Hot hatch Yaris selling like hot cakes

·4-min read

There must be some mistake.

This review is supposed to be about the Toyota Yaris. A car, as we know, that's as cute as a baby spaniel and only marginally more athletic.

An inoffensive little hatchback that businesses use to collect mail or pick up the boss' children from school. The kind of car to which people give cutesy names. My wife's previous employer, for instance, had an office Yaris called Paris.

But the Yaris GR Four is unlike any other Yaris.

Well, it does share many of its components with the small car we've come to love ... and ignore. It has a Yaris nameplate on the rear hatch, and there's a tiny, three-cylinder engine, like many city-centric cars.

But that's about where the similarities end. That nameplate sits just above a wild air diffuser and the twin exhaust pipes which are very un-Yaris.

You see, the Yaris GR Four is actually the street-going version of Toyota''s current contender in the World Rally Championship. It is to the Yaris what David Warner is to opening batsmen.

It's fast, noisy and utterly attention-grabbing. It's also the most recent and most extreme example of the transformation taking place at Toyota - from boring builder of functional machines into a company whose vehicles are sporty, stylish and exciting. What started with redesigns of the Corolla and Camry then saw the rebirth of Toyota's most charismatic model - the Supra.

Now comes the Yaris GR4. It's the only Toyota, other than the Supra, to wear the "GR" designation. It stands for Toyota's Gazoo Racing performance arm. As the GR logo suggests, it's inherited some pretty exclusive DNA from the Supra, even though that car is essentially a rebadged and restyled BMW Z4 in a deal between two of the world's biggest car makers.

The same deal has seen components like the Yaris' three-cylinder engine utilised in cars like BMW's 1-Series and its popular Mini Cooper.

In the Mini that engine is good for about 100kW. In this totally insane Yaris, through the miracle of modern science, it delivers 200kW and 370Nm - astonishing outputs for an engine basically designed to be clean and frugal.

Weaponising a car like the Yaris might seem like madness for Toyota, but they've actually been rather clever. In order for the car to be eligible to compete in the World Rally Championship, it must be homologated, with enough sales to pass the rules.

To ensure they met their targets, the Yaris GR was offered at reduced, drive-away prices until they had attracted sufficient buyers. In Australia, They sold 250 in the first 30 minutes and more than 500 on the first day. Australia's allocation of 1000 was gone within a week.

The car has settled at an asking price of just under $50,000, making it a very expensive Yaris (the entry-level model will cost you barely $20-grand) but competitively priced against rivals like VW's iconic Golf R. Subaru's WR-X and Hyundai's i30N.

Officially it will scowl its way to the speed limit in just over five seconds, although some private testing has apparently covered the journey half a second quicker.

With permanent all wheel drive and a sophisticated series of differentials and electronic traction aides, the GR Four sticks to the road like a cat to carpet, yet in the process delivers a surprisingly compliant and comfortable ride.

In full voice it sounds epic and delivers staggering, other-worldly acceleration.

The exterior styling matches its rally-car heritage, albeit with lovely alloy wheels and a proliferation of wings and things.

Inside, there's grippy suede-leather seats, touch-screen multimedia and a range of electronic driver aids that keep the whole show on the road (or off the road if rallying).

The cockpit is sharply presented, or at least as sharply as it's reasonable to expect from a car based on a sub-$20k donor model.

The real value, of course, is beneath the bonnet.

It's as much fun as any vehicle I've driven in recent memory (Renault's Alpine 110 is one of the few to compare), and certainly more engaging than anything vaguely within the price range.

TOYOTA YARIS GR FOUR

* HOW BIG? A compact city car, but in this configuration gets two doors (the basic Yaris has four) and four seats (compared to five). There's decent space for luggage.

* HOW FAST? Phenomenally so. As it snarls through the gears, you can't help but wonder how an engine so small can sound, and feel, so much bigger.

* HOW THIRSTY? Being only three cylinders, it's actually economical if driven sedately (as if). In normal traffic expect about 7.6L/100km.

* HOW MUCH? Again, its price bears little resemblance to a Yaris. But at just under $50,000, it's the bargain feel-good car of the year.