They are making 25,000 of these initially with talk of hotter version later on so there will be plenty on the used market at some point soon, but January 2021 and the scarcity right now does seem completely genuine with overs of £3000-£5000 visible in the classifieds, dozens of phoney adverts on Autotrader and a whole batch of calls to main dealers resulting in nothing other than an offer of a car for November/December or even 2022.



After my test drive a few weeks ago I was offered a choice of 2 cancelled order both standard cars, for February delivery. Whilst I umm'd and arr'd over the potential disappointment of not bagging a circuit pack car they both sold ! Damm, this is a winter car, a marginal weather car and if I am going to get one it needs to be now.

A week later and a chance call back to the dealer for a landscape update and as luck would have it, that day a customer was made redundant and had just cancelled his handover appointment and entire order. Yes, it was another standard car but all my research had told me it will make diddly squat difference for road use and if anything, the lower grip tyres and more compliant suspension will suit my needs even better.



A new car is like a new relationship. You like what you see and in some way it expresses who you are and resonates on a personal level. So you dive in to the great mysterious ocean and a whole new journey begins, hopefully one that blossoms and further expands the conciousness of your petrolhead career. There is nearly always a leap of faith element though and there are often hurdles, surprises, delights and disappointments.

Initially it's actually not unusual to dislike facets of a car although we may of course blindspot these to justify our expenditure and perhaps even look for consolatory reinforcement on internet forums (preferably the single marque variety). We can find ourselves resisting the new mistress, hyperfocusing on certain aspects, comparing them back to cars we already own and know, wishing it had a slightly lower gearchange, a little less self-centering, the same shape windscreen as our last GTi. My dad always said, "you never like a new car when you first get it".

After a while though, we usually stop forensically dissecting and begin to accept the car and all its strangeness and newfangledness and allow it to subconciously transition into the familiar. Allow the car to show YOU who it is rather than you trying to impose your proclivities on proceedings .... and in the case of the Yaris, some very clever people have made something very bespoke and it won 5 stars from pretty much every single reviewer and YouTuber out there so you need to stop wishing it was something else and let the blossoming begin.



This is what I kept telling myself then during my first week with the car. Normally I take to a new whip very quickly but probably because of the narrow Covid experience of 2020 and the dwindling of variety in my fleet, I have found it a little more complex to adjust with the Toyota. Also, it's a singular form factor I am generally unaccustomed to, AWD, a very square shape with a huge track, Japanese and a reasonably stiff hot hatch that actually isn't a hot hatch at all.

In the first week I have had some magical moments but then other times when I wished it did this or that instead. A lot of it is assesment though, slowly understanding what this car is good at, the best way to drive it to extract stimulation, the sorts of uses it shouldn't be used for, and of course generally allowing it to creep under your skin. I found in those intial outings that whenever I stopped analysing the car, examining its weaknesses as they made themselves known, I really started to appreciate the car.

With any new steed we have an array of muscle memories to learn, we need time to instinctively feel and know the geometric centre of the car, how to turn it in relative to it's shape and dimension, how to feel the back as well as the front of the car, how to let it's stability and coherence percolate up to the forefront, how to discourse with it to make it shine.



The first revelation briefly touched upon already, is that the GR is not really a hot hatch. Not in the traditional mould in any case but then I suppose cars like the current FK8 Civic Type R - the supposed Hot Hatch king - aren't either; it's the way things have gone over the last few decades. Bigger, longer, even more power and grip and chasing ring lap times rather than joie de vivre and youthful spirited energy.

The Yaris is very square feeling with a stubby wheelbase and a super wide track. It is very obviously all wheel drive with the 'claw at each corner' feeling and a sense that the chassis is always sucking you downward into the tarmac. Although the springs feel fairly elastic, there is a strong impression of rigidity and with its tight gearbox it actually does feel a little bit like a stubby Lancer EVO VI, albeit much lighter footed with less interia and more modern and unflustered underpininngs.

What the Yaris does not have, and this is the discovery that has vexed me so much, is any traditional hot hatch "sweetness". When you are gently ambling along in normal driving it has none of the general steering or damping pleasure you'd expect from a say a French hatch or a Ford product. Instead there is that Japanese clarity and notable clinical nature to all the controls and sensations. The steering is well weighted and direct for a car of this price category but there is no real joy in the way it returns to centre or transitions away from centre. So it's not a car you really savour threading and due to the lack of communication at the front end I would say that the Yaris can sometimes have you feeling a little lost at regular speeds.



