Big In Japan [COTY2021] : 2021 Toyota GR Yaris GR-Four Drive Review

By davidkhoo, 09 February 2022

Toyota GR Yaris GR-Four 2021 Drive Review : Big In Japan [COTY2021]

Singapore - Mankind only looks onwards and upwards… or we might still be wandering around the plains on foot. It is this insatiable hunger and drive to resist standing still and wallowing in stagnancy that has led to some of the greatest inventions and achievements the world has ever seen… and will continue to see in time to come.

It isn’t uncommon to eschew the mediocre to dream of excellence, because it is our aspiration towards the exceptional and not the humdrum that serves as inspiration for those who dare to dream big. I for one prefer to read about the things I can dream about…

In that same vein, a motorsports homologation special pursues sporting dominance in its respective race class, where requirements mandate a minimum number of road-going versions built before it can qualify for competition.

As a company, the Toyota Group is as big as the GR Yaris is small and it’s a shame less enlightened fans tend to associate the brand with the hybrid Prius and everyman models like the Corolla/Camry.

Cognoscenti will appreciate that the Toyota and Lexus brands have unleashed some of the most compelling and evocative sporting machines the world has ever seen.

Toyota’s rich history in motorsports can be traced back to the 1960s and its cult dominance in popular culture persists to this very day, with a stellar cast that includes 2000GT, the Sports 800, AE86, A80 Supra and now, the GR Yaris.

Needless to say, we can’t ignore Lexus’ contribution either, with the nat-asp V8-engined F and LC models through the years and of course, its magnum opus – the V10-engined LFA.

You need a certifiable motorhead like Akio Toyoda at the helm of the company for it to create the sort of mega-mental sportscars that petrolheads have come to know and love from Toyota/Lexus.

To give it its full name, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris GR-Four, or GR Yaris for short, is the brand’s rally homologation hot-hatch. What this means is, save for some minor components that can be swapped out for the race-stage, the road-going cars are mechanically identical to their race/rally-car counterparts.

If you’re long-time readers, you’ll know this author is a huge, huge fan of the car, not least because I love hot-hatches.

What makes the GR Yaris even more special is its technical provenance, because it is a collaboration between Toyota and the Tommi Mäkinen Racing rally team, Toyota Gazoo Racing's WRC partner.

If you're ancient like we are, you'll recall the legendary Flying Finn's championship-winning streak in the WRC in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution – in fact, the beloved Lancer Evo 6 ‘Tommi Mäkinen Edition’ remains one of the finest Evos we’ve had the pleasure of driving.

It doesn’t matter that the GR Yaris will never compete in the rally series for which it was originally homologated, because it is the auspices under which it was conceived, developed and produced that defines it.

After all, with a brand’s honour and entire championships at stake, would you expect it to be anything less than a maximum effort attack?

Common folks like to bring up the GR Yaris’s S$200k price-tag (not that you can buy one now because they’re completely sold out!). “So much for a small car?”

To put it in perspective, the other motorsports homologation special we have in this year’s Star Cars is the Lamborghini Huracan STO and that’s over S$1.4m on the road…!

The point is, we can’t think of another motorsports homologation model on the market today, so the fact that the GR Yaris can be enjoyed for around S$200k (when it was launched) is cause célèbre for petrolheads!

Considering this is in the same price category for hot-hatches that don’t have the sort of motorsports clout, we think the stick-shift-only GR Yaris represents very good value indeed for someone in the market, that is, if you managed to get your hands on one of the 20 official imports!

At first glance, you can tell the GR Yaris is no garden-variety grocery-getter hatchback, because of its hunkered-down illest stance, mental glint in its eyes and outrageous fat-phat flares, which call to mind past rally luminaries like the Gordini Turbo, Delta Integrale EVO and Escort Cossie.

What about the GR Yaris hits us so hard in the feels? For starters, the compact size with its flamboyant flares, a super-rigid rally-ready chassis, a six-speed stick-shift and a turbo’d 3cyl with a 260hp wallop are just a few of its highlights.

However, the beauty about the GR Yaris is how all the ingredients blend together to create a nippy-zippy and supremely balanced and lightweight pocket rocket that has ample power for your fast-road zoomies, yet doesn’t fall into the trap of the horsepower arms-race.

The cabin isn’t Spartan-bare, but it is properly focused for serious drivers. The driving position is spot-on for the author’s sub-1.7m frame, but those taller might find the seat mounted too high… The controls have a lovely weighting and the seats hold you properly in place when the lateral gs build, yet aren’t too snug as to be overly constricting.

You’d imagine the GR Yaris’ ride quality to be shot to bits thanks to its short wheelbase, except it isn’t. It’s staggering that a tight handling package with this sort of body control can return such a pliant ride quality. I’d rather have a sweetly balanced ‘fun’ car all-day every-day than something that has too much power for the chassis to handle.

Even by that reckoning, so well-sorted is the GR Yaris’ chassis that we feel it is more than capable of coping with some extra oomph. Still, there’s plenty of chutzpah when you put your right foot down and the 5.5secs 0-100km/h time is only the tip of a humongous ice-berg that is the GR Yaris.

Non-driving enthusiasts are preoccupied with straight-line numbers, especially the mid-tier EV crowd that constantly needs to prove it’s better than the folks ‘still’ driving ICE.

Well, good for you, but driving enthusiasts use a far more eclectic benchmark to measure ‘fun’, because as far as we’re concerned, fast doesn’t necessarily equate to fun.

There’s so much involvement and engagement between GR Yaris and driver this isn’t just an awkward weekend fumble in the alley behind the bar and then the walk of shame.

Instead, every drive with the GR Yaris boasts an intimacy and back-to-basics ‘honesty’ that leads us to think it could be ‘wife’ material, because most of all, it is so complete and rekindles our love for the winding road.

Indeed, here’s my comeback on the road again…

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

2021 Toyota GR Yaris GR-Four

Engine 1618cc, inline3, turbo’d
Power/rpm 260hp/6500rpm
Torque/rpm 360Nm/3000-4600rpm
Gearbox 6spd manual
0-100km/h 5.5secs
Top Speed 230km/h
Fuel Consumption 8.2l/100km 
CO2 186g/km
Kerbweight est. 1280kg

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