2020 Toyota Yaris GR road test: A truly special, special

Thank heavens Toyota goes rallying. And even bigger thanks that it does well at it. That is why the Yaris GR is here. Joe Dunn drove it

Joe Dunn driving the 2020 Toyota Yaris GR

Toyota Yaris GR

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The Toyota Yaris you see here has a carbon fibre roof panel. That’s right. On a Yaris. It also has four-wheel drive and the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine. It will hit 60mph in 5.5sec and pull to 70mph in third. It is perhaps the most appealing hot-hatch of the modern era.

For all the above you can thank Toyota’s World Rally Championship programme. The team – run by Finnish legend Tommi Mäkinen – won the 2019 drivers’ world title and is fighting to claim this year’s, with Welsh driver Elfyn Evans hoping to become the first British world champion since Richard Burns in 2001.

Mäkinen and his rally outfit was instrumental in designing this new Yaris, which was built as a homologation special for Toyota’s 2021 WRC car. The rally car has become obsolete as a result of changing regulations, but the road-going variant is anything but. Toyota describes it as a rally car for the road and after driving it on the roads of West Sussex, it is hard to disagree.

Tommi Makinen in 2020

Mäkinen played a key role in the car’s creation

The most noticeable difference between it and the standard Yaris is a lower roofline, which slopes at the rear. It gives the car a more urgent posture but was engineered for practical purposes in order to improve airflow over the roof and onto the large wing on the rally version to aid downforce. Similar competition touches abound: three rather than five doors to aid aerodynamics, frameless windows for improved rigidity, special polymer bumpers for reduced weight…

The chassis has been re-engineered using the current Yaris platform at the front, but at the rear it uses the slightly wider one from the Corolla, which was needed to accommodate the all-wheel drive system (the company’s first original version for 20 years). The engine is not only the most powerful but also the smallest and lightest 1.6 litre available.

Press the start button and an aurally enhanced exhaust note is pumped into the Alcantara-clad cabin complete with WRC badging. Press the drilled throttle pedal and the fun really starts. On slippery autumnal roads, the Yaris is a blast: planted in the corners, punchy coming out of them. The car is more engaging and enthusiastic than anything I can remember. The tech might be cutting edge but the feel is old-school mechanical – and all the better for it.

Rear of the 2020 Toyota Yaris GR

Small, light, powerful and perfectly chuckable. There’s little not to love here

On narrow roads, working the wonderful gearbox, tapping the throttle to downshift, chucking it into the bends with growing confidence, it is enough not only to bring a smile to your face but to forget all worldly worries entirely.

So, a lightweight, high-powered, hi-tech pocket rocket that makes driving fun again. It costs just under £30,000, in standard spec, which is pricey for a hatchback but after a few hours throwing it about on the road I found it offers the best cure for lockdown cabin fever this side of a Covid vaccine. And that must make it the bargain of the year.

Toyota Yaris GR specification

  • Price £29,995
  • Engine 1.6 litre, three cylinders, turbocharged
  • Power 257bhp
  • Weight 1280kg
  • Power to weight 200bhp per tonne
  • Transmission 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
  • 0-60mph 5.5sec
  • Top speed 143mph
  • Economy 34.3mpg
  • CO₂ 184g/km
  • Verdict Exactly how a small hot-hatch should be. It’s wonderful