2021 Toyota GR Yaris Rallye Review
Our independent 2021 Toyota GR Yaris Rallye review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Some months ago Toyota released the much-heralded – and peculiar – Yaris Gazoo Racing, or GR as it is snappily abbreviated. It was peculiar because for what felt like decades, Toyota showed absolutely on interest in supplying a clamouring a market with a hot hatch bearing the Toyota name.
After the roaring PR, critical and sales success of the 86, you’d think they’d have cottoned on to things. Now I know there are plenty of good, solid financial reasons for not releasing sports cars (expensive to make, low volume, hard to justify etc etc) but Toyota’s stubborn refusals gave way to two co-developed sports cars in the last decade – the 86 with Subaru and the Supra with BMW.
Then something completely bonkers happened. Having told anyone who would listen the co-developments were the only sensible way to do it, Toyota then went and did the absolute opposite of the financially prudent joint venture and not only decided to it alone with the Yaris world rally championship homologation special it went full 1990s Ford and started hacking different bits of different cars together to make the Yaris GR. It would be a glorious failure or a glorious success and it turns out, it was the latter. And after the blaze of glory from the 2020 release of the “base” car, we have the tighter, pricier, go-even-faster version of the Yaris – the GR Rallye.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The pricing for the Rallye is much simpler than the gradual, stepped pricing of the GR’s release. After an introductory driveaway price that you can’t get anymore, you’ll pay $54,500 plus on-roads for your Rallye.
It’s basically the same spec as the base car I drove last year, with a Rallye badge, red brake calipers, two torsen-style limited slip differentials, new springs and dampers, some tweaks to the inside (including a numbered plaque) and some very tasty forged alloy wheels from BBS wrapped in the tyres the base car should have, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S.
Basically the extra cash goes on go-faster stuff and not pointless luxury items (apart from seat heating) that the hardcore enthusiast at which this car is aimed would resent.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
As with the base car, it’s a bargain to own and run if you don’t drive it like a lunatic. You get the usual five year/unlimited kilometre warranty (seven years on the drivetrain as long as you keep servicing it with Toyota). You also get a capped-price servicing regime which keeps you at $205 per service which is due every 12 months/15,000km and it covers the first five services. That’s mint for something so oddball. $205 doesn’t buy you an AMG A45’s wheelnut (well it might, but you see my point).
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
This is a big part of the Yaris story, the story where Toyota went completely nuts. Park a normal Yaris next to this one and you can see that they’re not the same car. Because they aren’t. Tommi Makkinen, who heads up the company’s WRC effort, delivered a long list of requirements based on WRC rules.
So all the panels are new, the (aluminium) doors are frameless, the structure is completely different (the back-end is welded in from a Corolla), the roof is carbon fibre and all this sort of stuff is the kind of thing BMW does with its M division and charges a whole Yaris GR extra for the privilege. Even then, not many M cars are this committed to the concept of being so completely different to the base car.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
What is left of the original Yaris makes a lot of sense – the dashboard is pretty much what you’ll find in your Mum’s whirring hybrid Yaris. And that’s a good thing because it’s a cracker of a design even if the ho-hum 7.0-inch entertainment screen still has cheap-looking shortcut buttons.
The more heavily bolstered seats of the Rallye are fantastic if you’re on the slimmer side but you still sit way too high for it to feel properly racy and the general feeling is that the serious bracing in the floor is the culprit. Whatever, you’ll get used to it, just as many Fiesta ST drivers have.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
Toyota’s improved – but still very pedestrian – media system powers a less-than-stellar 7.0-inch touchscreen. I know I go on about this, but one of the world’s largest car companies has a weird blind spot here. Name pretty much any legacy car maker, their systems are better.
The JBL speakers are good, the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration helpful and makes it less disappointing, although the screen is a bit stretched and washed out. Never mind, doesn’t matter too much.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
The tiny boot remains hilariously small at 141 litres. The useless rear seats are where you can fit more stuff and if you drop them you’ve got plenty of space for a set of race rubber and helmets etc. This is a rally homologation special, nobody buying it should expect it to be anything like the standard car.
Up front the little shelves that split the dash are good but aren’t rubber-lined, so your stuff will fly off. That’s sub-optimal given cornering is kind of the point of this car. And if you thought the standard GR Yaris could corner, my giddy aunt…actually, the Rallye will make your aunt very giddy. Anyone’s aunt, really.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
Just the one, but that’s not a problem because the 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo is an absolute belter. With 200kW (!) at 6500rpm and a walloping 370Nm (between 3000 and 4600rpm) on tap, it’s an astonishing little unit. I saw an HSV Senator the day I wrote this which has a honking great V8 that couldn’t even muster up the same power figure as this miniature marvel.
