Toyota GR Yaris - long-term review - Report No:7 2023 | Top Gear
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Thursday 5th October
Long-term review

Toyota GR Yaris - long-term review

£29,995/£34,375 as tested/£396pcm
Published: 21 Jul 2021


  • SPEC

    Toyota GR Yaris



  • BHP


  • 0-62


Is the Toyota GR Yaris 2021's definitve hot hatch?

Two cars, each from a firm without that much pedigree in building belting driver’s machines. And yet I honestly think these two are the most entertaining cars I’ve driven this year. I make a statement like that and one of the two has me questioning what else I’ve driven that matches up. The other one doesn’t. Nothing’s matched up. And probably won’t.

Well, nothing new. I drove my 25-year old Lotus Elise to Hethel and back the other day and still think it’s mesmeric.

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But back to the task in hand. The Hyundai i20N is a fantastic little hot hatch, and even in a year that’s also had me driving Aston’s new Vantage F1 Edition, the BMW M3 and Ferrari’s Roma (which I wasn’t that impressed with to be fair) the only car that would keep it off a two car podium is Porsche’s Taycan Cross Turismo. And that mainly for all-round ability rather than pure driving. Oh, and the Aston Martin Victor. A one-off, but what a one-off.

I have no doubt whatsoever about the GR Yaris. Still. After eight months. I still look at it outside and just want to go and drive. So I do. I’ve stopped even bothering trying to give my wife an excuse – I just tell her I need some head space after a day sat in front of my laptop. Riding bicycles has always been my daily therapy, but the Yaris is now part of that too.

Less good for me physically, but mentally it’s brilliant. I know that it doesn’t ride as well, nor steer as immaculately, as a Civic Type R, but I just don’t care. It’s feisty and boisterous and just loves being punted about the place.

In many ways it is the definitive hot hatch. We look at cars such as the Golf GTI to fulfil that role, but I’d argue that car in particular has become too grown up and mature to ever act the fool. And that’s what a hot hatch needs to do. In the past firms have looked at the VW template and created their hot hatches to follow suit assuming that’s what buyers want. But what do enthusiasts want? Here’s the separation. Hot hatches don’t attract one single audience.

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I’m sure there are more people out there who want the safe option, that want status and image and space and quality. But I just want something that wants to show me a good time. And I’m willing to bet it’ll go wrong less than the Golf. Eight months in and apart from clouting a pheasant and frustrations with the tinny sound system, nothing’s fallen off or failed to perform as it should.

I heard via photographer Mark Riccioni the other day that the guys at Fensport were amazed how bulletproof the 1.6-litre triple is, how well designed to cope with way more than the 257bhp it has. Their car now has more than double that power using the standard engine block and internals. That chimes with my instincts about the regular car, which feels over-engineered and super-tough. Small but mighty.

The front-drive i20N is similarly minded. Plenty of guts and determination in there, it just takes its inspiration from track racing rather than rallying. It’s more tightly tied down and neater through corners; doesn’t, with only 201bhp, have the same punch, but is engaging and amusing. And around ten grand cheaper, with used prices that will only be going one way.

Unlike the GR Yaris. Which, given what I said about the hot hatch audience earlier, is clearly being bought by another type of purchaser. The wrong sort. It’s a much-hyped car with a long waiting list (order now for spring 2022 delivery), but as I type this, Auto Trader has pages and pages of them listed for sale.

Beat the queue, get a low mileage one then? The very cheapest car on there is a private seller asking £33,700. If he gets that, he’s had 500 miles of free motoring. Most are asking much more. Very few indeed look to have actually driven their cars further than the supermarket and back. What are they playing at? How was their response to the car so different from mine?

They must have been excited enough about it to get their names down early, so did the reality disappoint them? I just can’t see it. I’m afraid it all comes down to finance and the chance to earn a fast buck. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s getting your priorities wrong.

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