2021 Toyota GR Yaris review

The best Toyota currently on sale is the GR Yaris, but at more than $50,000 on the road how does it stack up against its European competitors?

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Paul Maric
Paul Maric
Managing Editor
PROS
  • Incredibly capable on a twisty road
  • Great powertrain and transmission
  • A great daily sports car that feels at home on track
CONS
  • Staggered pricing from 40 originally to 50k will put some off
  • Yaris name doesn't represent its marvellous engineering
  • Interior technology is lacking given the price tag

The 2021 Toyota GR Yaris is the first proper in-house sports car Toyota has made in around two decades.

You can argue all you want, but the Toyota 86 is mostly a Subaru, the Toyota Supra is mostly a BMW, and those Sportivo and TRD models of years past have got nothing on this GR Yaris in terms of proper motorsport DNA and engineering.

Before we get into the GR Yaris, it’s important to realise how we got here. Unless you’re Tesla, car companies move at glacial speeds. The appointment of Akio Toyoda (the grandson of the company’s founder) in 2009 to the role of Toyota global president was a sign of what was to come, and that decade-long journey is only now really starting to take shape.

Mr Toyoda is not an accountant type. In fact, he’s pretty much the opposite. Time and time again he has competed in motorsport events and singlehandedly dragged Toyota’s upper management (likely kicking and screaming) to develop sports cars, enter the World Rally Championship, and create the Gazoo Racing motorsport and performance sub-brand.

The GR badge now proudly sits on the back of several Toyota vehicles and will sit on many more to come.

The Toyota 86 came to life in 2012 as a mad rush to give Toyota some sense of excitement, thanks in large to partner brand Subaru – which help develop the car based on the Impreza platform.

This was followed by years of Supra teasers that finally came to market in early 2019 with the help of BMW’s engineering and engine technology, as well as Magna Steyr’s capacity to put the car together in Austria.

Yes, they both have Toyota badges, but this GR Yaris is 100 per cent all Toyota and wow… it was so worth the wait.

We had the chance to hop behind the wheel of the GR Yaris ahead of the national launch thanks to a very generous customer. Tuners Edge is currently doing a lot of work on performance enhancements for the GR Yaris, so make sure you check them out if you’ve bought one and want to make it loud and fast.

How much does the Toyota GR Yaris cost?

The story around the GR Yaris’s pricing is one the strangest decisions we’ve seen from Toyota Australia, or any car company for that matter.

Toyota launched the GR Yaris at just under $40,000 drive-away for the first 1000 customers. That was sold out in just a few days, so it launched another 100 for just under $45,000 drive away. They were also sold in no time.

Once the first 1100 people had reserved their cars, the company announced the price of the GR Yaris will be $49,990 before on-road costs. Realistically, that’s in the $50,000 bracket on the road.

MORE: Toyota GR Yaris pricing and specs

If you missed out on the initial batch, you’ll now pay more than 20 per cent over what others did for the same product. In the age of car companies moving to regulated single-level pricing across all dealers this is a very bold move, and only time will tell if other buyers are willing to cop the price hike.

It’s easy to be cynical here and question the decision, but it’s important to see why this has occurred.

Folks like Sean Hanley, vice president of sales and marketing for Toyota’s local arm, have pushed the brand to throw money at the GR Yaris in order to get cars on the road and change the brand’s perception for the better.

So think about the price ‘hike’ as compensating for the fact Toyota likely lost money on the first 1100 cars just to get them on the road and build the Gazoo Racing brand’s credibility – that’s how much this means to the Japanese carmaker.

If you were smart enough to get one, good for you. For the rest of us, even at $49,500 before on-road costs the Yaris GR presents a decent deal.

What do you get?

You can find the pricing and specifications of the new Toyota GR Yaris here, but if you’re thinking more than $50,000 for a Yaris is a lot of money, let’s actually remind ourselves of the fact this isn’t really a Yaris.

First, it’s an all-wheel drive, three-door hatchback with more than 200kW of power. Go ahead and find another car with a three-cylinder engine that makes that much power.

