JOHANNESBURG - It’ not often you climb out of a car with an enormous smile on your face, having chucked it around a track for a couple of laps.
And it’s even more rewarding if it’s a small hatch designed to do just that, in this case the Toyota GR Yaris.
Damn, it’s a fun car to drive and that’s not said often either.
The main reason for that is because the GR Yaris was designed from the ground up as a pure performance car by Toyota Gazoo Racing and Tommi Mäkinen Racing, using their experience in the World Rally Championship.
Key to the smile, fun and performance is its power to weight ratio and the all-wheel drive system.
That’s thanks to a new 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit that punches out 198kW and 360Nm of torque. That is a lot of power being produced by only three pods but because you know Toyota engineers and designers have a reputation for excellence and producing reliable vehicles, it’s not going to have a catastrophic failure when you hit the rev limiter switching gears through the six speed manual gearbox.
A large intercooler, integrated oil-cooler, and high-volume cooling system ensures that you’ll be able to thrash it around the track and head home afterwards to do it all again the following weekend.
The kerb weight of 1 280kg comes courtesy of the body shell being made mostly from lightweight materials such as aluminium and a carbon fibre polymer roof that gives the GR Yaris an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 0.154kW per kilogram, a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds and will even out at 230km/h.
The all wheel drive system can be changed with a dial to suit driving conditions. Normal gives a front/rear torque split of 60:40, Sport mode shifts torque to a 30:70 rear wheel bias and in Track mode power is sent to the front and rear equally.
Toyota has two derivatives; the GR Yaris and GR Yaris Rally. The Yaris has all the core performance features while the Rally has the addition of the Circuit Pack.
The Circuit Pack adds a front and rear Torsen limited-slip differential, performance-tuned suspension, revised power steering assistance and 18-inch BBS Forged alloys with 225-40-R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4s tyres.
Inside it gets leather/Alcantra sports seats in the front, leather rear seats, head-up display, Toyota Safety Sense active safety suite and Active Noise Control which amplifies the engine sound and essentially pipes exhaust sound into the cabin.
Of the two, the latter is definitely the one to have.
Good old fashioned analogue instrumentation tells you how fast you’re going and where the red line is and a 4.2-inch TFT infotainment system sits in the centre of the dash and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
The rest of the interior is finished in black with smoke silver trim details around the door handles, centre console, steering wheel and side air vents with a special WRC commemorative plaque fitted to the centre console.
Driving the GR Yaris is different to almost anything you’ve experienced. From the get go the brisk acceleration, quick and direct gearshifts, willingness to please and zip through the traffic makes the GR Yaris unique in its class.
It’s designed to be chucked about so what better way than to take it to two different tracks to see what it’s capable of, those being a tight karting track and Red Star Raceway that also included the skidpan and a slalom section.
The grip and chassis response is astounding especially after you’ve familiarised yourself with it after a few laps. It’s happiest on the edge as I threw it into corners with gay abandon as fast as I dared to.
And you don’t have to keep it on the red line either, the power from the perky three-cylinder comes through quickly in a higher gear around switchbacks and tight corners that has you wanting to see just how far it will go before it lets go.
Sitting next to Toyota racer Leeroy Poulter showed exactly why the engine that’s been placed further back towards the centre of the car with the battery in the boot, it’s chassis, double wishbone rear suspension set-up and front MacPherson strut system make it handle superbly when pushed to the limits.
Steering response and feedback is as you would expect, direct and sharp allowing you to correct any slides easily without having to worry about over correction while the brakes are super responsive, light to the touch and slow you down effortlessly before flooring it into another corner.
While on the subject of braking, pulling the handbrake while in motion disconnects the rear differential allowing for a whole different level of smiles, because it’s a rally car after all.
The GR Yaris has been around for a few months but because of various factors including Covid-19 restrictions this has been the first time we’ve had an opportunity to drive it so no doubt you would have read social media comments about the pricing.
At R606 600 for the GR Yaris and R715 600 for the Rally it’s not exactly an affordable hot hatch and it’s inevitable that comparisons to the Volkswagen Golf GTI will be made.
Horses for courses. Yes the GTI has a more sophisticated teutonic look and feel and yes as an every day drive it’s easier to live with and yes the interior spec can’t be compared but for sheer driving pleasure and driver engagement the GR Yaris stands out as one in a crowd in the segment.
With 190 units brought into the country all have been allocated but Toyota says there will be more coming to South Africa in the next few months so if you can place your order.
It comes with a nine-service/90 000km service plan and a three-year/100 000km warranty.