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New Toyota GR Yaris prototype review: the brilliant hot hatch just got even better

We hit the road in the reworked version of the Toyota GR Yaris ahead of its official arrival

Verdict

Toyota’s comprehensive reworking of the GR Yaris addresses key customer concerns, delivering a much lower driving position, plus a new dashboard and instruments. But there’s much more, including increased power and enhanced dynamics. An already very appealing driver’s car is now a whole heap more desirable.

Brilliant as the Toyota GR Yaris is, certain aspects could have been better executed. Most notable was the driving position, which many found too high. You see, when Toyota created the go-faster Yaris for the World Rally Championship (WRC), it carried over some fundamental body structures – and this resulted in compromised ergonomics. 

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Three years on, the three-door, four-wheel drive fast hatch has been such a huge success both in the WRC and in terms of sales (32,000 have found homes) that Toyota has been encouraged to build an evolved version.

From the outside it looks much the same, but if you’ve driven the original you’ll notice the improved driving position straight away. The driver’s seat is 25mm lower – but this is no simple re-set of the seat. The floorpan has been modified and the geometry of the steering column and wheel has been revised to suit. The interior mirror is 20mm higher and there’s a bespoke new dashboard, too. It’s a car transformed before it has even turned a wheel.

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But there’s much more. The output of the turbocharged, 1.6-litre, three-cylinder engine has been upped from 257bhp to 276bhp, while the hefty shift of the six-speed manual gearbox has been made a little more slick. There’s even now the option of an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

This might sound at odds with the car’s sporting nature, but all the improvements have been driven by lessons learned in racing and rallying, as well as feedback from customers. That auto box is claimed to be fast-shifting, durable and low maintenance, making it ideal for endurance work, Toyota says. It also helps to broaden the car’s appeal.

The base model has been ditched, with the range now comprising a sole Circuit Pack car. This version comes with the full-spec drivetrain, plus clever Torsen locking differentials front and rear. The dashboard now features a new multi-function digital instrument pack, and there’s a now three-stage drive-mode switch. The settings of the four-wheel drive system have been revised, too. 

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We got to drive late-stage prototypes at the challenging Jarama race track in Spain, and even rolling down the pit lane the car felt better than before. The manual shift appears instantly sweeter, but the real revelations come after just a few corners. 

The suspension has been made a little firmer so the car not only feels lower-slung, but rolls less too. Yet it tucks into corners just as keenly as before, and accepts full throttle early – bursting from corners with all the power in harness. 

In its ‘Track’ setting the all-wheel drive system is now adaptive, delivering the appropriate front-rear torque split. It means the new Yaris seems to find terrific grip in fast or slow corners without scrubbing the front or rear tyres. 

A drive of the current car confirmed how much better the driving position is and how improved the dynamic poise and balance are as well. 

The new car’s auto gearbox also impressed – fast and always in the right gear – but the tougher test will be on UK roads, in an undisguised, production-ready car. No prices have been announced, but sales start in June.

Model:Toyota GR Yaris
Price:£37,500 (est)
Engine:1.6-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque:276bhp/390Nm
Transmission:Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.4 seconds (est)
Top speed:146mph (est)
Economy/CO2:TBC
Dimensions (L/W/H):3,995/1,805/1,455mm
On sale:June
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