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Expert Review

Toyota GR Yaris (2021 - ) review

The rally-inspired GR Yaris shares a name with the regular version of Toyota’s popular supermini but, in reality, is a totally different animal

The Auto Trader expert verdict:

4.5

Following multiple victories in the World Rally Championship Toyota has commissioned its Gazoo Racing motorsport department to celebrate this rally success on the road with the GR Yaris. In contrast to hot hatch rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i20 N the GR Yaris has a lot more power and puts it to the road through sophisticated four-wheel drive system, other motorsport inspired features including carbon fibre body panels, lightweight wheels and uprated brakes. Massively hyped, the GR Yaris has attracted everyday enthusiasts and collectors alike, the latter eager to add a souped-up Yaris to their fleets of supercars such is its credibility. Read our Expert Review of the standard Yaris here.

Reasons to buy:

  • tickEnthusiast credibility
  • tickBrilliant fun to drive
  • tickLike a rally car for the road

At a glance:

Running costs for a Toyota GR Yaris

It’s for driving enthusiasts, and no corners have been cut delivering the kind of experience they want
The GR Yaris costs a lot more than equivalently sized hot hatches like the Hyundai i20 N but is smaller, less practical and not as powerful as the Ford Focus ST you could have for similar money. On an extended, 1,000-mile road trip in our hands it also proved very thirsty, and if you enjoy the performance you probably won’t even see 30mpg. CO2, VED, Benefit In Kind and insurance are all going to cost you, too. So if running costs are your priority you’re clearly better off with the standard hybrid Yaris. But the GR Yaris isn’t intended as a rational purchase. It’s for driving enthusiasts, and no corners have been cut delivering the kind of experience they want. And it seems to have nailed its brief, meaning long waiting lists and a considerable shortfall in supply compared with demand. That position may change in time but, for now, a GR Yaris is a precious commodity and values are very strong. Given this target audience the optional ‘Circuit Pack’ will likely be worthwhile pick for resale values – it adds to the cost but will likely be a must-have when it comes to selling it on.
Expert rating: 3/5

Reliability of a Toyota GR Yaris

Many owners will be taking up the encouragement to drive it hard and even take it on track
We gave the standard Yaris four stars for reliability but it’s hard to say if the GR version will match this because it is – badge aside – pretty much a totally different car. Although its position on tables isn’t all that strong Toyota as a brand has a strong record and you get its standard five-year warranty. Many owners will be taking up the encouragement to drive it hard and even take it on track, so it’s worth pointing out any mechanical faults incurred while driving off the public road may not be covered. Indeed, there have been stories of owners damaging engines through ‘mis-shifting’ and over-revving the motor, but this seems more down to driver error and over-enthusiasm than any inherent fault in the car. Either way, if you’re buying used it would be sensible to inspect the car thoroughly for any signs of abuse, such as prematurely worn tyres or brakes, stone chips, bodywork repairs or strange noises from the engine.
Expert rating: 4/5

Safety for a Toyota GR Yaris

Buyers of a car like this will likely be more interested in the fact it comes as standard with variable all-wheel drive
The GR Yaris comes in two main flavours, the Circuit Pack version aimed at enthusiasts who want the purest driving experience possible and don’t mind ditching some of the driver assistance functions and the more all-round Convenience Pack with all the safety features included. All get automatic emergency braking, steering interventions to keep you in lane, adaptive cruise control and speed limit info in the instruments, while the Convenience Pack adds blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts. Buyers of a car like this will likely be more interested in the fact it comes as standard with variable all-wheel drive, this rally-inspired technology a major selling point over two-wheel drive rivals like the Fiesta ST. It’s even more sophisticated on the Circuit Pack version, with fancy differentials front and back for maximum traction in all conditions.
Expert rating: 4/5

How comfortable is the Toyota GR Yaris

The GR Yaris is a rally car at heart, and so it actually uses quite soft springs to float serenely over the nastiest lumps, bumps and potholes
Again, this depends where you’re coming from. Compared with any other supermini – standard Yaris included – the GR version is cramped, while the three-door body, lowered roofline and small boot all seriously limit practicality, even compared with rival hot hatches. The materials inside are pretty cheap feeling and it’s also noisy on the move, with a lot of tyre roar on rough surfaces. But this is a car built purely for thrills, and here it’s in a league of its own. The grippy seats are mounted a little high but the small steering wheel pulls into your chest like a rally car’s, the gearstick is perfectly positioned for quick shifts in the heat of the action and the pedals are brilliantly placed and weighted for enthusiasts keen to indulge in their fancy footwork. It’s a car that screams out to be driven hard before you’ve even fired up the engine, and then delivers handsomely on that promise when you do. Most performance cars allude to track prowess with overly stiff suspension designed to drill the body to the road. But the GR Yaris is a rally car at heart, and so it actually uses quite soft springs to float serenely over the nastiest lumps, bumps and potholes any B-road can throw at you. It’s an unconventional approach but perfectly suited to the kind of roads it works best on, even if it still feels a little jiggly on the motorway. But out in the wilds it has the suppleness to make the most of its performance, and run rings around stiffly sprung sports cars on twisty backroads.
Expert rating: 3/5

Features of the Toyota GR Yaris

The lack of navigation isn’t really an issue because you can always plug your phone in and use your apps instead
For performance car geeks the engineering detail of the GR Yaris’s specification probably merits a full five stars here. With a cooler head there is a clear split here between the Convenience Pack with its upgraded stereo, built-in navigation, head-up display, parking sensors and other practical features and the more stripped back Circuit Pack. The latter still gets the central touch-screen on top of the dash, and the lack of navigation isn’t really an issue because you can always plug your phone in and use your apps instead via CarPlay or Android Auto. Given Toyota’s factory navigation is pretty basic you’d probably end up doing that anyway. On this basis we’d take the Circuit Pack any day, given the sacrifices make little practical impact and it puts the focus very much on the driving experience.
Expert rating: 3/5

Power for a Toyota GR Yaris

It likes being revved, with an extra burst of acceleration to reward you for holding the gear to the redline
There is only one engine and gearbox option, this being a 1.6-litre petrol turbo driving through a six-speed manual. With 261 horsepower and 320Nm of torque it’s the most powerful (and lightest) three-cylinder engine anywhere and, against the GR’s relatively low weight, it delivers genuinely impressive performance. Back in the day many turbocharged cars suffered from ‘lag’ between pressing the throttle and getting the full benefit of the extra acceleration – these days manufacturers have more or less dealt with the issue but it’s noticeable in the Yaris to a degree it feels deliberate, and indeed fun. Those with memories of older ‘rally replicas’ like the Subaru Impreza or Mitsubishi Evo will appreciate this nod to tradition, and once the boost arrives the GR Yaris really takes off. Unlike many modern engines it likes being revved, with an extra burst of acceleration to reward you for holding the gear to the redline. Only the fake engine noise over the speakers detracts from the fun. There’s also automatic rev matching to smooth out your gearchanges, though you can switch it off easily if you prefer. A three-way mode selector even lets you adjust the balance of power between front and rear axles, going from front-biased in Normal, 50:50 in Track and a more agile feeling rearward split in Sport. In all three settings the GR Yaris has enough grip to make a wet road feel like a dry one, meaning you can enjoy it to the full whatever the weather.
Expert rating: 5/5

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