Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to sunny Barcelona by Toyota UK to take part in their #InspiredByTheTrack weekend event showcasing the all new Yaris GRMN.
If you know about Toyota’s current line-up (or even if you don’t), you’ll more than likely know about their small compact hatchback, the Yaris. This is something we’re all familiar with and a regular sight at your local garden centre. The Yaris has never been pitched to the public as an exciting car, more of an everyday, practical and safe hatchback that your mum would be happy driving to the shops. In short, not exciting at all. Prior to the GRMN, the hottest Yaris you could ever buy was the SR which was killed off by 2014 in favour for more focus on their new petrol, diesel and hybrid offerings – nethertheless sales still went strong in Europe despite the absence of Toyota’s Luke-warm Yaris. So, we are all familiar with the name ‘Yaris’ but what about the ‘GRMN’ part?
GRMN stands for ‘Gazoo Racing, Meister of Nürburgring’ – A tribute to the Gazoo Racing test drivers that fine-tuned the Yaris GRMN in the infamous Nordschleife. Gazoo Racing is Toyota’s motorsport division; their focus ranges from the 24-hour endurance races at LeMans and Nürburgring, to the Japanese Super GT Series, to the Dakar rally and of course the World Rally Championship (WRC). This is where the madness of the little Yaris GRMN came from. It’s a combination Toyota’s bestselling car in Europe with the underpinnings of a hot hatch and all engineered by the same guys who were responsible for such cars as the Lexus LFA ‘Code X’ and the Toyota Yaris WRC (of which the GRMN takes inspiration from).
We were introduced to the Yaris GRMN on the first night of our 3-day excursion at the welcome dinner. The car was front and centre ready for us to have a poke at.
The car was finished in Pure White with the signature red and black decals on the side – A nod to the Yaris WRC’s Racing livery. Upon first glance the car looks a lot more aggressive than your standard Yaris but admittedly also a bit wanting.
The car sits 30mm lower than standard on specially tuned springs and uses dampers co-developed with Sachs performance engineers in Germany. There’s also a 26mm thick roll bar across the front axle to help diminish body roll. The wheels are gloss black forged alloys produced by BBS and save 8kg off the overall weight – they look awesome too. The front brakes are ventilated 275mm’s produced by ADVICS whilst the rears are shared with the standard 1.5L Yaris. The most important part of the car; the engine (the 2ZR) is a 1.8-litre Dual VVT-i 4 cylinder producing 212 HP and 184 lb ft of torque. The 2ZR has a Magnusson Eaton rotor-type supercharger running at 1.8 bar boost which helps the engine produce almost 50% more power than the naturally aspirated equivalent could produce. The exhaust is a central exit, WRC inspired system which has an improved flow rate and 60% reduction in back pressure. The back box does look like a bit of a low-hanging after thought but I have been told this is because otherwise it’d be a straight through pipe (like on the Yaris WRC). This is all tied up in a car that only weighs 1135kg which means it can go from 0-62mph in 6.4s (on paper). Only 600 are being made and only 400 allocated to the European market. The cost you ask? £26,295… Now before you get up in arms about the fact that this Small Japanese hot hatch has a very German price tag, you needn’t waste your breath, because they’re all sold. Well, kind of – Chassis number 1 (A LHD car) is being auctioned off for charity. But other than that, all gone. So although I do share the general opinion that this car is very pricey for a small hot hatch, I thought I’d at least get in it before judging.
