carrying speed in and managing power on the way out; you can chuck the GR into corners as hard as you like and as soon as you get on the power, you’ll feel it hook up and slingshot you out of the bend. It’s a wonderfully addictive sensation and gives you the confidence to explore the car's limits in a way you might not in a larger, more intimidating hot hatch.

The optional Circuit Pack goes even further, bringing stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, as well as lightweight forged 18in alloy wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and Torsen limited-slip differentials front and rear. With this pack fitted, the way the GR conducts itself on challenging, undulating country roads is utterly beguiling, especially in Sport mode. It’s even keener to change direction while the clever diffs boost traction and agility even further. If you’re buying the GR to drive hard, the Circuit Pack is a must.

Despite the firm springing, especially with the Circuit Pack fitted, the GR never seems to lose composure over scrabbly country roads. It simply soaks up lumps and bumps without breaking a sweat, allowing you to carry indecent speed regardless of the surface ahead of you. And while the steering doesn’t quite bubble with feedback in the same way as a Type R’s does, it’s at least reassuringly linear in its action and well-weighted.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear right cornering


The interior layout, fit and finish

The GR Yaris driver benefits from a supportive and figure-hugging sports driving seat with excellent adjustment and a steering wheel that moves up, down, forward and back by a plentiful amount. You do sit a little high compared to a Honda Civic Type R or Renault Megane RS, but the well-aligned steering wheel and pedals help you to settle in quickly. Even the leather-wrapped gear lever sits 5cm higher than it does in the standard Yaris to ensure it falls easily to hand. 

The interior design remains very similar to the standard Yaris, which is to say it feels solid but looks a little bland. That said, you should never be in any doubt over which Yaris you’re in, because the interior is peppered with GR badging – it’s on the sporty leather steering wheel, the engine start button and floor mats, and there’s even a little plaque on the centre console. 

Sitting atop the dashboard is an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system. The graphics look a little old hat and the system isn’t particularly snappy, but it’s fairly simple to use thanks in part to the physical shortcut buttons surrounding it. You get Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring as standard, which is handy because it doesn’t come with sat-nav unless you select the Convenience Pack, and you can’t have it in conjunction with the Circuit Pack.

In terms of visibility, that high seating position gives you a great view forwards and to the side, but because the GR features a heavily tapered roofline, the rear window is tiny. To help mitigate that, all GR’s come with a rear-view camera.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 RHD dashboard

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Space in the front of the GR Yaris is perfectly acceptable, and all shapes and sizes of driver should be happy with the head and leg room on offer. Toyota includes a decent glovebox and plenty of cubbies for odds and ends. Space in the back is a different story. To improve aerodynamics, Toyota drastically lowered the roofline of the GR compared with the standard Toyota Yaris.

The rear seats are only acceptable for children and very short adults – even our shortest 5ft 4in reviewer’s head brushes the roof. Unlike the Ford Fiesta ST, which you can have in five-door form, the GR only comes as a three-door, so squeezing in and out through the tiny gap behind the front seat is a bit of a faff. Worse, only the passenger seat slides and tilts forwards with the pull of one lever, and it doesn’t remember the seat angle when you slide it back either.

The boot is painfully small – it's big enough for a small weekly shop or three carry-on suitcases (one fewer than the regular Yaris will take), and that’s your lot. At least when you drop the GR’s 60/40-split folding rear seats they don’t leave an awkward stepped floor like you get in the Fiesta.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 rear seats

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Once you tick the box for the Circuit Pack (the go-faster goodies we mentioned earlier make it well worth having) the Toyota GR Yaris is priced very much in line with larger and more powerful hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R, Renault Mégane RS and VW Golf GTI. You might think that such a price tag is a bit rich for a hot hatch similar in size to a Ford Fiesta ST, but you have to remember that in raw performance terms the GR is right up there with the grown-ups. 

Toyota offers impressive finance deals from time to time, meaning you can have a GR Yaris on your drive for a lower monthly cost than a Civic Type R or Golf GTI. While a 1.6-litre, three-cylinder engine pumping out 261bhp isn’t going to be as parsimonious on fuel as a diesel, the official fuel economy figure of 34.3mpg means running costs shouldn’t break the bank. 

Toyota ranked an extremely impressive third place out of 31 manufacturers in the What Car? Reliability Survey, with only Lexus and Mitsubishi finishing higher. The manuacturer's five-year/100,000-mile warranty is standard, and one of the best in the business. 

Euro NCAP is yet to crash test the GR, although other Toyotas that share a similar platform have received the maximum five stars. The GR Yaris comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, Lane Trace Assist (a system to keep you in the centre of your lane) and road sign recognition as standard. Blind-spot monitoring is available if you opt for the Convenience Pack. An immobiliser and alarm are both standard.

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 infotainment
At a glance
New car deals
Target Price from £44,250
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RRP price range £44,250 - £60,000
Number of trims (see all)3
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
Available doors options 3
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £3,148 / £4,314
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £6,297 / £8,628
Available colours