So the more regular your driving, the less enjoyable the Yaris is. Part of this is because of the above and the fact that the front axle sadly does not tell you too much about the shape and life of the car at any given moment, but then it's partly because it's a really capable car with lot of grip on offer and some fairly high ability. This is its raison d'etre. It really is a hatch that starts to give back when you bully it a bit, begin to show it some aggression and load up its suspension and hence feel it's extents and morphology more. On normal journeys I tend to try and drive it like this when conditions allow. Properly lean on it through a roundabout, use plenty of power turning out of T junctions, flick it into curves rather than turning progressively, traction control and stability always off.

It's a miniature brute, it likes to be manhandled. It is Thor's iron hammer rather than Harry Potter's delicate wand. If you drive it slowly on a regular ordinary journey, it does a pretty good job given how specialised a machine it is but the bottom line is it never really fails to at least hint to you that its not entirely happy.

When you really hoon it though, down twisty narrow rough rally style lanes strewn with water, mud, dust and whatever else you care to introduce, then it probably leaves most of those 'sweeter' hot hatch rivals and heads for a completely different stratosphere. When you really drive it the Yaris gives back an awful lot and it's then that you really begin to fall in love with the car. Under these conditions you don't necessarily need to be aggressive or over drive it any more either. You can be as economic or delicate as you like although my preference is still to be hard and creative with the car and take a few liberties with it on the rougher roads. And it has so much cross country ability and the chassis is so confidence inspring that you have to go some to ask it some questions. Grinding into mud strewn hairpins, crashing through standing water, marvelling at the way the suspension thunders noncholantly over torturously bumpy sections, throwing it in 10mph too fast forcing the fronts to scrub off speed and the rears to hook up again firing you out though ther side. It's a complete riot in these conditions.

Despite the rally ride height and credentials I have also noticed that on larger smooth fast roads that are punctuated by sweepers and roundabouts, small sections of highway that are a little like a true circuit, the car is equally as impressive. There is an efficiency and accuracy to the car in this environment, the way it gathers speed so fuss free and puts its power down, the pleasing degree of float, ease and lightness to touch which it exudes. The strong brakes, the incisive turn in and the instantanous speed with which it settles and then hooks up. It feels like it connects all the dynamic sequences and transition moments together very quickly and seamlessley, almost in the same way a Caterham does. Much of this is down to it's nimble wheelbase and sprightly weight but also because of the efficiency and immediacy of its chassis and drivetrain. There really is a level of sophistication and maturity here that really no £30k hatch has any right to possess. On these roads then it is also a complete joy then. I hung up my Sparco 'all in one' almost 2 decades ago now but I will definitely be taking this pugnacious little terrier to a racetrack at some point.



In my first week I have used it for pretty much everything. Visits to deliver groceries to my parents 30 minutes away, local 15 minute work trips to the warehouse loaded with cargo, a fast motorway run to Birmingham and back via the Cotswolds and Fish hill, a work trip into central London and a fast Sunday run though the twisty undulating Ranmore common area. It has coped with all these tasks admirably and it was especially adept on the motorway and settles comfortably at a surpringly high cruising rate with a potent 6th gear. But it just wasn't as enjoyable at the ordinary stuff as the UP! GTi is but then that is hardly surprising. For low speed smiles the miniature VW is an almost impossible act to follow. This though is a good thing for me, it means these two cars can coexist more happily together and not compete too much for the same tasks. It will be interesting to see how their division of labour develops as the Yaris honeymoon period wanes.

Back to the positives though. It's probably fair to say that for the more ordinary journeys when the Toyota was less than giving, it more than made up for these by giving back by the bucketload when the pace was a little more impassioned. Here then, it surpassed the UP! and the comparison reminded me of the 993 RS vs. the 996 GT3 where the narrower bandwidth GT3 on the right road, takes you to a higher more rewarding place than the 993 can ever actually get to.

In the snow the GR was fun and on the rough muddy puddle strewn lanes of Surrey in tandem with a 600LT and a 991 GTS, it was mighty. I simply cannot wait to take it to the Highlands as I think it will be in its element there. The Scottish roads are rough and brutal so that will suit its rally DNA down to the ground but also, Highlands driving is not especially technical and the GR is not so much a technical kind of steer either. It's not a fine Montrachet but a shameless Johnnie Walker Gold label. It likes to brutalise a road rather than finely dissect one so enjoys creative forceful driving where the thrill is in the sheer A to B pace, ripping up the tarmac at the ragged edge, slingshotting from one curve to another, turning forcefully into haipins with that biting front axle and finding traction and grip where other performance cars are left struggling for answers. Make no mistake, with that accomplished chassis, nimble wheelbase, tractable gutsy engine and short gearing, across ground it is devastatingly fast.

