Dirty GR Yaris badge, a sign of honour.

Review: 2021 Toyota GR Yaris

By Ethan Burrell - Posted 14/03/2021. Post on DriveTribe also on 14/03/2021.

A guaranteed icon, future classic & a potential car of a generation.

Like its forefathers before it, the Yaris GR seeks to inspire the next generation of petrolheads to a brighter future; where acceleration, handling & unfailing excitement prevail over the abyss of perverted electro science.

Is it 'THAT' good?

Maybe its not as good as we think, maybe it falls short of previous homologation specials - if it existed, would an Evo 11 make this little car seem crude & unfinished? Maybe we as true, raw, car bores revere the Yaris purely because it gives hope that the clutches of the Crossover & Electron haven't snuffed out the Chevron pump yet?

But I don't believe that, and neither should you, this car does indeed deserve all the praise it gets. I have been extremely fortunate to spend a full week with a Garis, using it as my sole car - commuting, shopping & drive-thruing it to my hearts content; and I can say with absolute certainty that as I write this I have never wanted to own a car I have driven more than this. This particular car, NTA (National Television Awards), [not only looks the bollocks, if manners maketh man then blistered arches and big ducts maketh good looking car] is a privately owned Circuit Pack example which I have access to through my employer and features some early prototype/pre-production aftermarket parts fitted including a cat-back exhaust, tuning box and air filter.

Dirt don't slow you down.

During my week I managed a few hundred miles in many conditions, though most were Welsh Rally spec, meaning the car got nice & dirty - mudflaps would be worthwhile modification on the rear to prevent spray up the rear window since we are sin-wiper. However as Magnus says, dirt don't slow you down; in fact very little does slow the pace of the Yaris. The rate of which you can cover ground in this car is nothing short of astonishing; the point-to-point pace will leave much more 'serious' performance cars in the bunker - Golf R owners you have been warned. In my local area I have two back roads at my disposal that I like to take cars down, they're nicely mapped but have questionable surfaces; ideal for forming the infamous Burrell verdict.

I've been lucky over the years to drive to very fast cars down these roads & nothing would keep up with this Yaris: in less than ideal conditions the magic of this car really shows, the chassis & steering are perfectly judged - the Yaris breathes with the road; allowing for some horizontal movement to swallow imperfections but without breaking the contact patch. Never feeling disconnected to the ground regardless of speed gives an incredible sense of confidence the likes of which I've never felt before; the car feels alive beneath you but at the same time feels stuck to the surface, egging you on to push harder but protecting you at the same time; and its these qualities that permit the extraction of performance in all conditions - this also makes the car feel exciting at all times & all speeds (flattering when going quickly too) which is something that cannot be said for the vast majority of modern enthusiast cars.

I preferred Sport mode for spirited driving on the road, track funnily enough felt a bit to serious for my liking - almost as if it is for the track. The engine feels incredibly strong right from the get go; its heavily turbocharged meaning there is some lag and delay low down but overall the response is very impressive; above three grand it pulls hard all the way to limiter at seven thousand without protest; the engine feels nice and smooth throughout but as its a triple I assume it is on some soft engine mounts to give this; so for regular, intense track work a beefed up oil pump or stiffer mounts may be of interest to prevent starvation - but on the road this is nothing to consider.

Off boost it sounds and feels quite similar to the Ford 1.5T Ecoboost found in the MK8 ST, but when it comes on song the Toyota unit is so much more wild - I haven't driven or experienced a real WRC engine (I would like too if anyone is reading this and has access to a car) but between 3.5k revs and the top this engine has a really agro, muscly feel, it gathers revs quickly & it certainly doesn't feel held back by the turbo in terms of how the engine builds revolutions; if it was a bloke it'd be a short bouncer that no one messes with. Admittedly the development DTUK tuning box will help, but these characteristics are only enhanced with the tune, the standard engine has all of this in buckets before fettling.

Sound is very important in a sports car; sadly as standard this is an area where the Yaris is lacking somewhat. There is some fake sound piped in, which is actually quite pleasant, but the actual sound of the car (exhaust) barely makes itself into the cabin; turbo noise is also wispier quiet. Externally the car is very quiet too so don't expect impressive YouTube flybys until the worlds aftermarket exhaust manufacturers have finished their work; speaking of NTA has a development Milltek Sport system fitted which more then proves this point. There is a distinct management change from touchy-feely to smashy-testes once something louder is fitted, finally the rally engine is allowed to speak its mind, and what a filthy mind it is - growls and genuine occasional pops are on the menu as well as a strangely 6 cylinder like tone at higher RPMs - again drawing comparisons with the Fiesta ST this has a much more motorsport feel to it; deeper and more aggressive in its delivery with a greater vocabulary of tones to play: its faster changing through those tones too. The turbo coming on board is now so apparent to the sound it almost has a VTEC like change over, you can play with this and make the car bark at passers by; should you be so childish like me. Its a shame this was kept locked away in the stock car; but its the nature of the world we are living in and while its subjective I feel these 4.5" tailpipes suit the car much better, that's 3" per cylinder! As far as I am concerned an exhaust upgrade is mandatory.

