THE YARIS

My love for the UP! Gti and the enormous amounts of enjoyment it has introduced into my everyday regular life on UK roads has made me want to try and find something similar as an alternative. Small, lightweight, agile, not too fast, direct and feelsome. The Fiesta ST didn't really do it but maybe the car of the moment, the Yaris GR can ? Thanks goes to Toyota in Guildford.

 

 

The Yaris felt right to me from the off. Nothing struck me as odd, out of place or annoying ... the controls and their positions, visibility, seating position, clutch operation, all good. Pulling away I instantly felt at home and everything so far felt very natural. Special initial mentions must go to the seats which I liked the shape and look of but they also very felt very comfy. The form of the cabin I really like as well; there is a lot of deep forward space on top of the dash and in toward the bottom of the windsheild so a good impression of roominess in the front of the cockpit. The sloping and lowered roofline also feels novel and pleasing as you look behind your shoulder, almost 911-like. I like the classic T shape of the steering wheel and the simple two dial binnacle as well.

Showing the GR some roads it’s a car that does feel a little bit special. Not huge globules of special but enough to make it feel distinctly like a thing that was created purely for fun. The chassis does have that strongly tied down 4wd feel, the tight sporty gearchange is a delight and the motor is responsive and muscular low down. Cradled snugly in those supportive seats, a strong sensation of chassis security in wet conditions, an urgent drivetrain, one might be forgiven for classifying the GR as a Mitsi Evo 6 for the 2020’s, albeit in a smaller more terrier-like and user friendly package.

 

 

My route took me firstly along some Motorway. The GR is sprightly and very efficient, gathering speed eagerly in a way which hints at its lightweight underpinnings and all within an enjoyable and satisfying expanse of revs that isn’t over too quickly. The noise in the cabin is fake but for me it’s a soundtrack that you can enjoy a little and it makes for a decent stream of information as to what the engine is doing. The engine delivery is a little boosty but in a good way. The gearing is very well judged - not too long - with a decent powerband to enjoy ripping through in each gear and useful thrust all the way to the redline. The 3 pot engine has a characterful granularity to it and that along with the great gearbox feel and low down torque make this a really enjoyable drivetrain. To put it into context it is a million miles superior to the Golf R VAG-like engine which is overly boosty, lacking in any type of mechanical personality and breathless at the top end.

Despite the stubby wheelbase, the Yaris cruises on the fast roads with effortless stability; it’s a whole other level of security vis a vis my UP! Gti. Out on the German Autobahn you’d probably have her at around 110-120pmh most of the time as a general comfortable cruising rate and the car feels like it gets there quickly as well. Personally I wouldn’t want it any more accelerative and crucially it doesn’t feel underpowered for the chassis/tyres either.

 

 

Heading towards the lanes, smoothing out and economising my inputs I was met by an extremely capable and fluid chassis. It's soon apparent though that the GR is a whole world away from the old Mitis Evo in terms of sophistication and road manners. The damping is firm-ish but never harsh or crashy and the springs rates are quite generous giving the car a pleasurable soft elasticity as you slingshot from curve to curve. Turning in and transitioning onto the suspension feels natural and benign and although this car had the circuit pack, it feels like a very well judged road car and that is crappy UK roads as well. There isn’t much slop but then the car isn’t too rigid or unweildy either. The steering is nice and sharp and it’s a notably agile experience overall but never nervous, the body very easily flicked through the tighter stuff when needed.

Like many modern performance orientated cars the Yaris feels adept, effortless and very well realised. This is an extremely confidence inspiring car. Hustling it down some twisties, it’s not a gnarly experience, recalcitrant or spikey in any way, just efficient, composed and supremely capable. The car remains stable when you depress the clutch with the engine at high revs, it feels very predictable turning in and in yaw, and very soon I was having a lot of fun burying the brake pedal into bends and changing down then aiming for apexes. Those brakes are good too giving you plenty of security and confidence.

Compared to the Alfa 12c I took down the very same lanes recently, the GR flows into a bend far more naturally with a much more readable sense of weight transition and setup. Like my very first sentence, on the back roads the GR does nothing that stands out to annoy you or seem wrong or less than ideal. The engine does have some lag but it was only really an issue for me once or twice when I was in too high a gear exiting a bend.

Yes, it’s all very easy and yes, we are not in Lotus or Gt3 territory for feedback but let’s keep perspective here, this is a £30k bit of hot hatch modern day fun. In fact my only true gripe at this juncture would be the self centering on the wheel which is just slightly too strong for me. The wheel doesn’t have as much feel as some of the reviews would have you believe but it’s a pretty decent helm for a car of this type I would say.

 

 

Is the GR too capable and grippy ? Coming to a few tighter roundabouts I provoked things a bit and although it was wet, I was encouraged to discover that it will slide at both axles fairly easily. This isn’t a grip grip grip ad infinitum car then, it has definite limits that can be happily and comfortably explored. I would have liked to have investigated traction and axle play on exit more but just didn’t have the opportunity or time on this test drive. There was one moment though where the back was slipping slightly as I powered out of a tight turn and this along with the other little snippets of playfulness I experienced had me chomping at the bit and eager for more. This will be a fun car if you like breaching the limits, no question.

 

 

My last test was possibly the most important for me. Is the GR interesting and enjoyable on regular driving through the village, down to the warehouse, the post office, the 10 mile jaunt to the other side of town. This is what it mostly needs to do in my life, bring the fun of driving to my doorstep on an everyday basis as I go about my regular life. I am pleased to say that the Toyota, like my UP Gti, is also just generally good fun to mooch about it. The engine is eager, the gearchange always satisfying and because of its agility and directness, manoeuvring around is pleasurable to some degree. It is compact as well remember, one away from the smallest of city cars, so it will be a doddle to use in urban and built up areas day to day.

 

 

So overall it’s a definite yes for me and I will probably place a deposit. Like the UP, it’s a low cost stablemate that will more than earn it’s keep by doing all tasks thrown at it from work to family to general duties and I can take it on a road trip for variety if I decide to as well, even a trackday. It has a degree of fun on offer every time you get into it and a much higher performance envelope and a different level of sophistication than the UP which it has to coexist with.

Normally I am hard man to please and I am always very sceptical of these hyped cars and often very disappointed - the current Civic type R I didn’t get on with at all and the Fiesta ST didn’t win me over either – but the Yaris is a real hit. To put it into another context, this Toyota is a so much more fun than the Golf R that I ran a few years back. Just a real drivers tool in comparison although I accept that the Golf is a desireable and very accomplished piece of transport.

I also like the GR's cult persona and lack of stigma too. This is a car that didnt' need to exist and in a way shouldn't exist. It's a real gift. It's not a communication about status or wealth or class but it just tells other people who know, that you probably really really love driving. I personally like the everyman brand as well. The local Toyota dealership is a place that you’ve probably never been into before and is usually chock full of grandparents. It really has a cult factor for me and if that wasn’t enough, looks really cool in white too.

 

 


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