Allow me one last caveat though and some context. The Yaris is a lot of fun and cheap fun at that and it's a very impressive package which defintely has an added dose of 'special', but for me it is not quite a driving "great". The reason for this is because it's not quite nuanced enough, not playful enough, a little 2 dimensional dynamically compared to the very best cars. That front axle never quite gives you enough feel back and it never really feels especially rear wheel driven. Effective, a riot, rapid in a way that would keep supercars honest, an all weather hoot .. yes definitely. But into, through and out of corner, whilst it is possible to get the rear to play a little on the throttle or with a lift, this is not really it's natural character and it does not really serve up enough inherent chassis delights or feelings of rotation or pivoting, even in sport with all the systems off.

None of that should surprise you though. It's a cost effective AWD hatch not a 996GT3/Cayman/M2 Comp or even Alpine A110 level car and when all is said and done, it's still an awful lot of fun when it's wound up, especially if conditions are marginal. It's also well made and sophisticated enough for you to consider keeping it for some time as well. Many cars in this sector are fairly throwaway and you bin them once you have had your short-lived journey with them but the Yaris is a special little gem that you might have for a good number of years.



Hopefully some of that then defines the car a little better. What are the main day to day positive and negatives that are emerging then when you have to live with one ? Well let's begin with the positives.

- I like the high ride height, high driving position and the whole rally-esque form factor. For me it's something fairly novel.

- Whilst there is nothing exquisite or particularly noteworthy in the brakes, steering, damping all of those elements are at a very good standard and its more the overall net result and the car's coherency and point to point ability which is more impressive.

- If there is a standout item with the car I would actually say it's the drivetrain. The little 3 cylinder makes a great sound in the cabin (I personally don't really care if a lot of it is synthesised) and is punchy and a joy to wring out.

- The other thing I really like is the very flat boot space once the seats are folded down. It's not enormous but very usable and the flatness suits my personal needs very well.

- The large screen is great for both Waze and also for my Spotify.

- Finally I just really love the "stormtrooper helmet" looks of the car and its overall personality. I actually think the thing looks amazing and so totally unique ! I have already had quite a few smiles of joy from passing motorists and a few conversations struck up in garages too. This car really strikes a chord in people. It's something slightly special and a car very much of the now. Everyone is talking about it !




Onto the negatives. My UP! and my 488 had almost none between them but the Yaris does have a few annoyances.

- The steering as mentioned is effective and well judged in terms of rack speed and weighting but it never feels especially pleasurable particularly during ordinary driving. It almost feels like it could use some more castor to me so that the car feels like it's sitting securely in more of its own groove. If only it were a little more communicative you wouldn't feel like you need to push the thing so much to get some feel out of it. This is quite a big thing for me and I will be investigating ways in which it might be improved. I suspect though that I will get more used to it and start to blindspot it or "not see it anymore".

- When the dash throws up warning messages (traction control disabled, danger of ice etc.) you have to press the return button to get rid of them, that is fairly irritating I have to say and I am not someone who is bothered by very much.

- The lane assist stuff is difficult to turn off and annoyingly is on by default. In fact I still haven't fully worked out how to do it yet ! Most of the time I obviously don't want it beeping at me or tugging at the wheel.

- Sometimes the car won't start and it seems to get confused, repeatedly displaying the phrase "starting up" on the LCD. Now this might be me rushing things and confusing it's brain but sometimes it seems you can't just jump in and immediately hit the start button.


The two most commonly cited negatives, the high driving position and the poor visibility between the rearview mirror and lcd display, actually don't bother me. Fisrtly I'm a 176cm short arse so that's the first bit covered and secondly what they say about the low slung mirror is all true but in reality you get used to it in about 5 minutes flat and never think about it ever again.




Before I sign off I should probably write a little about this seeing as I'm one of the few who seems to have driven both. Sorry to disapoint but I really can't perceive/remember any differences despte the fact that I tested the circuit car for a good hour and also had it working hard on a few roundabouts losing grip at both ends. So really this tells me that the differences are probably very very small indeed and you probably need to be on an actual circuit to benefit from the upgrades.

The tyres are probably the biggest significant difference but for me, I have to say that I would not want any more grip and I certainly wouldn't want the car to be any stiffer in roll or any stiffer in its spring rates or damping. From what I gather though, the suspension differences are really very slight, just a small percentage. No wonder my car doesn't really feel any different to the circuit pack example I first drove.

More soon. Will be very interesting to see how long it stays in the fleet.



The Jackals Racetrack http://www.jackals-forge.com/lotus 1998 Richard Morris