Toyota GR Yaris: Is it as good as they say?
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 months, there’s a new hot hatch out and it has been declared to be The Second Coming, with every magazine, website, YouTube reviewer, and armchair expert proclaiming the new Toyota GR Yaris to be the best thing since sliced bread. Well, I was lucky enough to have one for a week recently and have to tell you that it’s not the Messiah, it’s a very naughty boy.
Okay, that’s maybe a slightly sensationalist statement, but read most reviews and they will fail to mention a single negative aspect of the GR Yaris, only how exceptionally good it is ‘on the limit’ and how it feels great on full lock, drifting it at 45 degrees with smoking tyres. But quite frankly, 99% of drivers can’t do that without killing themselves, shouldn’t be doing it on the road and honestly just don’t want to.
So what is it about the GR Yaris that I don’t like? There are three things mainly – seating, visibility, and noise. Let’s start with the big one – seating, as this leads into the second. I should add a caveat to these grumblings here – at 6ft 3 I’m not exactly Average Joe when it comes to ergonomics, but I feel the points are still valid. You see, when I climbed into the GR the first time, I banged my head on the door opening. It is, after all, a small car, but when your rear end hits the seat you simply aren’t that low in the car, so you’d best duck.
Once inside, this is when I got confused. As with most press cars, I get in and adjust the seat to the lowest position due to my height. But I reached for the lever and…. ah. It was already at the lowest. “Surely this can’t be it?” I thought to myself, as I found myself staring at the top of the windscreen, but sadly it was. I went for a drive and genuinely felt like I was sitting on a child’s booster seat, you just feel really high and almost like you’re way above the car’s center of gravity, which for me was a big issue with connecting with the car.
Upon further investigation, it was clear that there are reasons for this madness, as the seat sits atop some large risers built into the structure of the car, onto which the seat rails are bolted. Now also being an engineer, my initial thought was that someone could develop some seat lowering rails, but after seeing how it’s made I just can’t see that happening, which has been confirmed by Litchfield and JCR Developments. The only way is to get a different race seat, which again just isn’t a realistic proposition for most people.
This high seating position leads onto the second problem I have – visibility. When I look out of the screen to the left, for instance if approaching a roundabout or a junction, the view of approaching traffic is completely obscured by the rear view mirror. To the point where I found myself ducking down at every junction just to see, which would just about be acceptable if that mirror actually did anything useful, but it doesn’t. You see the rear window is so tiny and angled that you can barely see anything behind you anyway.
And given the sloping roofline and curved rear, the rear side windows are also tiny, which when combined with the thick C-Pillar means over-the-shoulder visibility is awful too, which is bad for merging into traffic etc.
“But it’s so good to drive, who cares?” I hear you cry. Well yes, there is that aspect, but if you’re taking any form of usability and practicality out of the equation and making it purely a fun toy, at £33,500 there are a whole world of other options you could have that are much more fun.
The final issue I have is one that is easily fixed, but it’s the noise. From the outside (and with windows down) the GR Yaris is virtually silent. There really is so little exhaust noise that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a regular Hybrid Yaris. Okay, inside things are noisier, but that’s all fake coming in through the speakers. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good inside but I’d prefer some real exhaust burble, thankfully you can get all manner of aftermarket exhausts for the GR Yaris anywhere from £500 to £3000 depending on how exotic the materials used and they fix the issue straight away. Windows down, if you do a low revs pull and lift off you do get a nice ‘psssht’ from the dump valve though, which is nice.
So I have issues. Big ones. I know a couple of friends with these who are around 5ft 10 and also have big issues with visibility and seat height though, so though my experience is exaggerated it’s not unique.
Don’t get me wrong though, everything else that people have said about the GR is true – it really is an exceptionally good hot hatch to drive, truly special. From the bespoke 3-door bodywork and AWD system, to that plucky little 1.6 litre 3-cyl turbo putting out an insane 261hp, it’s fast, small, engaging and huge fun to drive.
Even when not going ten-tenths at full lock (who honestly drives like that other than journalists?) it’s still seriously fun to drive down a twisty back road. The suspension is controlled but supple with decent wheel travel, meaning there is just endless grip. In fact, I found myself wishing there was less grip at times just to be able to feel it moving around a little more. But in damp British weather, it’s a proper weapon cross-country. The manual gearbox is a dream to use, especially with the auto-blipping throttle on downshifts making you feel like a heel-and-toe-meister.
So the question I have to ask myself is – would I buy one? And sadly, the answer would be no, for me. If I wanted a small, fun hot hatch with a great-sounding three-cylinder turbo and a chassis that is incredibly composed yet fun, I’d save myself £10k and get a Fiesta ST-2. If I wanted a super quick, aggressive hot hatch that I could take on the track and have fun, I’d be getting the Civic Type-R at the same price as the GR. And if I wanted a pure fun weekend toy that would thrill and excite, I’d get a Caterham 310R.
If you’re wanting to see the GR Yaris in action, make sure to check out Harry Metcalfe’s real-world review.