2021 Toyota GR Yaris Review
Price & Specs8
Performance & Economy9
Ride & Handling9
Interior & Practicality8
Running Costs & Warranty7.5
What we like:
  • Stunningly special and bespoke driving experience
  • Punchy three-cylinder engine
  • The best Toyota we've ever driven
What we don't like:
  • Rear view mirror obscures visibility
  • Front seats set too high
  • Not that cheap these days
8.3DiscoverAuto Rating

It’s been touted as the rally car for the road, the best Toyota ever made. Picking up the 2021 Toyota GR Yaris was something I had been hotly waiting for. Never thought I’d be saying that about a Yaris. While Jake might have had all the fun with the the GR Yaris Rallye, here in Melbourne I had the chance to drive the humble base 2021 Toyota GR Yaris: the same spec offered by Toyota for a bargain $39,990 drive-away at launch back in 2020. I say humble, as this GR Yaris does away with some extra equipment which comes standard on the Rallye: better tyres, torsen differentials front and rear and upgraded suspension. But what if you want to save some money and go for the lesser GR Yaris? Should you buy the GR Yaris Rallye or is the base GR Yaris still a good buy?

White 2021 Toyota GR Yaris front

This is after all Toyota’s first proper hot hatch since the luke-warm Corolla Sportivo, which was killed off by Toyota in 2005. The Toyota GR Yaris has been designed from the ground up as a rally car by the Japanese brand’s engineers in house. Unlike the 86 which is basically by Subaru, or the Supra relied on BMW’s talents, the 2021 Toyota GR Yaris is a home-grown Japanese hero.

Price & Equipment: 8/10

Back in 2020, Toyota launched the GR Yaris at $39,990 drive-away for the first 1,000 customers. Those cars were sold out in a matter of days, making them what is probably the biggest bargain in automotive history. Toyota put another 100 up for sale for $44,990 drive away shortly after. All of those were snapped up in a few days as well.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris
Price (drive away in NSW):Around $50,000 (plus $1,450 paint)
Doors and Seats:3 doors, 4 seats
Power and Torque:200kW/370Nm
Transmission:6-speed manual
Fuel Consumption7.6L/100km claimed, 8.0L/100 as tested
Warranty:5 year, unlimited kilometre
Service pricing (three years/75,000km):$1,560 ($260 per service)
0-100km/h sprint time:5.2 seconds (tested)

After all the initial 1100 were sold, Toyota announced its final price for the 2021 GR Yaris: $49,990 before on-road costs. Expect an on road price around the mid $50,000 mark. That’s a saving of around $4,500 compared to the GR Yaris Rallye. You still get a lot of equipment for the money however, and the car’s basics remain the same. The all-wheel drive system, engine and bespoke body panels all make their way onto the lesser Yaris.

Toyota has given the GR Yaris a carbon fibre roof which saves 3.5kg, and the door skins, bonnet and tailgate are all aluminium, which saves another 24kg. Even the body itself has nothing to with the regular Yaris. The front half might be based on the Yaris, but Toyota took the rear subframe and chassis components from the Corolla. In fact, the GR Yaris barely shares anything at all with the regular Yaris: the external mirrors, headlights, taillights, and antenna. Toyota is also keen to point out that the GR Yaris has 259 more welds than a Yaris, plus another 35.4 metres of structural adhesive to make the GR Yaris as stiff as possible.

On the equipment front, the 2021 GR Yaris comes very well equipped with many of the creature comforts enthusiasts will still use when plodding around town, or hitting the open road. Highlights include 18-inch alloy wheels, all-LED exterior lighting, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and start and auto-folding mirrors. Safety is well taken care of with six airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection assist, lane keep assist with lane trace assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a heads-up display, a reversing camera, road sign assist and auto high beam.

Performance & Economy: 9/10

Under the bonnet of the GR Yaris sits the world’s most powerful mass-produced three-cylinder engine, churning out an incredible 200kW of power and 370Nm of torque from its 1.6-litres of displacement. The engine is identical to the one on the Rallye, with Toyota claiming a 0 to 100km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds. Add a kerb weight of just 1,280kg and its easy to see the ingredients behind one of the most amazing cars of our generation.

The engine is a technological marvel, with Toyota employing clever engineering to extract as much power as possible from the three cylinder engine. The turbocharger has special ball bearings to reduce friction large-diameter, multi-jet oil cooling to help with response and a lightweight aluminium block to reduce weight over the front wheels. It makes a wonderful growl and really comes into its own at around 3000rpm and screams towards the redline. Oddly, below 2500rpm not much happens with this engine. Flooring the accelerator in 6th at 100km/h brings quite a lot of vibration and not a lot of go. Odd for a modern turbocharged engine.

There’s only one gearbox on offer, and it’s a six-speed manual. No paddle shift autos here, which is perfect as far as we’re concerned. It’s super slick and easy to use, even if it might not feel as mechanically precise as say a Mazda MX-5’s. Toyota has also included automatic rev matching which is handy inclusion to smooth out downshifts, even if it isn’t as quick to react as the system on the Hyundai i30 N.