The GR-Four system remains mostly the same, with some detail changes to speed up the the power shifting front to rear. That important piece of work is handled by a wacky multi clutch setup instead of a centre differential. It’s insanely clever and works a treat.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
Toyota’s official testing delivered a 7.6L/100km figure that you might get close to. If I’m being completely honest, the cars we drove spent little time on the road as we spent the day yahooing and hooning on a purpose-built closed road as well as on a skid-pan. I did see 10.4L/100km on one of the skid-pan cars which is remarkable given the violence with which the cars were thrown around some cones and they spent all day bouncing off the redline in first gear.
So not a representative figure, I think you’ll agree.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Previously on Practical Motoring, I talked in glowing terms of this road-going rally weapon. It really is in a class of its own, despite the rallying connections of the forthcoming Hyundai i20 N and the current slice of fun that is the Ford Fiesta. The Rallye is much more expensive than the latter and most likely the former, by quite a margin. It’s like Ford’s Escort RS Cosworth, itself a car that bore the Escort name but bore only a passing resemblance to the humdrum hatchback.
The Rallye has a few key changes to consider. The first is the installation of torsen limited-slip differentials at both ends, replacing standard open diffs on the base car. That means more grip because the wheels are being turned more carefully instead of spinning the power away.
Yet more grip is on offer because the Dunlops that were underwhelming on the base car (and the easiest thing to replace) have been flung in favour of the tyre du jour, the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, a colossally good rubber hoop set if ever there was one. The lighter wheels are a bonus and reduce unsprung weight.
And speaking of springs, there are new springs and dampers which make the car firmer and less friendly as a daily. It’s still pretty noisy (although I think the Michelins are quieter) and that means fatigue and a struggle to hear what’s on the stereo.
Now. To business.
The Rallye is a much sharper, more focussed car, at least on the skidpan and when pressing on through the fast twisty stuff. You’ll get more confidence in long sweeping bends – as I did – and I was lucky enough to drive the standard car and the Rallye back to back to see the differences. The way it turns into corners is much more responsive with tyres, suspension and diffs working together (mode selection is important here) to generate more grip. You will need these better seats in the Rallye because the lateral g-force in corners goes up several notches without you even trying.
On the skid pan the lurid hilariousness of the open-diffed car is replaced by a more accurate, more catchable chassis. As soon as I turned the wheel around the first cone (before reefing on the handbrake for the second), I could instantly feel the step up in grip, knocking three seconds off my thirty-odd second runs in the other car.
While that’s not exactly an every day thing unless you have a need to do regular handbrakes turns on a patch of wet concrete for…reasons…it demonstrated just how much more grip it has and how much more it flatters the driver.
On the track it moved around a lot less, especially under heavy braking…for forty kangaroos leaping across the road…and turned into corners so much more enthusiastically, hugging the edges of the road.
The downsides of all this? Well. Personally, I find the the more playful basic car more fun but I’m a masochist. The stiffer suspension means it’s less comfortable on the regular boring stuff making you even more grateful for when it comes into its own. I’ll wager these cars spend more time in the garage than the standard GR Yaris.
HOW SAFE IS THE YARIS GR?
Toyota won’t be offering the GR for an ANCAP rating. As there’s not much left of the standard Yaris it would need a re-test for its own star set.
There are six airbags, the usual stability and traction controls, lane keep assist, reversing camera, lane tracing, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, speed sign recognition, daytime intersection assist (helps to stop you turning right into oncoming traffic) and emergency steering assist.
The forward AEB can spot pedestrians day or night while the cyclist detection works during the day.
There are two ISOFIX and points in the rear seats too.
Where it differs most from the standard car is the exclusion of the centre airbag in the front to stop heads clashing.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Well, none really, but at this price point, you’re not far off owning the powerful and torquier Honda Civic Type R which isn’t all-wheel drive rally pretender but a hell of a track machine, ugly as sin and has adaptive damping making it a but more bearable.
Apart from that, not much at all. If you’re a mad person, perhaps the Subaru WRX STi?
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Rallye is really something else. Faster, grippier, focussed, less bonkers but more capable. It’s a piece of history, a weird quirk of the rules and a pandemic but the motoring world is much, much richer for its existence.
It also shows that a car like this needs Toyota’s deep pockets, race driver president and a couple of decades of pent-up demand for such a weirdo to exist. It’s expensive for a three-door hatchback, but it’ll blow the doors off lots of much more expensive cars and you can tell your Evo-loving mates that Tommi Makkinen still has what it takes.