Toyota’s ‘inner sanctum’ produces rally-bred hot-rod in Mark Two form
To an enthusiast, the frisson of excitement surrounding a motorsport developed road car is palpable, as Iain Robertson pulls back the covers on a more refined, more technologically advanced, better looking and even racier Toyota Yaris GR.
A little over 18 months ago, I was privileged enough to obtain a test drive of the previous generation Toyota Yaris GRMN, the road-going version of the all-conquering Toyota World Rally Car. Known as an ‘homologation’ model, which dictates that competition viability demands a short run of production alternatives that bear only scant similarities with their fire-breathing brethren, it was just one of the 100 examples only sold to UK customers.
In fact, that same car joined Toyota GB’s classic car fleet as soon as it left my sweaty hands. Aware of its genuinely rare status, it was a stunningly raw and tactile piece of engineering that begged to be driven as close to flat-out as was possible and stuff the consequences. Equipped with a ‘flat-shift’ gearbox, beefy suspension and semi-permanently popping and farting exhaust system, the GRMN was every bit a purpose-packed hatchback. Yet, to live with an example may have tempted fate, not least on licence survival terms.
The precepts surrounding homologation cars are as taut as each competing carmaker allows them to be. Toyota simply went the extra mile. I have owned several such cars over the years: from a Mini Cooper S and Escort RS1800, to BMW M3 and Skoda Fabia S2000. All were heavily road-biased, of course. Yet, with just a few pertinent additions, allied to the removal of much trim and spending upwards of £50k, each of them could be drawn into motorsport use, to further underscore the dichotomy of ownership.
In its latest form, Yaris GR is a pure performance car, born from Toyota’s title-winning experience in the World Rally Championship (WRC), forged from success in the heat of competition and bringing motorsport technology and design directly to the road scene. It is an unique proposition that benefits from the design and engineering talents of Toyota Gazoo Racing and Tommi Mäkinen Racing, Toyota’s Finnish partner in the WRC. Set for launch this summer, it follows the Supra GR as Toyota’s second global GR entrant.
It is also all-change, with an all-new platform and engine, new suspension, lightweight construction, aerodynamic styling and a permanent all-wheel drive system. A lower roofline improves the car’s ability to cleave through the air, while positioning the new 1.6-litre turbo engine further back towards the centre of the car and locating the battery in the boot help to result in better chassis balance for improved handling, stability and agility.
Its body shell is made from carbon fibre polymer and aluminium panels, to maximise power-to-weight, while a wider rear track and new double wishbone rear suspension system refines the dynamic balance, the muscular wings accommodating 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels. Beneath the bonnet is an all-new, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine displacing 1,618cc and producing a punchy 257bhp and an impressive 265lbs ft of torque. The twin-cam, 12-valve head features a single-scroll, ball-bearing turbo and is matched to a six-speed manual gearbox.
Tipping the scales at a modest kerb weight of 1,280kg, it delivers a 0-60mph blast in a very cool 5.2s, before coursing on to a top speed (electronically limited) of 143mph, which is bottom-end supercar territory. Its all-wheel drive system is designed to optimise power to each wheel, while remaining both simple and lightweight. The distribution of torque between the front and rear axles is governed by a high-response coupling, with a ‘Circuit Pack’ option that incorporates two Torsen limited-slip differentials managing the split between the left and right-side wheels to provide even greater control. In its ultimate set-up, it can provide a theoretical and driver adjustable torque bias, using a switchable choice of Normal, Sport, or Track Mode settings, of all-front, or all-rear-wheel drive. The torque balance adjusts automatically in response to the driver’s inputs, vehicle behaviour and road, or track, conditions.
Where the standard Yaris uses torsion beam rear suspension, the Yaris GR has a dedicated double wishbone set-up, with each element optimised for performance. A MacPherson strut system is used at the front. Brake duties are catered for by 356mm grooved front discs with four-pot callipers, engineered to cope with high-speed track and special stage driving, while serving the inevitable heat dissipation needs. As mentioned earlier, the Yaris GR can be upgraded with an extra cost Circuit Pack option. This equips the car with a Torsen limited-slip differential on both the front and rear axles, performance-focused suspension and 18.0-inch forged alloy wheels clad with Michelin Pilot Sport 4s 225/40R18 tyres.
To help meet its performance goals for the GR Yaris, Toyota has established a new production facility at its Motomachi factory, with a line dedicated to manufacturing GR models. Instead of the traditional conveyor system, the body and assembly lines comprise a number of different cells connected by automatic guided vehicles. The production of each vehicle calls for a large number of manual processes, for which Toyota uses a specialist team for high-precision assembly of enhanced rigidity vehicle bodies to levels that are much harder to achieve on standard production lines. The GR facility is capable of handling multi-type, small-volume production, without compromising productivity, or quality standards.
Naturally, there is a downside amid all this excitement and it relates to its potential (but unconfirmed) list price. The Yaris GR is a very special small car, using a lot of non-standard materials and components in its construction and a copious dose of racing technology. As a result, you can anticipate a price tag of around £35-£40,000. When you consider that a RenaultSport Megane in its most focused road-going guise can cost 50% more, the Yaris GR looks like moderate value for money, even though justifying such a spend might prove difficult.
Conclusion: Technically fascinating and a guaranteed hoot to drive, Toyota’s all new Yaris GR is not intended for mass-market appeal. However, it will be available in greater numbers than its toe-in-the-water forebear and is sure to generate a strong following.