A truly magical car that is on a mission to be experienced on the beautiful and snowy, highest altitude road in Sweden; a combination that will blow your mind away.
Based on the popular entry-level Yaris, Toyota has decided to build a rally car for the roads to homologate their rally car. In the past, this has proven to be a successful method for cars to be classified as icons in the car industry as they are built with rallying and racing in mind.
To an average person looking at the GR, especially when painted black, it looks like a regular Yaris; I was told that it looks like an ugly box by two different individuals. Surely for us car enthusiasts, our view is different. We see past the paint and the sinister looking front bumper to understand what hides under the bonnet and what a monster of a car that Toyota is producing at the Gazoo Racing facility in Motomachi, Japan.
The GR Yaris is built with a small but effective 1.6 litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces about 260hp. Toyota’s fundamental requirement for the engine was to provide drivers with continuous power and a thrilling sense of acceleration.
A time of 5.5 second to achieve 100 km/h from standstill and a top speed of 230 km/h won’t be the key selling points of this car, however they all play a part in achieving one of the best experiences behind a wheel that one can find.
For the first time in 20 years, Toyota has developed their very own original sports all-wheel drive system. A switch in the center console easily controls the settings of the system, giving you the option to distribute more power to the rear wheels.
Standard power distribution in Normal mode sends 40% of the power to the rear wheels. Moving the switch to the left puts the car in Sport mode where you are awarded with 70% power to the rear wheels, and a click to the right for Track mode allows for an even 50/50 power distribution between the front and rear wheels. Despite the all-wheel drive system, the car only weighs just under 1300kg!
Accompanied by my enthusiastic co-driver and by reindeers watching the show unfold, I took the GR Yaris on a mission.
Is a small hot hatch with non-studded tires going to be able to handle the snowy mountains of Idre and reach the highest altitude road in Sweden during early winter?
To no surprise, driving the GR Yaris is a blessing. The fantastic six-speed manual gearbox does everything it's supposed to do and you can tell Toyota has spent a lot time putting it together. The GR and it's manual gearbox have been given praise from around the world and causing jealousy in markets where it isn’t available, such as North America. It handles fantastically and has only minor body roll when cornering, where grip is key. In snowy climates one could be thinking: is this a dream? Yes, but a real one.
As mentioned above, in Sport mode you receive 70% power distribution to the rear wheels, and by pressing the traction control button for a few seconds, you bypass the regular traction-off-mode that is called Expert and go one step beyond.
I found this to be the absolute most enjoyable way to experience what the GR Yaris is all about: driving a rally car for the roads.
The GR Yaris isn’t just all about driving on twisty mountain roads or dirt roads in the country side. Many owners of these cars live in or near a city where commuter traffic is part of their lives. It is nimble, but steady like a rock, and anyone who knows how to drive a manual car would have no trouble getting used to it within just a few minutes.
The car also has an iMT (intelligent Manual Transmission) system that will rev match your downshifts for a smooth shift, which works great for those who don’t find the need or have the skill to heel-toe down the gears. The iMT system is activated with the press of a button in the center console.
The GR Yaris rockets through the newly layered snow blanketing the already frozen asphalt like a train on rails. A strange comparison and image to comprehend, surely, but try imagining that it just feels so smooth and solid. When you hit the gas to pull off an effortless powerslide on precarious roads and the backend goes sideways with no drama, it is clear that there are no competitors to this car.
My mission was to take it to Nipfjället in Idre where one will find the highest altitude road in Sweden, 1003 meters above sea level. As seen in the picture above, this wasn't a challenge. A section of this road also has a near-magical optical illusion created by the surrounding scenery and mountains enveloping you on all sides. The signs will instruct you to stop your car in the middle of the road and put the car into neutral with no brake or handbrake applied, and the car will begin to appear rolling uphill.
This phenomenon is called a “gravity hill” and is only found in select places around the world and must be experienced in person. Therefore, I am keeping the videos I recorded to myself, and I advise that you do not search YouTube to find videos and ruin the surprise. Instead, find your nearest magical “gravity hill” and start planning your next trip!
The interior is, of course, similar to the regular Yaris, however this one is bombarded with Gazoo Racing badges. Cool? Absolutely. Necessary? Not really. I started counting how many there were, but I concluded that I’d rather be driving instead.
Some materials have been switched out and the instrument cluster is clean and analog, which is great and brings back some of the classic rally car feelings.
I don’t think that there are any driver assists missing in this car; it is quite a procedure to turn them all off (lane assists, start/stop, etc…). However, doing so lights up a veritable Christmas tree on the dashboard, and those warning lights are distracting when driving in the dark due to their color and brightness.
The seating position for a 190cm tall man like me is unfortunately not ideal. The seat sits high from the floor and put me in an uncomfortable position, almost to where I had to figure out how to position a small pillow for my lower back. Surely the joy of driving the car will make you forget about this, but it would definitely be something that would bug me in the long run.
The back seats work great for kids and teenagers, but since the roof line is lowered from the regular Yaris, there isn’t much head room for adults sitting in the back.
If I were to own a GR Yaris, I would need to remove the rear-view mirror as it blocks way too much visibility. The rear window is small, so there is honestly not much to lose. For some reason, the rear-view mirror is placed very close to the center of the windshield and doesn’t leave very much room to see between the center display and the mirror itself.
On many occasions I wasn’t able to spot pedestrians entering crosswalks and cars at intersections from the right, and so on. A quick fix for this is to turn the mirror completely away from you so that you would see the side of the mirror only.
Can you spot the pedestrian?
The GR Yaris justifies its price tag at a solid 33,200 euros and without a doubt lives up to what a homologation special is supposed to be.