So annoying and so perfect at the same time – Toyota GR Yaris review – TopAuto
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Wednesday / 8 December 2021
HomeFeaturesSo annoying and so perfect at the same time – Toyota GR Yaris review

So annoying and so perfect at the same time – Toyota GR Yaris review

Every time I get into my Toyota GR Yaris, I am thoroughly underwhelmed.

Despite being called the “Rally Car for the Road”, its interior provides a more “Normal Car for the Road” experience.

You sit down and your bottom is greeted by fabric seats which would not be out of place in a Corolla, bar the GR logo embroidered in the headrests.

They also lack a suitable amount of buckety-ness, and after driving the car for 1,050km I have found the best way to stay in place through a corner is to brace the outside of my leg against the driver’s door or centre console.

This is not ideal, as pushing against these surfaces reminds you about the amount of plastic used in the panels and dash structure.

Rap your knuckles against it and the hollow sound of “cost savings” rings back.

It’s the same story around the transmission tunnel and centre segment which houses the handbrake and driver-settings buttons – more black plastic.

This part of the car is also home to the FIA World Rally Championship homologation insignia which shows that the GR Yaris was made to be a race car.

Is it a metal plaque sitting proudly on the console? No.

Is it laser-etched into the dashboard, a permanent reminder of the car’s thoroughbred status? No.

Is it… The answer is no.

It is a gel sticker placed in front of the handbrake which you could scrape off with a butter knife.

Not over yet

The list of sub-par experiences does not stop there.

The tachometer (rev counter) and speedometer are boring. There is a central digital display between them, but it is rather small and you really have to look closely at it to see what is going on.

This includes taking note of the shift-up indicator, which is on the bottom of the screen and the size of an ant’s head.

Want to set the trip computer to see how far a journey is? You will be glad to know that the old-school black stick that protrudes out of the instrument cluster is still alive and well in the 2021 GR Yaris.

In Toyota’s defence, they did place a small GR badge at the bottom of the speedometer – but it is a faint marking that you cannot see well at night, as it has no backlighting.

Speaking of lighting: the door lock controls on the driver’s side only light up when the car is on, which means you have to fumble for them in the dark to lock your car before starting the engine – which I am quite sure is best practice.

Finish it

Now we are all warmed up, let’s finish this car’s interior Mortal Kombat style.

The multimedia display is a huge block that looks like a tumour growing out of the dashboard, with a massive bezel and bang-average touchscreen.

It looks like a multimedia unit from Toyota’s lost and found bin.

The rearview mirror is too low, and blocks most of your vision when looking left. This is compounded by the fact the seats are too high.

The hooter sounds like it was taken from a car of lesser stature, there is no spare wheel – only a puncture repair kit – and the vibration from the boot lid panel under acceleration when I first got the car was outrageous.

It sounded like a low-frequency blender trying to dice a tough pineapple.

I could go on about the back seats being cramped and the boot not being that big, but these are soft targets that no one buying a hot hatch should have a right to complain about.

For the record, the back seats are cramped and the boot is not that big.

Start it up

To get inside the car, however, you had to walk up to it. And when you walked up to it, you did so with caution.

It looks like a regular hot hatchback at a quick glance and there is a Toyota badge on the front, but there is something sinister lurking underneath which rises to the surface as you get closer.

You notice that the front grille covering the intercooler is a little too big, the wheel arches a little too flared, and the brake discs a little too thick for a normal car.

The black 18-inch wheels stare angrily at you while stationary, and the GR badges on the car stand out like warning labels on a box of firecrackers.

You climb in and push the GR start button to turn on the engine, and a GR graphic flashes across the small screen in the instrument cluster.

It is followed by a warning message: Avoid excessive acceleration due to temperature. It’s telling you to let it warm up first, almost like a high-end performance vehicle would.

Once it has warmed up and you set off, you can select what information you would like to display on the small digital screen: tyre pressures, which wheels are receiving the most power from the adjustable all-wheel-drive system, or the boost the turbo is providing.

You won’t be paying much attention to the display, however, as when the road opens and you accelerate, you are rocked back slightly into your seat.

That was a bit unexpected.

You shift gears out of surprise as much as necessity, and hear air loudly streaming out the turbo like a kid learning to whistle.

You also notice that while all the panels around you seemed plastic when you got in, the steering wheel and gear lever are made from solid, high-quality leather.

The pedals below your feet are aluminium and in a classic sports car design.

So you accelerate some more, letting the revs run higher before shifting, and a warm terror rises from your stomach to your chest as road signs, speed bumps, and corners approach rapidly.

The power is not manic, particularly below 3,000rpm, but as you climb the rev range and the turbo kicks in you feel it swell beneath you – slowly at first, and almost all at once like a firm shove in the back.

The layout of the instrument cluster falls away, as your eyes focus down road and to the corners ahead.

Listening to music or using the touch display on the multimedia system is not considered, as the turbo singing is a far sweeter tune.

The tiny shift indicator is also forgotten, with the engine shouting at you when it is time to change gears.

From second, to third, to just into fourth before the road you are on is finished and the massive brakes stop you with the force of space shuttle parachute being deployed.

And you start again, putting it into Sport mode this time to send 70% of the power to the rear wheels.

The front end lightens and darts into corners, while the rear pushes you forward with a firm hand.

It’s a noticeably different driving experience from the Track mode you engage next, which splits power 50% front and 50% rear.

The back end pushes you in and the front end pulls you out, quickly.

You feel solid and planted around corners and the acceleration as you drop a gear and power out is exhilarating.

While you never feel out of control, thanks to the car’s exceptional balance, you will regularly have thoughts like: “I should probably slow down a bit”.

If you have someone next to you in the GR Yaris (particularly if its your better half), these thoughts won’t have time to surface.

Your passenger will provide the classic warning signs to decrease speed, which include grabbing the door’s inside handle with their left hand, placing their right hand next to their thigh to firmly grip the seat, and pushing their feet into the footwell – all while making a nervous inhaling noise through their nose.

To relate the driving experience to a social situation, it’s like inviting your speak-first-think-later friend to a family dinner party.

You enjoy the food and everyone’s company, but the entire evening you are sitting slightly forward with the nervous anticipation of what is going to come out of their mouth.

The GR Yaris gives you this same feeling: it is highly enjoyable and a lot of fun, but there is a constant tension in your chest that if do something to unleash the car’s full personality, it will show you your shortcomings as a driver.

In other words, it is absolutely brilliant.

Frustrating and brilliant dichotomy

The all-wheel-drive system on the the GR Yaris is the perfect symbol to sum up the duality of this car.

To change between Normal, Sport, and Track mode, Toyota has installed a cool dial-and-button combination that is smooth to use and backlit for ease of use at night.

It is in a small well in front of the gear stick, however, right next to a thin plastic flap that covers the 12V “cigarette lighter” power socket.

The sophisticated and brilliant system for changing power distribution to the wheels sitting next to a low-cost socket of little driving importance is an eyesore when the car is stationary.

Turn the engine on and accelerate away, however, and you forget that socket even exists.

It’s the first car that truly makes me want to take the long way home.

This is a review of a “normal” 2021 Toyota GR Yaris after 1,050km of driving.

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