Toyota GR Yaris review – ride and handling

So unique, so fascinating, yet with room to grow

Evo rating
  • Huge cross-country pace belies figures on paper; sense of purpose; gutsy engine
  • Steering and chassis balance could be sharper still; seating position high

For a driving enthusiast, the sense of anticipation when handed the key to the GR Yaris is almost off the scale. To the uninitiated it may look like a humble little Toyota hatchback, but after all the hype and mouth-watering specification talk we don’t think there’d be any more excitement if it were something low, wide, Italian and in possession of 800 horsepower.

What strikes you initially is how squat, simple and purposeful the GR Yaris looks on the road. There’s a small spoiler on the rear hatch but otherwise the shape is largely devoid of frippery. From behind it dominates the road thanks to those wide rear wheelarches, while at the front the gaping holes in the bodywork for cooling are almost militaristic in their single-minded design.

When up and running, it’s immediately clear that the GR Yaris gets its pace not just from that energetic engine, but because in true rally homologation special style it worries not a jot about the surface beneath its wheels. Ridges, compressions and broken asphalt are dismissed with barely a thought, the car charging onwards towards the next challenge without hesitation. Grip levels on the Circuit Pack version’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres are very high, and only occasionally does the damping struggle on a particularly tricky bump.

Unlike a front-wheel-drive hot hatch, such as the current Fiesta ST, the four-wheel-drive Toyota’s cornering repertoire is much more three-dimensional. A corner isn’t about simply getting the front to turn in and then managing traction on the way out, rather the Yaris will rotate and then power through, the primary objective for the driver being to see just how early they can get on the power.

The answer, often, is even earlier than you thought. Perhaps the Yaris could be more aggressive still at the front end, for as it stands it’s much closer to an old Subaru Impreza than a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo in character, the steering lacking just that last degree of clarity on turn-in and the car favouring outright traction over hyper-agility. For many, this will be the perfect solution, but for those looking for something wilder still perhaps there’s room for a more aggressively set-up model in the future…

Even so, the GR Yaris is the kind of hot hatch where you’ll struggle not to drive flat out everywhere, usually with a massive grin on your face. It’s also effortless everyday transport, and deeply cool if you know what you’re looking at. Job done, Mr Toyoda.

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