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Toyota Yaris GRMN review - has Toyota finally made a proper hot hatch?

Evo logo Evo 2017-07-17 Adam Towler

VERDICT: Pricey, and not without its issues, the Yaris GRMN is nevertheless a thrilling little hot hatch of real character

EVO RATING: 4/5

PRICE: £26,295

FOR: Naughty exhaust note, fun to drive, potent performance

AGAINST: Expensive, poor driving position for taller drivers, could Toyota be even bolder?

GT86 aside, this mysteriously named hot hatch is nothing less than the rebirth of Toyota as a marque with performance car ambitions.

It’s taken a while for boss Akio Toyoda’s sporting doctrine to filter down through the company, but this first Gazoo Racing model to go on sale in Europe (the sixth to make it to production) will surely not be the last, and then there’s the keenly awaited spiritual successors to the Supra and ‘MR2’ to look forward to, as well.

The finished Yaris GRMN won’t be ready until the end of the year, but evo travelled to Toyota’s test centre at the ‘Ring to drive a pre-production car on both the road and the Nordschleife.

This is a classic ‘Skunkworks’ project, created by a small team of real enthusiasts based at Toyota Europe but with input from Toyota globally, and all achieved in just nine months. 

Only 400 will be made, with around 90-100 of those projected to come to the UK.  

Toyota Yaris GRMN © Provided by Evo Toyota Yaris GRMN

The company sees the car as a bridge between the Yaris WRC and the regular Yaris road car range, but of course, thanks to current rallying regulations the front-wheel drive GRMN is nothing like the former; it’s to Toyota’s credit that it’s significantly different to the latter, as well.

And that name? ‘Gazoo Racing tuned by Meisters of the Nurburgring’.

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

At last, an engine in a small hot hatch that isn’t a ‘downsized’ turbo lump. Okay, so it does use forced induction, but the adoption of a Magnusson Eaton supercharger gives this Yaris a very different character from any rival. 

The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is familiar: it’s essentially the unit found in the Lotus Elise, but modified here for installation in a Yaris. That in itself has been a major challenge for the team because space really was at a premium and managing the heat from the engine in a small ‘bay not easy.

Another key task was getting rid of the exhaust gases, with a 60mm diameter pipe squeezed into the space where the standard 42mm pipe normally resides.

Just one cat is used - an expensive Lexus item - so the secondary cat has been deleted, and the pipe exits in the centre of the car like the Yaris WRC.

Toyota Yaris GRMN © Provided by Evo Toyota Yaris GRMN

The limited slip differential is a torsen type from J-TACS, while the six-speed manual ‘box has been reinforced to cope with a car that is, after all, twice as powerful as the next most potent Yaris in the range.

While the car is still undergoing homologation, the final numbers will be around 210bhp and 184lb-ft of torque, which in a car that weighs 1,135kg (significantly lighter than a Renaultsport Clio) promises strong performance.

The 0-60mph time is projected to be around 6.3-6.5 seconds, while the top speed will be limited to 143mph.

Technical highlights

There’s much more to the GRMN than a set of fancy black and red stickers. The car uses the sturdier front subframe from the diesel Yaris with unique bushing, and the body is reinforced underneath at the front, in the centre and with two diagonal rear bars.

Moreover, there’s a strut-brace fitted as well, a later addition that significantly quelled torque steer after the car gained a limited slip differential part way through the project.

The suspension uses Sachs dampers, and it’s a passive setup with no alternate modes, unusually, just like the rest of the car.

Toyota Yaris GRMN © Provided by Evo Toyota Yaris GRMN

The Yaris GRMN sits lower, the spring rate is significantly higher, and the anti-roll bars are thicker, with a 17” forged BBS alloy wheel at each corner shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tyres of 205/45 R17 size.

Behind those on the front axle lie new four-pot brake callipers and larger discs.

All Yaris GRMNs will be white with a black roof and wheels. A large rear wing and that exhaust certainly mark the car out from a standard Yaris, but without any bespoke bodywork, it lacks the visual extravagance of something like the old RS Clio 197/200.  

All 400 cars will be built on the regular Yaris line in France but by a specially selected team of 20 employees.

What’s it like to drive?

Initially, a contradiction. Once inside the surroundings are resolutely Yaris - no bad thing but hardly inspiring - but the Toyota Boshuku sports seats do their very best to compensate, offering lots of support and lowering the driver in the car.

Nevertheless, the fundamental issue is that you still sit too high, and taller drivers will find the limited range of steering wheel adjustment a maddening issue. I just couldn’t get comfortable.

Even so, I’m prepared to tolerate it, thanks to the noise that the GRMN is making. It’s mainly exhaust blast, and it's emanating from the rear of the car in a way that’s completely non-synthetic.

During those first few moments, it’s a shock to discover just how loud and raw the GRMN is through the engine’s mid-range - and how firm the ride is at low speed. In fact, I keep glancing over my shoulder to check if the rear bench with its sound-deadening qualities hasn’t been removed.

Toyota Yaris GRMN © Provided by Evo Toyota Yaris GRMN

Thankfully, on smooth German roads at least, the ride smooths out notably above 20mph and the GRMN’s feisty character soon begins to assert itself. This is a refreshingly uncomplicated car - one that inevitably recalls memories of how small hot hatches used to be.

There are no settings to adjust, just three pedals and a gear stick to work as fast as possible.

The engine plays its part, unable to deliver that big kick of torque we’ve become accustomed to from turbocharged engines, but countering with a linearity of delivery right up to the 7,000rpm redline and outstandingly immediate throttle response.

As you can probably sense, there’s only one way to drive the Yaris GRMN, and that’s ‘with verve’...

Toyota’s test route near the ‘Ring includes some devilishly poor road surfaces, and the little Yaris takes it all in its stride, only getting lively over a couple of massive undulations.

Introducing the well-weighted and powerful brakes soon has the rear of the car moving around, and while the steering has an ever-so-slightly dulled, artificial feel, particularly in self-centring, it’s accurate enough to do the job.

Traction at the front end is excellent thanks to that diff, but there’s a feeling that the Potenzas relinquish their grip relatively early, soon squealing.

Perhaps we’re all used to driving cars on really sticky rubber, but when the engineers recount how awesome the car was at the ‘Ring with a stickier compound, I wonder if those tyres should be on the options list.

Talking of the final spec, the GRMN has DAB, climate control and sat nav as standard, but project leader Stijn Peeters reckons deleting them and installing wind-up windows could save as much as 60kg.

Given how much crisper the GRMN feels without a passenger than with one, that additional saving would be well worth having - and very much in the spirit of the car. Go on Toyota, have the courage to offer a ‘Rallye’ spec either as standard or as an alternative.   

Price and rivals

£26,295 will always seem like a lot of money for a Yaris, but it is a special little car and you’re unlikely to see another one on the road if you’re out for a drive. Ordering is via a pan-European website that launches on July 27th, where a 1,000 euro deposit secures a place held for three months.

The Peugeot 208 GTi by PS is our current favourite in this class, but we await Ford’s new Fiesta ST with much interest, and perhaps the question now is whether the GRMN will spawn a volume-selling model to meet those rivals head on.

Read more at Evo.

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