The Toyota GR Yaris is probably the most surprising car of 2020, which is why it absolutely deserves to be the standout car of the year. Even before the pandemic, cars were heading towards a green, sensible, electrified-but-unexciting future. A future where performance cars that don’t cost the same as a house would be consigned to the pages of history, and for the longest time Toyota seemed to be at the forefront of this trend. But then it releases the GR Yaris – a homologation special that harks back to specials of the 1980s and 1990s, like the Celica GT-Four or Ford Escort RS Cosworth.
Toyota tried to bring excitement back to their brand with the release of the new Supra, but it has left a lot of enthusiasts underwhelmed. There’s nothing wrong with the new Supra: it’s fast, it looks like the old Supra, it drives better than the old Supra, and it even sounds good. But it feels too much like a BMW – the moment you sit in a new Supra, you will hear that familiar BMW bong, and you will see a lot (I mean A LOT) of BMW switchgear. Then you look under the hood and you’re greeted with a BMW straight-six engine, and a bunch of BMW badges scattered all over the place. It’s as if BMW did Toyota’s homework for them.
Then in 2020, the GR Yaris comes into the spotlight – seemingly with a familiar recipe, but with new ingredients. The fact that we’re excited about a Yaris at all is something in itself, but when it comes with a short wheelbase, all-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission and a power output of 261hp, that’s when you realize that it’s no ordinary Yaris. It has a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, but it doesn’t come with four cylinders, it comes with three! Initially that might sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. With 261hp and 360Nm of torque, it is the most powerful three-cylinder engine in the world, and it only has to push 1,280kg around. While its exhaust note is a bit too quiet (thanks WLTP!), an aftermarket exhaust will surely make it sound like the homologation special that it is.
In Switzerland, the GR Yaris has a base price of CHF 37,900, but we are already seeing cars being sold well into the high CHF 40k region. If you do manage to get one for close to base price, it’s a bargain for something that is destined to be a future collectible, and possibly have a cult following of its own.
The reviews and YouTube videos seem to show a car that is a riot to drive. It can power oversteer and hold long four-wheel drifts on slippery surfaces, but is also nimble and grippy on dry surfaces. The only negative thing that I can draw from the videos is the fact that it’s too quiet from the outside, and that the inside has fake engine sounds pumped through the speakers.
Written by Alex Kisiri