Toyota has pulled off the incredible this week, announcing production of a WRC-based GR Yaris with a list of motorsport-grade technologies that would make an Impreza blush. The GR Yaris will be a reasonably(ish) priced road-going spin-off of one of the most advanced little rally cars ever made.
It’s not even as much of a software-fest as you might imagine, owing much more to mechanical beef than you might expect. It’s light, just 1280kg at the kerb, uses an unusual suspension layout – double-wishbones at the back, MacPherson struts at the front – in tandem with two optional limited-slip differentials and a trick new turbocharged engine with three 539.3cc cylinders pumping 257bhp and 266lb ft out to all four wheels in varying amounts.
Make no mistake, while this is far from the most powerful hot hatch you can buy, it’s going to be an absolute missile in the right hands along twisting, bumpy roads. The 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds only tells half the story about the likely traction and corner grip this thing will find. In fact, it’s partly going to be what its spiritual ancestor, Toyota’s Celica GT-Four, was in the mid-1990s.
The hot Celica was built in three separate generations in under a decade in order to underpin famously pretty Castrol-liveried WRC entrants driven by, most notably, Carlos Sainz (senior) and later the likes of Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol. Each generation had special upgrades that could then be transferred to the gravel and mud of the WRC.
In 1986 the ST165 car emerged with a differential lock for 50:50 drive distribution. That was switched to a viscous coupling limited-slip type in 1987, but the up-to-190bhp special had set a trend. The ST185 followed in 1989 and brought what some still say is the prettiest Celica shape. Still using the 3S-GTE engine but now turbocharged up to 222bhp, the range was developed to cover a 1989 entry model, basically a trim exercise, to the full-fat wide-body 1991 WRC homologation special with a special close-ratio gearbox, steel wheels and all unnecessary weight stripped out. It was called the Carlos Sainz Limited Edition in Europe, or just the GT-Four RC in Japan.
This GT-Four RC had a water-to-air intercooler, a lighter front bumper, a bonnet with bigger vents, shortened travel for the clutch and gear lever and a triple-cone synchromesh on gears two and three, for protection and precision during, say, the difficult conditions of Rally GB or the dusty Acropolis.
But for all those spiritual links, compare those upgrades over the standard Celica to the lengths Toyota has gone to with the GR Yaris. Its bodywork is all new, just to make it a three-door with a significantly lower (and more aerodynamic) roof. The whole rear of its chassis is actually borrowed from the new Corolla in order to fit those double-wishbones in.
The engine is totally different to anything we’re used to in the painfully sensible Yaris, weight distribution is actively considered with regard to placement of the engine and battery and even the super-adjustable four-wheel drive setup – complexity unheard-of in the B-segment – is a total departure for a car better known for economical supermarket runs than record sector times on the world rally stage.
To put it into context, if the Celica GT-Four was like upgrading a basic roast chicken dinner with the finest quality gravy, turning an OAP-friendly Toyota supermini into the snarling GR Yaris is like replacing a cheese sandwich with a glorious hog roast.
We hope this isn’t some grand fanfare that ultimately leaves us disappointed, but Toyota has such good form of late that we don’t see the GR Yaris letting us down. A good, long drive will tell, but for now, feel free to bask in the fact that such a thing exists - and could conceivably be affordable. Early reports suggest around £28,000 in Japan. Commence basking.