The first thing you notice about the car when you get in it is the seats. They aren’t hard buckets as I initially anticipated, in fact quite the opposite. They were soft enough for you not to worry about long journeys but still had brilliant support for thrashing around the track. The seats are manufactured by Toyota Boshoku who also manufactured the seats for the Lexus LFA and RCF so they know a thing or two about how to make great seats. Admittedly I had done some pre-reading prior to my flight that day and most reviews I saw did note the height of the seating position wasn’t as low as one would desire in a track focused car. I concur with this point however I am also 6 foot 4 and after discussion with some of the influencers on the trip it seems to be the perfect height for non-giants such as myself. Other things that are different inside from your standard Yaris is the steering wheel (stolen from the GT86 but with a red 12 o’clock marker), the pedals (I can’t comment on if they’re good for heel/toe), gear stick and a GRMN branded start button. Other than that, it’s your standard affair with the GRMN, the infotainment is the same as a standard Yaris as well as the rear seats and you still get a reversing camera which is nice. Cabin space is surprisingly good for a car in its class, I was able to fit in the front and rear seats with ease. Although pulling the strap on the bottom of the front seats only seem to make the seats recline forward but not slide (unless I was doing it wrong).
The second day we got thrown the keys to these little pocket rockets and was told to head in the direction of Parcmotor Castellolí. The first thing I noticed was the noise of that modified rally-esque exhaust, this was definitely not your standard Yaris. Driving around town I felt like an absolute yob… And I loved every second of it. What’s the point of a fun, track focused car if you can’t hear it? This was definitely the best sounding small hatch I’ve driven. No, you don’t get turbo flutters that you may get in some others in its class but you do get a very vocal note above 3000 RPM and tonnes of induction noise. I found myself instinctively dropping down into third every time I entered a tunnel or underpass. The engine almost feels naturally aspirated with it’s very linear power delivery and it really likes to rev, I didn’t even notice any whine from the supercharger. We had to drive through the town and towards the highway through mostly smooth roads although any bumps we did encounter wasn’t unpleasant. When on the highway, we were cruising at around 100-120 km/h and with the car in 6th gear you wouldn’t think it was the same car you got in despite its yobbish tone at the lower end. One thing I did pick up on (whether if it’s an option – I’m not sure) was it didn’t have cruise control, this wasn’t a deal breaker although I would have assumed that this top end model would have had it.
Once at the track we had free reign on how hard we could push the little Yaris. We had a professional racing driver in the passenger seat to help coach us around this 4.1km track. Turn in is up there compared to most of the others in its class but I still think that there are some hot hatches which do have a sharper turn in (i.e. the Fiesta ST). Gearing is shorter for the road but still efficient enough for the track – as mentioned before, you really do want to rev this engine out (peak torque is at 4800 rpm). The car felt planted at high speed and sure footed in the corners, probably thanks to that trick Torsen differential. The cars we were running about in were on Bridgestone Potenza RE050A’s however the cars on track were running Bridgestone RE11S’ which I’ve been told aren’t actually road legal in Europe as they’re essentially super sticky track slicks but they definitely did the job in the corners.
The phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ gets thrown around a lot but I genuinely think there is no better way to describe the Yaris GRMN. A car that is usually seen as a safe, practical and frankly boring car for your mum to go to the shops in has been given a complete overhaul in terms of engineering by some guys at the Nürburgring. But I think this, along with its price is its biggest flaw… I understand that due to the timeframe of the Yaris GRMN’s development, the possibility of having crazy flared wide arches much like the Yaris WRC car it derived from was simply too much to do in the given time frame. This means that this truly awesome car just looks like a Yaris with a wing and some decals to the untrained eye. Following that, there’s no getting around the fact that this is an expensive hot hatch. In fact, it’s marginally more expensive than some of its German rivals (e.g. the new Polo GTi and Cooper JCW).
However, this car isn’t for the masses, as mentioned the car itself is a limited production unit and all (apart from chassis no. 1) have been sold. This car is more than just an expensive Yaris with a wing – it’s a statement. A sign of great things to come from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team and their influence on the consumer models. The Yaris GRMN reminds me a lot of the original Japanese hot hatch, the EK9 Civic Type R. With its linear power delivery, great steering feedback and a high revving engine that loves to be wound out, I don’t think there is a better comparison. I suppose in that sense, it’s proper old school engaging fun and as a Swift Sport owner myself, I love that. On the trip I was posed the question “if I could swap my Swift in for a Yaris GRMN, would I?” And I think I genuinely would. This car is a great first step in the right direction for Toyota and their Gazoo Racing (GR) sub brand and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.