A Homologation Special
Toyota has been known to build cars which are known to be ho-hum, and predictable. The Corolla and Camry have long been associated with ‘uncle’ drivers, way more than ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ types. But there are moments where they are capable of slipping special into their vehicle lineup. Just a while ago, the Supra was re-introduced, but due to cost reasons, this is not a full Toyota effort, since it shares a huge chunk of its guts with the BMW Z4, and is probably only more Japanese than a Toyota Lexcen.
It was a long time ago, when I got bitten by the WRC bug, looking forward to evenings where I could catch drivers like Didier Auriol, Juha Kankkunen, François Delecour, and especially my favourite, Carlos Sainz (not Jr, who’s the F1 guy), who was then driving for Toyota in a Celica GT-four. This was at a time when the World Rally Championship (WRC) was dominated by more European marques, and where the venerable Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Toyota Celica GT-Four and Ford Escort RS Cosworth were serious contenders for the crown. The Celica for me, was my hero car. Interestingly enough, 25 commemorative units of the sought-after coupe were brought into Singapore. Yes the 90s were a golden era, and if you did grow up then, you definitely had a great childhood.
The GR Yaris, is the brand’s second performance car to be launched In Singapore within a short space of time, and I am certain the Japanese manufacturer has its ears firmly on the ground during product planning. While the GR-badged car might be an oddball when placed beside similar-sized hot hatches like the Suzuki Swift Sport… but way more mental, it is actually quite brilliant a purpose-built machine. A pint-sized rally-incubated car, designed from the ground-up to withstand the rigours of brutal WRC stages.
For those who would insist on comparing dollar value with quality, you may stop reading now, since what you will read next will not sit well with you, and I would not even want to feed this pointless argument.
Now that I have established the above, and these very readers have left, it is just me speaking with you, who knows what the GR Yaris is purpose-built for. Because if you are looking for a size equivalent with premium-quality, that would be a MINI 3 Door John Cooper Works. Back, in the GR Yaris, Toyota seems to have bothered with what should only count, good bucket-style seats, a slick gearshift lever that swaps cogs with lovely short throws, a head-up display so that you can keep your eyes on the road, and of-course air-conditioning.
That is one sought-after sticker, and in this case, you do not need 5bhp more
That is it! That is all that matters.
While the interior is nothing but simple, in contrast, the stuff that goes into engineering of the running gear and all else that makes it tick, is truly a masterpiece from Toyota. The turbocharged 1.6 litre is currently the most powerful production 3-cylinder engine in the world. So some numbers here, the GR Yaris in Singapore produces 257hp and 360Nm, and a century benchmark of 5.5 seconds.
So while I am not a fan of 3-cylinder engines, I am baffled by how smooth the G16E-GTS is, this is in-part thanks to hydraulic engine mounts, and I must say that in most cases when driving, you would not even think that it is a 3-banger.
Interestingly the engine, which has an NA rivalling compression ratio of 10.5:1, is an open deck design, meaning there is a gap between the cylinders and the inner surface of the block, making the cylinder walls essentially thinner.
Each cylinder is equipped with direct and port injectors, where the latter works in unison with the direct injectors at lower revs, and shut off mid-load onward. A side benefit of the port injectors, since they function above the valves, is that they also aid in keeping the valves clear of gunk buildup. To accommodate the engine’s high performance demands, Toyota had fitted each cylinder with three oil squirters, directed at the piston bases, intended for optimal cooling.
Interestingly even as a manual, the GR Yaris has three drive modes - Normal, Sport, and Track, selectable from a toy-like knob in-front of the gearshift lever. ‘Normal’ mode delivers a more front-biased 60/40 drive, while ‘Sport’ transfers more drive to the rear, resulting in a 30/70 setup, great for harder driving, where you would want the rear to kick a little more, and also, you get better off-the-line performance. ‘Track’ mode on the other hand sends the AWD into a 50/50 split, for improved accuracy.
My favourite driving mode is Sport, since you get more bite from the rear when taking off, and you can milk more entertainment around bends. The six-speed stick shift is in my opinion among the best I have used, while the clutch is not overly heavy. I am happy that Toyota has also included their i-MT auto blip function, so that my pampered-rusty left foot does not have to do any rev-matching work, while “chomping” down on ratios before a corner. Shifts are in short throws, and pleasingly notchy.
If you are hoping for showboating exhaust gurgling noises when you lift off the throttle when between gears or when you are gearing down, you might be disappointed. The GR Yaris really sounds as neat and tidy as it performs.
Those with a keen ear will be able to just catch the “popping” 3-cylinder engine note, which gets increasingly audible at between 3,000 to 4,500rpm. From around 5,500rpm till 7,000rpm, the engine noise develops into a satisfying mild roar. Where the GR Yaris sets itself apart from performance+price equivalents, is that the suspension is able to handle a good deal of tossing around, without being overly harsh… a little reminder for you of what it is truly engineered to do.
Around town, the three-door hatchback remains easy to live with, even by occasional stick shift operators like I.
What the GR Yaris lacks in panache, it makes up for how analogue it feels, and I reckon that this is very important especially in a time where cars, especially those with a hint of performance are becoming rather clinical. The Toyota GR Yaris is to me, is as honest and unpretentious as a performance car from decades gone by, but with perhaps just the right amount of essential bits of kit to keep things modern enough.
Credits: Words: Clifford Chow. Photos: Clifford Chow & Daniel Ng