Toyota gr yaris 2020 gr
review

2021 Toyota GR Yaris review

Rating: 8.7
$43,480 $51,700 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    7.6L
  • Engine Power
    200kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    172g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars
We've studied the GR Yaris in light of its initial $39,990 drive-away price, but now we take a look with the lens of the full retail price for the second batch.
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There’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the 2020 GR Yaris was a bargain at $39,950 drive-away. There’s also no doubt about the feverish excitement that greeted its announcement and arrival. Fans in Australia lost their collective minds when Toyota first hinted it was firing back into the hot-hatch space with intent – and understandably so, to some extent.

However, with the first batch already long gone, and in light of the price now moving to around $53,500 on the road if you want one, the use of the word ‘bargain’ might be a bit of a stretch. In fact, it might be way past a stretch.

It’s hard to pinpoint the precise reason for the rabid excitement and hype that preceded the launch. Was it the fact it was a Toyota? The styling? The sub-$40K price? The AWD performance potential? Was it simply, as was the case with Honda’s Type R Civic, the fact that we could once again get properly excited about a Japanese performance hatch?

Maybe a little of all of the above.

Regardless, any assessment of the GR Yaris now needs to be made with the understanding that $53,000 for a Yaris is actually a hell of a lot of money, no matter how capable it is. Is it, therefore, still a performance bargain?

We know the engine is a cracker, and we know it’s the world’s most powerful three-cylinder (for the moment). We also know it’s the most powerful Toyota road car engine in terms of power efficiency per litre of displacement. The 1.6-litre is therefore a firecracker in every sense of the word, boasting the wonderful engagement that we love from a triple, but ballistic power output as well.

On that subject, a formidable 200kW is available at 6500rpm, while 370Nm is on offer between 3000–4600rpm. What’s capable from a small-capacity engine is getting harder and harder to fathom as engineering principles evolve.

There’s a slick six-speed manual, all-wheel drive, and a kerb weight of 1280kg. In other words, all the ingredients are there before a tyre is turned in anger. The ADR fuel claim is 7.6L/100km and, after a week of running around town, we had used an indicated 9.2L/100km.

Maybe one of the reasons everyone is so excited by the GR Yaris is the methodology employed behind the scenes. It’s built on the production line previously used for the LFA, the engine assembly room is like an operating theatre in a hospital, engine components are weight-matched to assist balance and long-term reliability, and time-honoured engineering principles ensure the engine is best equipped to provide reliable power. There’s an engaging story behind the GR Yaris that you can buy into, and isn’t that what we love about special cars?

2021 Toyota GR Yaris
Engine1.6-litre (1618cc) turbocharged 3-cylinder
Power200kW @ 6500 rpm
Torque370Nm @ 3000-4600rpm
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Drive typeAll-wheel drive
Weight (kerb)1280kg
Fuel claim combined (ADR)7.6L/100km
Fuel use on test9.2L/100km
Boot volume (rear seats up / down)141L / 737L
Turning circle10.8 metres
ANCAP safety ratingUntested
Warranty5 years / unlimited km
Main competitorsHonda Civic Type-R | Ford Fiesta ST | Mini Cooper JCW
Price as tested (ex on-road costs)$49,500

The debate on price is an interesting one – listing at $49,500 before on-road costs, the GR Yaris creeps toward VW Golf R territory, which lists from $57,990 before on-road costs. Given you can almost certainly talk turkey with the salesperson on the Golf, and you’re unlikely to be able to on the GR Yaris (which will be between $53–$54K with on-road costs added depending on the state you live in) when it’s on the showroom floor again, a Golf R isn’t that far away in the real world.

Let’s assume the non-enthusiast buyer lines the GR Yaris up against a Golf R then. There is a price difference, certainly, but it isn’t massive. And, if you’re financing a new car purchase as so many buyers do, that relates to a small discrepancy on your weekly repayments. Don't get me wrong, though, there is a depth of personality – and interest – the GR Yaris has generated that no Golf R will ever be able to match, such is its clinical, understated nature.

For those of you who don’t covet AWD, though, there’s the perhaps slightly left-field option of the other Japanese brand hero, the Civic Type R. Yes, it’s front-wheel drive rather than all-wheel drive, but it’s also as good as front-wheel drive gets, and Honda is known for its hero hatches. The Civic Type R lists for $54,990 before on-road costs, putting it right into battle with the GR Yaris. Maybe, just maybe, the Type R has the aggressive and edgy styling to deliver as much theatre as a GR Yaris? What do you think?

