When you think of dominant brands and car manufacturers in motorsports, you think Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Peugeot, and Honda. But Toyota?
Well, in case you have been living under a rock in the last few years, Toyota’s motorsports program has been shaking up the order of things.
Racing improves the breed as they say, and Akio Toyoda, the head of Toyota himself is an avid car guy and race car driver. Morizo, as he is known in the online and racing community, understands that keeping the passion alive for cars is key to the continuing success for one of the world’s largest and most profitable automotive brand.
The Yaris GR4 is Toyota’s second foray into a high-performance model sold globally and bearing the GR (for Gazoo Racing) brand. In the simplest of terms, the Yaris GR4 is a homologation special all-wheel drive rally replica that’s practically competition ready equipped with a fire-breathing 3-cylinder turbocharged engine outputting a considerable 257hp and 360 Newton-Meters of torque. A six speed manual is the only transmission option. With its flared wheel arches, massive brakes covered by equally massive 18-in wheels, gaping front maw to feed cold air to the intercooler and turbocharger’s intake, the Yaris looks the bee’s knees, tough as nails and ready to rock and roll. A carbon-fiber roof, aluminium hood and hatchback help save weight. The Yaris GR4 is interesting because while the front uses the conventional Yaris TNGA-GA-B platform, the rear is actually a GA-C platform used in the Corolla, designed to accommodate a multi-link rear suspension and all-wheel drive plus a wider rear track. It’s like a wild animal, hunched up and ready to pounce.
And that seems to be my biggest gripe with the Yaris: it oozes so much attitude, so much machismo, it’s too cool for school. Try driving it smoothly and sedately and it just conspires to annoy and irritate you. The ride from the tarmac-spec suspension is really firm, and the short wheelbase makes it seesaw even more on rough roads. The sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires are indeed super sticky, but also deliver considerable road noise. The clutch is also the most un-Toyota like of clutches: on the firm and heavy side, with a low biting / engagement point, over a small engagement window, making it very easy to stall and very tiring in traffic.
The high-backed sport seats are amazing on winding roads and sporty driving, but it has a weird bump underneath your knees which makes working the clutch a bit harder, forcing you to sit closer to the steering wheel. The steering is also on the heavy side, and for such a small car, the massive doors make entry and exit in tight spaces a real problem. Forget the A90 Zupra, the Yaris GR4 feels like it was developed by Germans rather than Japs, with their heft, heavy-handed and aggressively over-damped feeling. It lacks the light, lithe touch one expects from a Japanese car, more so a Toyota. Even more sources of annoyance? The multimedia system doesn’t have a reverse camera but thankfully has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. After shelling out P2.65 million for this, plus another P210,000 for the GR bodykit and exhaust, you’d expect it to have these niceties since a Wigo already has them, right?
Ok, maybe I have gone too soft. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have made me lazy, opting for the path of least resistance. A proper drive on proper roads is in order. A blast up and down Marilaque Highway would be good to find the Yaris GR4’s raison d’etre, in its true element. A mountain pass, a rally stage, a challenging ribbon of tarmac. No race track would be big enough to hold the excitement and anticipation the Yaris posseses.
After slogging through the hell hole that is Marcos Highway, we finally creep past Cogeo in Antipolo and suddenly, the roads twistier, more undulating and the air becomes cleaner and noticeably cooler. The Yaris, which felt cumbersome, slowly starts waking up from its cocoon, stretching its legs, exploring its grip limits, and slowly opening up the taps on its modestly sized G16E-GTS 3-cylinder direct-injected turbo. The sound is a bit agricultural, but also quite true and mechanical in nature, with a bit of farts, pops and the odd bang on throttle over runs, when shifting gears and when double de-clutching / heel-toe downshifting just because it’s fun. The magical rear differential is truly amazing, giving the Yaris almost unbelievable grip; you’d have to be on a race track, or driving well over the legal limit to even probe its limits. The Brembo brakes also offer amazing, fade-free progressive stopping power, constantly ad consistently keeping our red beast in check. a few times, some crazy kamote motorcycle rides almost collided with the Yaris head-on as the motorcycles would overtake on blind corners but the Yaris’ brakes and amazing agility helped avoid disasters confidently. And that’s the secret to unlocking the most of the Yaris: it begs to be driven hard, ruthlessly hard in fact. It’s almost counter-intuitive to what common sense teaches you of driving smoothly and carefully. The Yaris feels alive when you take it by the scruff of its neck, and show it who is boss. The Yaris will playfully reciprocate, as if to show you have earned its respect and is now a willing accomplice in your hooliganism on the road. Of course, should you find the standard Yaris GR4 lacking, the aftermarket beckons with bigger, wider wheels and sticker tires to deliver even crazier grip levels, more power from its engine and wilder, wackier looks form a variety of bodykits available. This will be the ‘IT’ car of the 2022 Tokyo Auto Salon if it ever pushes through. Shame that Toyota could only bring in 120 or so of these units. They can easily sell double, if not triple that number. But even with a planned extension on the 25,000 unit production run, and the manufacturing slowdown caused by the semi-conductor shortage plus COVID, it will be nigh on improbable if Toyota can bring in some more.
Should you ever lose the plot and put too much value on your stock, the Yaris GR4 has dual font airbags, windows airbags and side airbags plus ABS-EBD brake, traction / stability control, lane-keeping assistance, hill-start assist and more safety and convenience features.
As an only car, a primary car and a daily-driven car, the Yaris GR4 requires commitment that rivals most marriages. But if you can afford one as a second, third, fourth or fifth car, or have the strength and patience to daily drive one and drive it like a maniac 90% of the time, the Yaris is probably the best fulfilling and affordable real-world performance car on the market today.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.