The AWD system is bespoke too, and features an aluminium central transfer case. Unlike the Rallye, the base GR Yaris doesn’t have torque sensing diffs front and rear to bias power between the left and right wheels on each axle.

What it does have, however, are drive modes. In Normal mode the torque is split 60:40 front to rear, Sport is 30:70 and Track is 50:50. All modes provide ample grip when driving at legal limits and would naturally come into their own on a racetrack.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.6L/100km, a figure which is achievable in sensible day to day driving. After some sedate driving around town, we saw fuel consumption of 8.0L/100km.

Ride & Handling: 9/10

Put simply, Toyota has created the almost perfect hot hatch with the 2021 Toyota GR Yaris. Throw it into any turn on a twisty road, and you will be inspired to really lean on the immensely capable all-wheel drive system, which allows you to rocket out of corners. The experience is addictive and immediately novel compared to any other FWD hot hatch.

A small word of warning though, the base GR Yaris lacks a little in the way of outright grip through corners and when exiting corners. Lacking the proper front and rear locking differentials of the Rallye, the standard GR Yaris does sometimes tend to light up the inner wheels through tighter corners, scrubbing into understeer. The 225/40 R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres are also partly to blame. They lack the grip of a Michelin Pilot Sport 4, let alone the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres fitted to the Rallye. It’s not that the base GR Yaris is bad in any way, but the Rallye offers more grip and an even better experience. For more money…

Now onto more of the good stuff the GR Yaris does. The front McPherson strut suspension give the GR Yaris pin sharp turn-in and the wide track of the Corolla’s multi link at the rear gives the rear a planted feel. Don’t expect any theatrics here, there’s very little oversteer and some mild understeer when you go past the limit.

The high levels of ride comfort came as a very big shock. The suspension does a brilliant job of soaking up large bumps and the Yaris felts quiet and composed on freeway stints. Even road noise was subdued for this type of car. Very unexpected.

The massive four-piston 356mm brakes up front and twin-piston 297mm rear brakes offer impressive stopping power and the pedal has good feel. Fun fact, they’re even larger than those on the Toyota Supra.

Interior & Practicality: 8/10

Sadly, the awe of the driving experience fades a little when you start to explore the GR Yaris’ interior. It feels decent for a sports car, but you’re quickly reminded that you are in fact, inside a Toyota Yaris. There are splashes of sportiness throughout the cabin, such as the beautifully supportive and comfortable front seats covered in Alcantara, a bespoke heated steering wheel and wonderfully old school analogue gauges. It might all seem a little boring and drab in here, but all the materials feel built to last, as you would expect from a Toyota.

Sadly, they’re set way too high on their seat rails and we couldn’t help but wonder why Toyota couldn’t make them go lower. We’re told they can’t go lower as rally drivers like to sit upright for better visibility. Sitting so high and with a roof lower than the normal Yaris spells disaster for taller drivers, as our 6 foot 4 friend found out. The rear view mirror also tends to block your view of what is going on to your left.

The infotainment system feels a little old fashioned with its matte textured 7.0-inch screen, but it does the job running both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay without any dramas, whilst the stereo manages to sound better than expected in this little pocket rocket.

There is enough legroom up front, and plenty of space to pop your phone and perhaps a medium sized bottle into the door bins. Rear seats feel a tad dark and claustrophobic due to the small windows in the back, but they are totally fine for use on short journeys.

The boot is tiny with just 141L of space, which might take a few shopping bags or a helmet or two at best. It’s covered with a very flimsy looking cover, designed to reduce weight as much as possible. Folding the rear seats brings 737L but the floor is still shallow and the boot lip is high, with a huge battery under the boot floor and no spare tyre in sight.

Service & Warranty: 7.5/10

Toyota consistently offers an excellent after sales package and the 2021 the Toyota GR Yaris costs just $260 to service every six months or 10,000km for the first three years. Toyota covers all GR Yarises with its five year and unlimited kilometre warranty, which is now the industry standard. We’re not entirely sure if the warranty extends to track use like in the case of the Hyundai i30 N, where Hyundai will not void your warranty even after multiple track days.

The 2021 Toyota GR Yaris DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.3 

Whilst the GR Yaris Rallye might offer ever so slightly more performance and precision, turning up the base GR Yaris’ driving experience to 11, there is nothing inherently wrong with the cheaper model. It saves you quite a lot of money and still showcases the essence of the GR Yaris.

What is apparent however is that the world’s largest car manufacturer is alive again. Toyota has found its mojo with the GR Yaris, designing what is easily one of the most memorable cars we have ever driven. Yes, it might not be perfect with its odd seating position, and steep pricing now that the hype has died down, but it is truly an impeccable driving machine. It offers so much more than any other hot hatch on sale today with its AWD system and exotic engineering. Having a carbon fibre roof in a WRC-inspired Toyota Yaris would have been the stuff of fantasies a few years ago. And yet, Toyota have delivered.

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