Toyota is establishing Gazoo Racing, or 'GR', as its performance arm that will draw on the brand’s motorsport experience to produce exciting production cars in the future. The Yaris GRMN is the first model outside of Japan to spearhead this development and we had the opportunity to drive the fiery 3-door hatchback on local soil at Dezzi Raceway in KwaZulu-Natal this week.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way, shall we? You can’t buy the Yaris GRMN in South Africa. It’s a sad fact, we know. The reality is that only 400 examples of the Yaris GRMN were built, predominantly for the European market and that Toyota South Africa managed to acquire only 3, which will now be used as marketing vehicles to showcase the evolution of Toyota’s performance-minded products. Nonetheless, TMSA was keen to unleash the Yaris GRMN on track and, truth be told, so were we…
What is it?
The potent Yaris GRMN draws inspiration from the Yaris WRC and brings Toyota's racing expertise to the road.
The Yaris GRMN is based on the 3-door Yaris (not sold in SA) and is infused with Rally DNA inspired by the Toyota’s Yaris WRC rally car, but engineered for the road.
The Yaris GRMN was honed on the famous Nürburgring, hence its name which means "Gazoo Racing (tuned by the) Meister (of the) Nürburgring". As such, it’s fitted with bespoke performance bits such as lightweight 17-inch BBS alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza rubber, larger brakes, a black rear spoiler and a central oval tailpipe. The look of the Yaris GRMN is finished off with the Gazoo Racing colours in white, black and red and badging on the tailgate and behind the front wheel arch.
Furthermore, the chassis has been stiffened and the model is equipped with a Torsen limited-slip differential to maximise handling capability. The Yaris GRMN rides approximately 24 mm lower than a standard Yaris thanks to its shorter springs, while the front McPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension setup is complemented by Sachs performance shock absorbers. Stopping power is provided by 275-mm, 4-piston calliper front disc brake, with 278-mm discs fitted at the rear.
The Yaris GRMN's supercharged 1.8-litre engine produces 156 kW and 250 Nm which is a lot for a car that weighs only 1 135 kg.
The source of joy lurking under the bonnet is a UK-built, 1.8-litre 16-valve engine with a Magnusson Eaton supercharger that produces outputs of 156 kW and 250 Nm of torque. The front wheels are driven through a 6-speed manual gearbox and Toyota claims a zero to 100 kph sprint time of 6.3 seconds, with top speed limited to 230 kph.
It’s worth noting that the Yaris GRMN weighs only 1 135 kg and, consequently, claims to exhibit the best power to weight ratio in its class at 7.28 kg per kW.
With the above information in mind, it’s abundantly clear that this is no ordinary Yaris and we couldn’t wait to see how it performed out on the track.
What's it like to drive?
It's quick off the mark and throttle response is instant with a progressive acceleration that seems to have no end.
Our first local taste of the Yaris GRMN took place on the roads of KwaZulu-Natal en route to Dezzi Raceway situated on the South Coast. The Yaris GRMN is fitted with figure-hugging sports seats and sports attractive touches such as a GR-badged leather steering wheel, GR start/stop button and a sporty GR instrument cluster.
Its taut chassis and firmer suspension make its performance intentions clear from the outset and its raspy exhaust note is a guilty (aural) pleasure. Acceleration is both instantaneous and progressive when you mash the pedal to the floor and the short-throw manual shifter is a pleasure to wield. The Yaris GRMN is quick off the mark and the surge of power continues through the rev band and in-gear acceleration, even in 6th, was impressive.
At the track, we were able to open the taps and let the Yaris GRMN run free for 6 laps. In this controlled setting, the Yaris’ handling capability shone through as it whipped through the tight, elevated corners with consummate ease. It’s so well composed and planted through the corners and with its instant throttle response, the driver can really go buck-wild to get the most from the engine. It certainly was entertaining to drive…
Giniel de Villiers pushed the Yaris GRMN to its limits at Dezzi Raceway.
Then, Giniel De Villiers, South Africa’s Dakar Rally hero made an appearance along with Gazoo Racing rally ace, Guy Botteril. Giniel took to the wheel and unleashed the Yaris GRMN on Dezzi Raceway in a way that only he can. The Yaris GRMN was driven hard and fast through the tight bends. Giniel pushed the Yaris to the limits and even then, it cornered with staggering speed. It was astounding to see the Yaris GRMN cope with such composure with a talented helmsman behind the wheel.
Toyota South Africa also had the recently upgraded 86 on hand and Botteril demonstrated the fun-to-drive nature of the rear-wheel-drive sports coupe at Dezzi.
Perhaps the most nostalgic part of the day was the opportunity to drive the much-loved Corolla RSi, which forms part of Toyota’s local heritage. This was a throw-back to the icon of the late 90’s and with little over 30 000 km on the clock, the high-revving 1.6-litre engine proved to be a highlight on the day.
Only 400 Yaris GRMN's were produced for the European market and it will therefore not be offered in South Africa.
Toyota may not always be top-of-mind when it comes to thrilling performance production cars, but with Gazoo Racing set to entrench itself as Toyota’s performance arm, enthusiasts can expect to see more exciting performance models filtering into Toyota showrooms in the future. The Yaris GRMN is the start of that process and even though it won’t be sold in South Africa, the forthcoming Supra will surely ignite the performance flame that enthusiasts are clamouring for.