Under the bonnet of the GR Yaris
There are more changes under that lightweight bodywork, most notably the three-cylinder 1.6-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet. It’s used both because it’s the biggest that will fit the car and because Saito felt that the 2.0-litre turbos he tried in various benchmark rivals (particularly a Subaru WRX STI) were all too heavy.
It’s a brand-new engine and, in a somewhat off-brand move for Toyota, has absolutely no hybrid elements. But it was designed with a focus on saving weight and efficiency. Sato claims it is the lightest and most powerful 1.6-litre production engine in the world. Toyota says it will offer more than 247bhp and 258lb ft, although those are the only technical figures forthcoming.
The engine is coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no automatic, both to save weight and because a manual makes it more fun to drive – with power sent to all four wheels. Unusually, the car’s GR-4 AWD system doesn’t feature a centre differential (too heavy), instead using a high-performance coupling in front of the rear axle to control power to the rear wheels. Drivers can choose from three settings: Normal (60:40 front to rear), Sport (30:70) and Track (50:50).
The front suspension has MacPherson struts and the rear replaces the regular Yaris’s torsion beam for a double-wishbone set-up. Unlike with many hot hatches, the ride height is fixed because fitting a system that adjusts it would, predictably, add too much weight. The GR Yaris also gets new 18in four-pot brake calipers at the front, with 16in two-pots at the rear.
What the GR Yaris is like to drive on road, track and stage
With Toyota still relearning how to make performance road cars, Saito admits it has taken some time for the car’s development drivers – including its three 2018 WRC drivers – to hone it. “The first car was a prototype and even the rally drivers couldn’t control it,” he recounts, gleefully. “The boss requested that we need to learn the technology properly.”
Thankfully, Akio Toyoda’s requests were heeded long before Autocar was invited to step into a late-development prototype on the Estoril circuit and surrounding roads. Once again, the GR Yaris isn’t what you’d expect for an aggressively styled four-wheel-drive hot hatch. It’s actually rather civilised. The small turbo engine is quiet and calm in general usage and the suspension, while stiffened, is far more pliant on bumpy roads than, say, a Hyundai i30 N.
But the GR Yaris can do performance. On track, with the freedom to explore its potential, the 1.6-litre engine is responsive, torquey and potent, with a pleasant – if not overwhelming – aural note. Beyond its exaggerated bodywork, the GR Yaris’s performance comes not from excess but reduction. The plentiful traction and lightweight design – Toyota hasn’t given a weight figure yet – results in handling that is nimble and intuitively direct. It’s neutral and confidence-inspiring, in the way that rally drivers want their machines to be. It’s capable, too: a brief run in a test hack on a rutted, bumpy gravel loop showed that it doesn’t just have rally-based styling.