Ristretto Shot : 2021 Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris GR-Four Drive Review

By davidkhoo, 13 July 2021

Singapore - The common point of contention from the man-in-street about Toyota’s ‘littlest car that could’ is its ~S$190k price-tag (for ostensibly a B-segment 3dr hatchback).

Then again, we’re not really surprised: when it comes to sportscar pricing, there’s a lot of rabble-rousing about fair-price across the usual Internet/WA Group/Telegram channel brigade, typically by the folks who won’t buy one anyway.

Besides, the price hasn’t stopped the 20 buyers from pre-snapping up the entire first (and possibly, only) shipment of the Gazoo Racing Yaris, or GR Yaris for short, even before it landed.

Mr. Samuel Yong – Borneo Motors Singapore's Director of Business Strategy and Strategic Marketing – says, “We are very thankful for the positive response to the new Toyota GR Yaris. The units are all sold out and we would like to thank our customers for their strong support. If there are strong demands for the GR Yaris, we will feedback to Japan.”

The GR Yaris isn’t your garden-variety derivative vehicle peddled by your neighbourhood grocery co-op, but a properly pedigreed high-performance sporting machine with motorsports homologation credentials.

(Click HERE to read about why we want one so badly!)

In the league of hot-hatchbacks, the i30 N Performance was in the high S$180+k price point, the Civic Type R, S$190+k, while the Megane RS and Golf GTI now clear the S$200k mark completely. All ‘hot’ for sure, but they’re largely based on regular models in the line-up, with none coming close to homologation special status.

But what’s the big deal about a ‘homologation special’? In some categories of motorsports, a manufacturer is required to build a minimum number of road-going cars based on the competition car.

This means 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.

In the sub-S$200k segment at present, we can’t think of another car that is a proper homologation special (and not merely passed-off as one in spirit). That’s not to say the GR Yaris is the only ’special in the market, because there’s also the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo Omologata… but that starts from S$1.3+m.

The ‘homologation special’ tag isn’t just a badge of honour to brag about, but underscores the superlative level of commitment that goes into its creation. With entire championships and the brand’s honour at stake, would you expect any less?

In the realm of the WRC the GR Yaris was originally intended to compete in, the cars aren’t just fast, but need to be lightweight, strong and tough enough to prevail against all the different, but equally gruelling conditions of the various rally stages.

Naturally, regular folk can’t look beyond the ‘Toyota’ badge in favour of the more ubiquitous hot-hatch offerings, but the GR Yaris is a pocket-rocket many of us petrolheads have eagerly been waiting for.

A compact body with outrageously flared fenders, a 6spd manual gearbox, an elastically responsive turbo’d 3cyl and agile chassis are the ingredients for a welcome remedy to today’s OTT sportscars still embroiled in the ever-escalating horsepower arms race.

The GR Yaris is a technical collaboration between Toyota and the Tommi Mäkinen Racing rally team, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s partner in the WRC. Older petrolheads will be familiar with the legendary Flying Finn’s championship-winning exploits in the WRC in the late 90s 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.

The 3dr GR Yaris’s platform is bespoke, and combines Toyota’s GA-B platform (this underpins the regular Yaris hatchback) with the rear section adapted from the Corolla/CH-R’s GA-C to accommodate the all-wheel drivetrain.

To lighten the GR Yaris to its sub-1.3-tonne kerbweight, there’s liberal use of aluminium in strategic body-panels (doors and tail-gate) and key differential components, while a forged carbon composite roof helps lower the centre of gravity even further.

Extensive seam-welding (4,175 in total, 259 more than a regular Yaris) means the tiny terror has a high level of rigidity as it carves up the canyon roads. Forged 18-inch BBS rims complete the package for the official import, as does a local-fit centre touchscreen interface.

Don’t be fooled by the faux cf roof sticker that ‘protects’ the actual roof, it’s raw unfinished carbon beneath, which saves 3.5kg over a conventional steel roof – a perfect match for the car’s raw edge.

We were lucky enough to sample some owners’ cars before the official demo, and boy were we blown away! The pint-sized rocket’s quick and dirty caffeine hit is so addictive we couldn’t get enough of it, and we seldom use the word ‘exceptional’ to describe a car but this is well-deserving of the label.

It’s no different from when you find a place that serves up your double ristretto just the way you like it – you end up drinking far more than is healthy for you. And this is why we found ourselves quickly reaching for the GR Yaris key during our time with it for all manner of errands.

Even relatively short trips saw us taking the long way around that would see us gone for a few hours as we enjoyed the dishy GR Yaris’s dynamic delights. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to pump gas for a test-car, but the visceral thrills afforded by the tiny terror keeps you coming back for more.

Unfortunately, the phat-flared hot-hatch is a natural target for the usual AMG/Type R/Golf R/Golf GTI gang, which seemed to take delight in riding up its pert derriere before tearing-off in a cloud of pops and bangs.

Well, if you’re the sort that thinks the hype behind the GR Yaris is in high-speed highway sprints, you’ve clearly missed the point of the car entirely, but hey, #ifyouknowyouknow.

We particularly like how the thoroughbred sporting machine can be configured to be as willfully rear-biased (in Sport) on tight winding roads, or offer sticky gritty grip (in Track) for maximum time attacks on race tracks – suffice to say, it was never in Normal during our time with it...

The steering is so reactive as to be telepathic and when you’re pressing hard, you never wonder what the sticky PS4S rubbers are up to, especially when matched to the delicately balanced chassis. When the music starts, the GR Yaris proves a delightfully agile, light-footed dance partner better suited to fast sets than slow, stately waltzes.

The spunky turbo’d 3cyl 1.6-litre spools up quickly and offers plenty of spurt, and there’s a fat wedge of mid-range torque to surf on, which ensures you won’t have to up/down-shift too often in the corners.

In posher quarters, people talk about supple leather and the tactile feel of materials, but in the GR Yaris, functional, hard-wearing plastics and plenty of storage are the order of the day.

Where it excels though, is where it matters most to the driving enthusiast: the points of driver contact. Even the start-up procedure requires an introspective clutch-in and a foot on the brake pedal – it wants your full commitment before it’s ready to be fired-up.

It may be lean on lux, but there’s solid sportscar weighting to the lean machine’s controls, from the slick-action of the gear-shifter to the steering and pedal feel. The brakes are worth a particular mention, because they are confidence-inspiring, offer tremendous feel for modulation and deliver stupendous stopping power.

Another thing we noticed (or rather didn’t, until a taller friend mentioned it): if you’re around the 1.7m mark or shorter (like us!), the driving position is pretty spot-on, but 1.75m and taller owners will find the driving position too high, even with the seat at its lowest.

Our big gripe is with how quiet the car is: synthesised cabin soundtrack aside, the GR Yaris is woefully muted from the outside. Of course, this is easily fixed with an aftermarket exhaust in more liberal countries, but it’s not that straightforward for Singapore.

Driving the GR Yaris is accompanied by all the hallmarks of indulging in too many concentrated caffeine hits. What can I say, I’m a caffeine fiend addicted to the elevated heart-rate, frenetic pace and bursts of boundless energy that comes with a coffee binge… enjoyed black as night of course.

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

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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