Toyota GR Yaris 2021 long-term review

Essential journeys during lockdown just got a little less run-of-the-mill

Why we’re running it: To see how easily a hot-shoe rally replica fits into daily life

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a GR Yaris: Month 1

Welcoming the GR Yaris to the fleet - 13 January 2020

I mean, it’s not like we haven’t been saying it for ages: performance cars could do with being smaller and less powerful.

And yet is it only Toyota that’s really listening? The GT86 (and its Subaru BRZ cousin) was my standout sports car of the previous decade. And the 2020s are off to a solid start with this, the GR Yaris, made to celebrate Toyota’s involvement in the World Rally Championship but constructed not because it needed to build it, rather just because it wanted to.

The GR Yaris is barely a Yaris at all. (Which perhaps explains why some of my colleagues have occasionally referred to it as an Aygo or a Corolla by mistake.) Its chassis is a hybrid of Toyota’s GA-B and GA-C platforms, with all-independent double-wishbone rear suspension joining MacPherson struts at the front, with plenty of strengthening and reinforcement, too, for the four-wheel-drive drivetrain. There are also lightweight aluminium and composite body panels. The roof is carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, then given a nicer carbon-look wrap over the top, which I’d be intrigued to see it without.

Only the lights, roof aerial and door mirrors are regular Yaris items. So this car feels bespoke in the same manner as a first-generation Ford Focus RS, or a Lancia Delta Integrale. It’s old-school like a Subaru Impreza Turbo or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. The sort of car that doesn’t get made any more, in other words.

The car we’re running arrived in Precious Black (difficult to photograph and keep clean but suitably moody), a £585 metallic paint option that’s one of only four colours. Solid white is no extra charge, and there’s a pearlescent red or white at £880.

Other than that, the GR Yaris doesn’t offer its buyers too many options. There’s the standard model at under £30,000, but my suspicion is that a car fitted with one of two option packs will be more popular. The £2180 Convenience Pack has sat-nav, parking sensors, a blind-spot monitor, a head-up display and a JBL sound system.

The Circuit Pack, £3500 and equipped here, is rather more racy. Forged instead of cast 18in alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, Torsen limited-slip diffs front and rear, and stiffer springs, dampers and roll bars. To my knowledge, we haven’t tried it without those and all of Toyota’s UK dealer demonstrators are Circuit Pack cars too.

Otherwise, that’s about your lot for options. An alloy wheel protector and a Safety Kit (warning triangle, first-aid kit, hi-vis vest) are the only other tickable boxes, to the apparent frustration of some potential owners, who’d like the heated seats and steering wheel you can specify in other markets. I’m generally a sucker for those too, but I’m coping. What I have found in really cold weather is that the Yaris defrosts and demists and warms up inside gratifyingly quickly. It is, after all, a Toyota.

So there are sensible things. It tells you not to accelerate too quickly when it’s cold and an extended push of a steering wheel button turns off the default-on lane-keep assist. The cabin layout is very sensible and there’s smartphone mirroring on the central touchscreen. The seats are supportive and the driving position’s only disappointment is that the rearview mirror, seemingly positioned low and close to the driver, can create a weird blind spot, particularly on twisting roads, making it hard to see through corners.

A colleague thinks the brake and throttle pedals are too widely distanced for easy heel-and-toe gearchanges, but I don’t find it too bothersome. It’s quite nice to have such an old-fashioned foible; goes to show what an interactive kind of car this is. The gearbox is a precise sixspeed manual, and the handbrake a conventional lever that disconnects the rear half-shafts if you pull on it while the car is in motion. I’m pleased to report that it’s quite powerful too.

I know it’s daft. It’s 2021: who needs a car that still thinks it’s 1995? I think I do. I adore the fact it’s compact (5mm short of four metres long, 1805mm wide across the body) and not too powerful, though with 257bhp from just 1.6 litres and three cylinders, it can feel a touch boosty. There is perhaps less mechanical feel to its controls than, say, a Honda Civic Type R, but the Yaris counters with the kind of agility and control that’s genuinely rare these days.

I’m finding it an incredibly easy car to warm to, both for little bits of drama on the right road, but also in daily life, and during days when you can do both. In some sports cars, you pull over during a decent drive for a rest or to take in the view and before you know it you’ll have scuffed the nose on a rock. There are no dramas like that in the Yaris. Fast, enjoyable, discreet and compact. For a car seemingly inspired by the ’90s, it feels incredibly relevant today.

Second Opinion

The queue of testers wanting to borrow MP’s GR Yaris must be out the door already, so I’ll bide my time. But I have to know if it’s as much fun on a warm summer track day as it is on a sodden November B-road. I suspect it isn’t quite. But I’m always delighted to be proved wrong by great cars.

Matt Saunders

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Toyota GR Yaris Circuit pack specification

Specs: Price New £29,995 Price as tested £34,080 Options Circuit Pack £3500, metallic paint £585 Faults None Expenses None

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