The question then centres around what you get for your money, and whether it feels like it’s money well spent. Straight up, our only equipment gripe with the GR is directed squarely at the tyres. Our performance testing indicated that the standard Dunlop rubber simply can’t deliver the grip and performance ability we’d expect at a $50,000-plus ask. Yep, they are just tyres and you can change them easily enough, but after spending this much money, you shouldn’t have to.

Better tyres would improve cornering in the real world, and braking performance, too – both hallmarks of the hot-hatch portfolio. We know the Rallye gets Michelin tyres standard, and the GR would benefit from the same standard fitment.

Forget the rear seats as anything more than occasional, and consider the boot as what you might have found decades ago in a two-seat convertible. This is no family of five grocery-getter, but then it isn’t meant to be either.

Everywhere else, there’s nothing missing from the GR Yaris’s standard equipment list. Some of it, like the carbon-fibre roof, for example, is downright race-cred drool-worthy. In short, though, it’s a neatly equipped daily driver that happens to be genuinely fast. Does it feel like a mid-$50K hatch? Not really, no. Certainly not from behind the wheel, where it feels unequivocally like an expensive Yaris. It’s comfortable, though, insulated too, as all quality Toyota cabins are.

That’s not so bad, though, because perception of value from behind the wheel might not be high on your list of priorities. In which case, you’d revert to the real-world performance to justify the purchase price – and the GR Yaris is real-world fast.

First, though, the styling. If you’re weighing up value for money based on street presence, the GR Yaris should cost double. Everywhere you go, every set of lights, every fuel stop, you’ll have people ogling its pumped guards and rally-bred styling. It looks like a hot hatch, and it looks different. It doesn’t matter which colour you choose, and you don’t need to modify it if you don’t want to – it looks right from the outset.

The sense of balance from every part of the mechanical package is evident every time you’re behind the wheel. The GR is sharp, reactive, capable, responsive, characterful and utterly unfussed. It’s one of those cars that is enjoyable to drive at any speed, but especially when you’re winding it out. Duality of character is vital in any daily driver, but the GR Yaris really can tool around in traffic at three-tenths with ease. Nail the throttle, though, and the three-pot comes to life immediately.

Perhaps the engine’s most impressive feature, especially considering its diminutive capacity, is that it never feels even remotely strained, no matter how hard you’re working it. Its 370Nm is hardly a rich vein of torque in 2021 money, but the GR always feels effortless, and like it has a swathe of torque upon which to call. Acceleration is punchy, and the engine keeps working through the mid-range accompanied by a rorty note. The latter point is a critical part of the three-cylinder appeal.

Crucially, it always feels light on its feet and agile, and razor sharp to respond to any input, whether that be through the wheel or the pedals. We love the clutch action – no matter the speed – and the driving modes really do change the character of the GR, even if that’s something you’ll toy with less on the road than the track.

The short wheelbase never results in a choppy ride, even on nastier coarse-chip country roads. The feeling of balance sharpens on the move, and you have to try hard to unsettle the GR at any speed. On a twisty road, you’ll make a nuisance of yourself under the bumper of vastly more expensive, more powerful cars, such is the seduction of power to weight efficiency. The intrinsic balance and response mean it’s easy to drive fast, too.

There’s absolutely nothing to detract from the GR Yaris’s ability to play Jekyll and Hyde. By weekday it can effortlessly, comfortably, and efficiently make light of the cut and thrust of the daily grind. By weekend, though, you can fire it through your favourite set of bends or toward a track session, tease the redline all day and have an absolute hoot, before rolling home again in comfort.

Homologation specials are rarely so well rounded, so utterly unintimidating, and so easy to live with day-to-day. The GR Yaris is therefore one of the best that’s ever been released to the public. Is it good to the tune of a mid-fifty-grand ask, though? I’d have to say no. Plenty of you won’t care, and plenty of you will disagree with me.

I’ll state it again here. At $39,950 drive-away, it might be the bargain of the decade. There’s no doubt about that. Especially given the individual nature of the platform, the drivetrain and the styling. You do feel like you’re driving something different. I absolutely love the GR Yaris, and I love that it exists. I also love that it proudly wears a Toyota badge. The motoring world is in a good place when the big Japanese manufacturers are building proper cars like this.

It was then a performance bargain. Crucial use of the word ‘was’ there, too. The revised (and therefore full) retail price, though, is stretching the friendship.