In actual fact, this is the car the Subaru WRX wishes it still was – fast, all-wheel drive, and full of potential. We really feel this car will appeal a great deal to those who have once owned a WRX or Mitsubishi Evo.

The GR Yaris only shares the wing mirrors, headlights, tail lights, and shark fin antenna with the standard Yaris hatch.

It rides on a hybrid of the Yaris and Corolla platforms, so most of the car’s chassis is actually a Corolla and all the bits that are from the run-of-the-mill Yaris have been reproduced in a lightweight material such as the aluminium bonnet, tailgate, and carbon-fibre roof.

Speaking of the roof, it’s a sheet moulding compound, which looks very similar to what you will find on a Lamborghini Huracan Performante. It’s actually not the same at all, because Toyota wraps the roof to make it look like a carbon-fibre weave rather than its true form. We recommend you take that wrap off immediately.

Is the Toyota GR Yaris safe?

Given this car is a Frankenstein of parts from the Yaris and Corolla, it would be remiss of us to say that the Yaris or the Corolla’s five-star safety rating naturally applies.

This car hasn’t been crash-tested tested but in saying that, given its two halves are both five-star cars, it’s a fair assumption to say it’s likely just as safe as a standard Yaris.

Full credit to Toyota also for including its full suite of active safety features, including:

  • Lane-keep assist
  • Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian (day/night) and cyclist (night) detection
  • Intersection turn assist
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Road sign recognition

What is the Toyota GR Yaris like on the inside?

The GR Yaris is a pretty decent sports car, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that ultimately, it’s a normal Toyota on the inside.

Yes it has some nice seats, the infotainment system works pretty well, and the interior is nicely laid out, but it’s not perfect.

It’s fair to say that at around $50,000 you would probably expect digital instruments, and a whole bunch of other technology features you find in similarly priced cars like the Volkswagen Golf R. But alas, your money is going almost entirely into the drivetrain.

The Toyota GR Yaris isn’t a very big car, but Toyota says you can put four spare track wheels in the boot if you fold the seats down.

But if the rear seats are up there’s just 141L of space which, to be perfectly frank, is fine for a helmet and a can of coke… maybe.

You’ll notice that beneath the cargo floor next to the battery there is an empty space – that’s reserved for the intercooler spray reservoir that will be available with the Rallye version.

The seats look great with their Alcantara finish and hug you in nicely. Plus the added touch of heated seats and steering wheel makes them feel a little more special.

What’s under the bonnet?

The GR Yaris is powered by the world’s most powerful mass-produced three-cylinder engine – 200kW and 370Nm out of a 1.6-litre turbo triple is ridiculous.

Toyota says it has moved the engine as close to the centre of the car as possible, and the reason it didn’t fit a 2.0-litre engine is because the car would be too heavy.

The single-scroll ball bearing turbocharger has large-diameter exhaust vales and multi-jet oil cooling to help with response, while the use of lightweight cylinder blocks with a two-level water jacket structure and a low back-pressure muffler and tailpipe all help with performance and weight saving.

Drive is sent to all four wheels through a six-speed manual. There’s no dual-clutch auto option here folks.

There are Normal, Sport and Track modes which change the torque distribution through the all-wheel drive system. In Normal, 60 per cent of the torque goes to the front wheels and 40 per cent to the rear.

In Sport, 30 per cent goes to the front and 70 to the rear, which means you can get some nice slides happening with a bit of throttle.

In Track mode, the distribution front-rear is 50:50 for maximum attack. This is also the best way to launch the car from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.2 seconds.

Toyota also channels the engine note into the cabin (not artificially), while using active sound management to reduce booming on the highway.

To quote some numbers, the GR Yaris is 38kg lighter body-in-white than a normal Yaris. The aluminium bonnet, tailgate, and frameless doors save 24.1kg, the carbon-fibre roof is just 3.5kg, while the roofline is 95mm lower than the normal Yaris.

Even the bumpers are lighter, with the front weighing 38 per cent less than the standard Yaris thanks to the use of Olefin polymers. Toyota has even taken 2.4kg out of the boot lining material.

What that all means is a power-to-weight ratio of 156kW/tonne, putting it in the same league as the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS – performance hatchbacks from the size class above.

Toyota claims a fuel economy of 7.6L/100km, but who really cares?

How does the Toyota GR Yaris drive?

The GR Yaris is a great car on twisty mountain roads where it can exploit its all-wheel drive capability and pull hard out of corners.

Lacking the proper front and rear differentials of the Rallye Edition ($56,200 list), the standard GR Yaris does tend to occasionally feel a little stuck out of the super tight stuff when the road is off-camber, but unless you plan on doing competitive racing, the Rallye variant is mainly a show-off spec.

The front McPherson strut suspension and multi-link rear do a lot to aid the GR Yaris in having sharp turn-in, as well as good mid-corner and exit speeds. The ride is very compliant and although it can be a tad on the firm side, this is a proper sports car so you kind of get what you pay for.

Driving

GR-FWOARH

The GR Yaris punches well above its weight both in a straight line and in the bends

The main issue we have with the GR Yaris on-road is the tyres. The Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber is okay and the 225/40 R18 size is decent, but if you want proper grip and much better cornering, put a set of R-Spec tyres on and the GR Yaris will make every Golf R driver very, very nervous.

We were genuinely surprised by the car’s braking performance, no doubt helped by the massive 356mm brakes up front with four-piston calipers and 297mm rear rotors with two-piston clamps. To put that into perspective, the front brakes on the GR Yaris are bigger than those on the more powerful and more expensive Supra.

The engine and six-speed manual work very nicely together, and thanks to the rev-matching system the need to heel-and-toe is not there – unless you prefer to do so. Despite what Toyota says, the pedal positioning isn’t great for that anyway, as the brake pedal sits far too high.

The best thing about the drivetrain is there’s not much turbo lag. You feel a slight hesitation as you set off before it really gets going – and when it gets going, it really gets going.

The seating position can be a little finicky but you do get used to it after a while. The steering is nice, reasonably responsive and precise, but it can do with some more feedback which we suspect may even come with a tyre upgrade.

Overall, driving the GR Yaris feels like driving a very planted and much faster WRX. It corners with great poise and confidence and gets has enormous mid-gear torque to get up and going.

The only thing worth nothing here is unlike the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged competitors the GR Yaris is priced against, its 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine doesn’t have an awful lot left in it from a tuning perspective.

We’re told you can squeeze torque up from 370Nm to around 410-420Nm with some basic modifications, but there isn’t an awful lot more in it unless you start to properly mess with the internals.

How much does the Toyota GR Yaris cost to run?

The Toyota GR Yaris costs $260 to service every six months or 10,000km for the first three years, and Toyota will warrant the car for five years and unlimited kilometres.

Track warranty coverage is a bit of a grey area and we suspect Toyota will make that more obvious for the Rallye version, but even so, we’re told the company will look at every car’s mechanical issue incurred on track on a case-by-case basis.

After all, how do you have a ‘track’ mode on a car if it isn’t warranted for ‘track’ use?

CarExpert’s take on the Toyota GR Yaris

Akio Toyoda’s impact on Toyota cannot be understated. The Toyota GR Yaris is an impeccable vehicle from a car company that has a point to prove. Toyota is alive again.

The soul that stirred the brand in the days of the GT4 Celica, MR2, and Lexus LFA is back, and the world of motoring is only just gearing up to experience what it means when a behemoth is awoken to motorsport.

Toyota might sell more cars than any other brand in the world, but with the GR Yaris it also sells cars enthusiasts actually want and should embrace on merit.

So for us, the Toyota GR Yaris is the best car the brand currently sells. The level of engineering, passion and development that has gone into this car is sure to make it an instant cult classic.

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Ratings
OVERALL8.5
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 9
Ride Comfort 8.4
Fit for Purpose 9.5
Handling Dynamics 9.5
Interior Practicality and Space 7.8
Fuel Efficiency 8.2
Value for Money 7.5
Performance 9.2
Technology Infotainment 7.5