2021 Toyota GR Yaris Review: Special, Kay?

2.Design and appearance
3.Interior and features
4.Driving experience

4. Driving Experience

Some cars don’t show their mettle right away, slowly revealing talent layer by layer. The GR Yaris is not like that: From the first time you give it more than half the gas pedal, it jumps out and latches onto you like a facehugger. 

The GR Yaris has a special voice, no surprise given the engine is a special one. Like the chassis/platform, it’s been tailored to the car itself, but Toyota also says it’s the biggest capacity three-cylinder with the most power, cranking 257hp from its 1.6-litres. 

There’s a lot of whooshing and whining going on, which from an enthusiast perspective, is good: turbo and transmission whine, intake noise, and tyres scrubbing tarmac. The six-speed transmission is clean shifting, with the clutch of medium weight, and the auto-blip (‘i-MT’) is very useful for smoother work in an urban environment, or even when going fast. 

The burble of the triple is more baritone than a Mini Cooper’s, but it morphs into a lovely tenor as the needle tips closer to the impressively-high 7,200rpm limit. 0-100km/h is 5.5 seconds on paper but it feels far quicker in real life, you just need to lay on a mechanical squirt of the pedal and you’re at 100km/h. 

2021 Toyota GR Yaris - AWD torque view

There are three modes – normal, Sport, and Track – controlling the torque split, front to rear. Normal gives you 60/40, Sport gives you 30/70, while Track is more balanced at 50/50. In other words, one is for turning and burning, the other for neat, ruthless pace. We didn’t test it, but apparently you can make the car drift in Sport mode. 

As a compact hot hatch derived from rallying, the real fun is in ripping through corners, taking them at ever higher speed and wondering why you haven’t tipped over yet. At least we know the body is very, very strong and can withstand barrel rolls.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris - instrument panel

The feedback from the whole car is compact and cohesive such that it feels like a true conversation with the driver, rather than the ‘input – compute – output’ feel of modern performance cars. 

It’s as fast as anything over normal roads, but that’s almost  (ahem) commonplace in these high-horsepower days – where the GR Yaris excels is in its natural sense of supreme traction and analog feedback.  

2021 Toyota GR Yaris - drive mode selector

That serves a driver well, even when doing normal things, and what elevates the car further is the fact that its suspension can take bumps and thumps like a real rally car – you can fly over imperfections, preserving speed (and smiles). Toyota really has distilled the fun of a rally car into a daily driver. 

2021 Toyota GR Yaris - rear dynamic shot

We had some gripes, though minor. The car is probably better than what we felt during the drive. Our test car had already done 3,000km, presumably rather hard, if the state of the clutch, brakes, and front tyres were anything to judge by. 

The pedal position feels optimised for an upright, elevated seating position, but the sport seats’ best position – for us – put us lower than felt optimal. The best mileage we could wring from the GR Yaris was a 15 to 17L/100km, which makes a V10-powered R8 seem almost sensible, in comparison. 

2021 Toyota GR Yaris - forged BBS wheels
18-inch forged BBS wheels don’t deliver crazy-stiff ride

Lastly, because the cupholders are too small to stow a phone or a wallet, we had to put ours in the centre shelf. Predictably that meant flying valuables, but the GR Yaris has the dubious honour of being the only car which made us lose our wallet for a good while – eventually finding it under the driver’s seat.

On to page 5: Competition and conclusion

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong