Toyota GR Yaris Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Saturday 30th September


What is it like to drive?

It drives like you hoped it would. Like you dreamed it would. In Top Gear’s collective head we wanted it to feel like a boisterous little charger, and it does. And that means there’s nothing else out there quite like it. It’s the size of a Ford Fiesta ST, but has the attitude of something far more aggressive. But it’s not as tightly-focused and serious-minded as a Civic Type R - especially the near-£50k FL5. The Toyota has the mindset of a rally car, not a steely-eyed track weapon. It just wants to have fun.

You get in and it feels right: good seats, nice control weights, no slack in the steering, brakes or gearlever. Before you’ve got out of the car park you feel well disposed to the GR Yaris. And it makes a good, growly noise. Little bit of an edge to it. Not many hot hatches – not many sports cars full stop – get these basics right.

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Sounds great. Tell me more...

Stay with the low speeds and there’s a bit of tussle in the ride. It’s a short, broad, stiff car, so a bit of twitch is to be expected. There’s noise from the tyres when you go quicker, but the heavily strengthened bodyshell means zero creaks and rattles and gives the suspension a rigid central core to work from. Not once did we find ourselves looking for the non-existent adaptive damper button. The GR Yaris proves that if you get a single set-up right, you don’t need more options. No, it’s not as relaxing as a Golf GTI on a schlep. It pulls 2,800rpm at 70mph and isn’t the sort of car you can steer with one finger.

So, does it have different drive modes?

It does. Sport mode is the one everyone talks about, because it sends 70 per cent of torque to the rear wheels. On a track this is a hoot. You can fling the Yaris into a corner, maybe even give it a Scandi flick to set it up, then bury the throttle and ride a slide. On road, because the set-up gives you some initial understeer, it’s Track mode you want. Here, provided your car has the Circuit Pack, you can get on the power early and with 50 per cent of drive going through the front wheels, the Torsen diff can get to work and pull you out of corners. Hard, with zero understeer.

It’s an addictive experience, especially if you want to teach yourself left foot braking, building up power against the brakes mid-corner, and then release the brakes for a maximum attack exit. Not many cars let you use throttle and brakes together. This Toyota does. It’s a small thing, irrelevant to most people, but it’s there and it works well.

Here’s something else in the same vein. Most cars have now replaced the manual handbrake with an electric parking brake. Not Toyota. And not only that, but if you do give it a yank while you’re moving, it disconnects drive to the rear wheels. It’s the best handbrake outside an actual rally car.

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Is there anything wrong with it?

It’s a proper rufty tufty little car, this. It goads you to give it some, and if you do, it’s with you every step of the way. There are small issues: the brakes, although powerful, are slightly dead to use and there’s not much natural steering feel, but because they respond immediately and proportionately, you have massive confidence in it. The gearshift is tight and together, there’s not a surfeit of modes or tech – the opposite in fact. It feels mechanical and you feel intrinsically connected to it. So to answer that question in a word - no.

What about the engine?

It’s a belter. We were sceptical that 257bhp was enough when most rivals have 300bhp. But most rivals also weigh around 150kg more and are nowhere near this engaging. This little 1.6 triple hits surprisingly hard. 4,000-6,000rpm is the sweet spot, the GR thumping through that band in third and fourth with real determination. Lower down it’s a bit lumpy and the turbo doesn’t get going until 3,000rpm, but at the top end it keeps its composure all the way to the red line. And it sounds great. Artificially augmented, yes, but enticing and a much bigger noise than you expect. The kind that makes you want to keep your foot in. The short throw manual is a great partner, although we’d encourage you not to press the iMT rev blip button on the centre console – you can shift fast enough to beat the system. Do it yourself instead. You’ll get more out of it.

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