The best new car deal of the decade
Who would have thought the humble Toyota Yaris would sit at the same table as the legendary BMW M3, Subaru WRX STI, Ford Falcon GT-HO or Holden Torana GTR XU-1?
Yet here we are.
Toyota built the GR Yaris to go racing. Its World Rally Championship team wanted a wider, lower car with a rigid three-door layout and had to offer that to the public in order to compete. Though the new rally car has been put on ice thanks to coronavirus-related budget restrictions - WRC pilots must make do with an older car - enthusiasts still have the opportunity to buy a machine created with motorsport in mind.
Toyota Australia underestimated demand for the GR Yaris, which sold out when the first 1000 cars went on sale for $39,950 drive-away. It now costs $49,500 plus on-road costs if you can secure one, which likely won't be until the end of next year.
The "Gazoo Racing" Yaris has many of the ingredients necessary to build a truly special car - a bespoke engine and four-wheel-drive system, distinctive looks, engaging dynamics and an interesting backstory.
Powered by a 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine, the Yaris serves up 200kW and 370Nm of turbocharged grunt. It has more power than a Subaru WRX while undercutting the lightest Rex by 213 kilos, resulting in a formidable power-to-weight ratio.
Rapid-fire gearing for its manual transmission helps the Yaris reach 100km/h in 5.2 seconds, a figure that doesn't truly reflect its pace as you need third to reach the highway limit. It feels rapid in the real world.
Quick steering and powerful brakes helped by its relatively slender 1280kg weight translate to effortless progress. Unlike mainstream rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI or Hyundai i30 N, the Yaris doesn't have multi-mode suspension with a comfort setting. Fixed dampers are firm but not uncomfortable, particularly given the car's focus.
Instead, "Normal", "Sport" and "Track" settings shift power between the front and rear axles as required.
Customers who want firmer shocks can consider the more focused GR Yaris Rallye arriving next year with track-tuned suspension, limited-slip differentials and Michelin tyres in lieu of the standard car's Dunlops.
That car costs $56,200 drive-away, which is steep for a three-door hatch that isn't particularly practical, with a tiny boot, no spare tyre and two cozy seats in the rear.
Tall drivers won't like its strangely high seating position, particularly if they plan to wear a helmet on track. Sports seats, a meaty steering wheel and suede-like material help perk up an otherwise basic cabin. As with the regular Yaris, the GR has a 7-inch touchscreen with satnav, a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Safety gear includes auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring.
The GR Yaris is a cracker. Early adopters got the deal of the decade, picking up an engaging motorsport-bred performance car for a bargain price. It's a new class leader for compact hot hatches.
TOYOTA YARIS GR VITALS
Price: From $49,500 plus on-road costs
Engine: 1.6-litre 3-cyl turbo, 200kW/370Nm
Safety: Not rated, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance
Warranty/Service: 5-year/u'ltd km, $1560 for 3 years
Cargo: 141 litres
Spare: Repair kit
ON TRACK FOR SUCCESS
This is a Yaris like no other. Braking for turn one at Sydney Motorsport Park at a little more than 200km/h, the Yaris feels surprisingly stable given its compact dimensions.
Oversized brakes have no problem hauling the little hatch down from speed, providing easily-modulated stopping power on corner entry. The Yaris' variable drive is fun to experiment with, encouraging you to play with its balance in slow corners.
Though the all-wheel-drive system offers impressive traction, the firecracker of a motor has more than enough grunt to spin all four wheels in entertaining fashion.
Ordinary tyres compromise the Yaris' ultimate track potential - the Dunlops give up earlier than circuit-friendly rubber, but leave room for the GR Yaris Rallye to improve on an impressive package
Originally published as The best new car deal of the decade