By Manny N. De Los Reyes
IT’S A GIFT when a mass-market car maker rolls out a special high-performance car that’s based on one of its humbler models. This is precisely the reason why super sedans like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and Honda Civic Type R have such strong global appeal.
These are the Clark Kents of the automotive world — down-to-earth-looking sedans but with super powers that belie their humble origins.
This time, Toyota is the one playing with fire. And that fire has been placed under the hood of what is an even more modest model, the Yaris hatchback. Sure, the world has had its share of hot hatches before in the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mini Cooper John Cooper Works, and the Peugeot 308 GTi, but Toyota hasn’t made a hot hatch in like, forever.
Which makes the groundbreaking new GR Yaris all the more special. Here is a subcompact hatchback that possesses three-fourths the firepower of its bigger sedan-based, steroid-infused compatriots. That’s enough to give it equal accelerative powers as those four-door legends.
Of course, the GR Yaris, like the Evo, STI, and Type R, have a few visual cues to distinguish it from its more pedestrian brethren. The most obvious one is its three-door body style (the regular Yaris is a five-door hatch). If you fail to notice that, then you’ll likely also miss the muscular flares that adorn the front and rear fenders (especially the rear). There is also an absolutely mean-looking front end with a screaming large black grille behind which a huge intercooler resides. Peer through the spokes of the 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels and you’ll see a flashy red caliper and big slotted brake discs. Look up top and you’ll see the car’s lightweight (yet ultra-stiff) carbon-fiber roof. All the high-performance race-bred cues you’ll look for are accounted for in the GR Yaris. Race-bred because the car was developed — in utmost secrecy — as Toyota’s contender in the World Rally Championship.
The GR Yaris is an FIA homologation model, which means that a competitor in an FIA-sanctioned racing series needs to produce certain numbers of the racecar for public consumption. Which might, in turn, create a whole new generation of Japanese rally cars to follow the footsteps of the legendary Lancer Evos and Impreza WRX STI’s.
The GR Yaris boasts a 268ps/370Nm, 1.6-liter, three-cylinder, DOHC, 12-valve turbocharged engine and Toyota’s highly effective GR-Four — a four-wheel drive system with front and rear limited slip differentials (whose distinctive high-performance gear whine you can hear when you’re trundling along a street). The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission — no automatics here. This motor is hailed as the most powerful three-cylinder engine in the world. The Philippine-spec GR Yaris comes with the High Performance/Circuit Package as standard.
The most impressive fact about the GR Yaris is that even if I pushed the car, it still had so much stability and control, giving even a non-racecar driver like me supreme confidence. The ride is sports car-firm but far from harsh, even on my jaunts to far-off places in the metro — including a soul-stirring Sunday blast to Antipolo (where I received no less than three thumb-ups from other motorists). Despite its diminutive size, the GR Yaris body truly feels immensely strong; you’d half expect a racing roll cage inside the cabin. It’s that stiff and robust. Toyota certainly did way more than just grafting racing appendages to a hatchback body. It went deep down to the chassis and reinforced everything.
Night driving — and daytime style — is abetted by handsome three-tier LED headlamps with daytime running lights and a striking LED rear combination lamps.
Inside the cozy yet quick-ingress/egress cabin (with smart entry and push-start system), you get a race-ready feel with the suede and synthetic leather seats. There are multiple drive modes available (Normal, Sport, and Track). Infotainment is via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Lots of speed needs lots of safety. The GR Yaris is equipped with the suite of driver-assist technologies under the comprehensive Toyota Safety Sense (Pre-Collision System, Automatic High Beam, Lane Trace Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control), all of which aids the driver in identifying and eliminating factors that may cause accidents. A standard for Toyota vehicles, the GR Yaris also comes with six air bags, ABS, Vehicle Stability Control, and Hill Start Assist. Its superb front and rear Torsen limited slip differential provides increased traction and improved stability.
The beauty of the GR Yaris is that its strengths and capabilities on the racetrack don’t restrict it from being used as a daily driver. The hatchback body style (with the fold-down rear seats) even gives it way more versatility than you’ll find in a sedan or coupe.
The GR Yaris retails for P2.65 million and comes in three colors: Super White II, Emotional Red, and Precious Black.
With Subaru and Mitsubishi no longer active in the world rally scene, the fact that Toyota is even competing in the WRC with the GR Yaris is reason enough to celebrate. Ultimately, we owe a debt of gratitude to Toyota for giving the motoring world a truly special race-bred car that a fair number of enthusiasts can actually afford (it costs much less than Toyota’s own GR Supra and even the Civic Type R).
To drive one is to want one.