The Yaris GRMN is Toyota’s attempt to make the bewinged beasts of the WRC seem more closely related to the showroom models. Unlike its rallying sibling, however, the Yaris GRMN isn’t four-wheel drive or overly fast.
To you and me, GRMN is as unfamiliar as it is clumsy. It stands for Gazoo Racing Meister of Nurburgring, which probably sounds more poetic to a native Japanese speaker than it does to the rest of us. Sadly, for us, the Yaris GRMN will be limited to just 400 units – sold exclusively in Europe.
It uses a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder that will develop about 155kW. Toyota’s stated objective for the Yaris GRMN is bold: for it to be the lightest, fastest and most powerful car in its class. It remains front-wheel drive, although the body structure has been stiffened and the springs and dampers are bespoke.
There is even a Torsen limited-slip differential. For project leader Stijn Peeters and chief engineer Yoshinori Sasaki, the entire project has been a battle. You get the feeling that had they pitched four-wheel drive and 220kW, the idea of a Yaris GRMN wouldn’t have survived.
Production won’t begin until the end of spring, which means the car isn’t quite finished yet. Even at this prototype stage, though, it is a huge amount of fun to drive. The Sachs dampers are fixed rate and there are no complicated driving modes. The exhaust barks out a snorty, tinny tune, rather than the popping that accompanies many small hot hatches.
The Yaris GRMN is brilliantly simple. The specially developed sports seats offer lots of support, although they’re set a little high and the GT86- sourced steering wheel doesn’t extend quite far enough. The pedals are also spaced a little awkwardly for heel and toe downshifts.
Those things are all determined by Toyota’s unbendable global standards, which means the engineers’ hands were tied. The chassis is just about as focused as they come in this sector. It feels firm, with lots of support at each corner, but there’s enough quality in the damping to deal with most road surfaces.
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It’s taut, this Yaris; it feels just a set of sticky tyres and some bucket seats away from being a tarmac rally car. The Bridgestone tyres don’t generate huge grip, which means the car’s limits are well within reach on the road. That makes it a real blast to drive but, before too long, those modest grip levels might well become a frustration.
It might not deliver the strong, boosty acceleration of a turbo unit, but the supercharged engine feels potent and offers instantaneous throttle response, which no turbo engine does. The LSD works subtly, but effectively to give good traction. The manual gearbox is reasonable, the steering is decent and the four-pot brakes feel strong.
No matter the price, driving doesn’t get a whole lot more amusing than this. The Yaris GRMN isn’t the lightly detuned WRC monster some will have been hoping for, but it’s a very promising hot hatch.
4 stars out of 5
Likes: Sweet engine; dynamic ability
Dislikes: Not coming to Oz; needs more grip; ergonomics
Toyota Yaris GRMN prototype specs
Engine: 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, supercharger
0-100km/h: 6.3sec (estimated)
Price: $41,490 (estimated)