I know I said that very little does slow the Yaris down but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the phenomenal brakes, simply put they can keep whit with the pace of the car, which trust me is a real compliment. Great feel and confidence from them, no complaints - exactly what you want from a breaking system. As with virtually all modern cars if this is going to be a track toy and nothing more to you than a fluid & pad upgrade is probably worthwhile.

As impressive as the engine and straight line pace is, in my opinion the handling is the Yaris' best asset. In corner grip is far beyond anything I have experienced before, you can actually drive it like a video game - add throttle input mid angle and the car won't bite. I normally find myself drawn to cars with an edge of danger, this car doesn't have that really; you could argue its so capable & 'gripy' that I shouldn't find it so compelling, but its quite the contrary, its so far over that line that the confidence and flattery as a driver replaces my dare devil urge - if you have similar kinks to me don't feel you won't like this car because it's a grip machine, you might find you like even more than a twitchy back end causing increased heart rates.

On my first drive with NTA I took the long way home, via my favorite local road, it was late after work & I was tired so as I approached it I almost didn't feel up to it - but I'm glad the Yaris didn't feel the same way. The short two miles or so that the road is just disappeared and I entered a driving zen, when I got to the end I turned around & did the road again; and that kind of says it all really. I got home wide awake, no longer hungry for dinner as I'd just finished a meal of excitement with a side of adrenaline - this is a car that can make even the most callus of palms moist with sweat. I did eat dinner, but I went back out again and took my brother for a ride so I could share my enjoyment with someone, experiences and descriptions like that normally apply to a shin-high sex rocket not a 4 seater Toyota hatch-back.

Where are the Negatives? There must be negatives!!

There some negatives yes, during my week with NTA I made notes of a few things, but even as I was writing this I felt most are really splitting hairs complaints - you can find fault with it sure but when you take into account what this car is, and what it sets out to achieve they just seem trivial; but here they are anyway:

  • No navigation on Circuit Pack models (Toyota assume that if you're going to the track you will know where it is?).

  • No heated seats/heated steering wheel (maybe just on Circuit Pack models again).

  • Overly keen lane keep assist, the system is automatically activated when you start so needs to be deactivated everytime - you could of course use this but I assume this is configured for a normal Yaris and not a GR (not taking into account the increased width) as the system seems so easily upset & aggressive with its corrections.

  • Stereo a little naff, could be better for a car of this asking price, not too bad when turned up a lot but at a low volume it seems a bit weak.

  • Warning messages/lights are a little bright e.g. Start-stop disabled light; just a little bright compared to the rest of the cluster when dimmed at night.

  • Some none regular touch point materials are quite cheap and scratchy, fine in a normal Yaris but in a £30k+ car buyers may expect more (below main centre console etc).

  • Rain sounds quite loud on the Carbon Roof, tinny echo effect on the sound in the cabin.

  • Resting pedal heights a little odd and takes a bit of getting used to, the brake pedal rests noticeably higher than the throttle - makes for foot stretching when trying to heal & toe unless you have massive feet (I am size 11 and still noticed more movement that normal) - towards the end of my week I did get used to this completely however.

  • Slight rev hang below 2000rpm, can make for slightly jerky low speed maneuvering (car parking etc), but again this is something you get used to and act around quite quickly.

The only real complaint I have is the same one that pretty much everyone else has commented on which is how high the seat it mounted, it is strangely high - an unfortunate carry over from the normal Yaris hatchback DNA. The seat itself is nice, the issue lies with the mounts it is on and how high (and nonadjustable) they are; so this is something that can be fixed by the aftermarket with either replacement mounts/rails or simply replacement seats, its a bit of shame that on a brand new car buyers will be contemplating removing the seats for replacement items; but nothings perfect I suppose.

Side note on the seats, I wrote that paragraph earlier in the week and I've left it unchanged as its totally accurate I wanted to add that by the end of the week while I did still find the seat too high for my liking it no longer bothered me & didn't find it uncomfortable.

Life with the Wild one.

Life overall is very good as you would imagine, I even had strangers wind down windows in traffic to show their appreciation of the car, which I can say I have not had before in anything I've driven - its a peoples car.

While I have been driving in a spirited manner most of the time, the fuel economy isn't great - maybe when she has some more miles are on her it'll improve with time but as it stands don't expect to be passing too many V Power pumps; conveniently most petrol stations have a form of supermarket within: I don't do a lot of shopping however I did go to Asda to buy mothers day presents and Easter eggs, and when I returned with my wares I noticed that the boot starts in line with the lid itself - the 4WD system eats up any and all boot floor leaving pure boot space similar to that of an MX5; still adequate for my eggs mind you. That same 4WD system that has a taste for boot floors is also partial to very tight parking spaces, the turning circle is fine but its not amazing, a Fiesta ST or 208 GTI would fair better here, so if a space is very tight and you don't have any room to line yourself up beforehand - best look for a space elsewhere.

I've heard some criticism of the interior design but I personally don't have an issue with it, its not amazing but I've certainly seen worse - touch point materials are nice, fit and finish is very good & everything is very intuitive as you would expect from Toyota. I suppose it could be more glamed up over a standard Yaris but given the cost of the car and the amount of engineering development that went into this car I feel we & the buyers are happy to make concessions here.


This is my first review, talk about a baptism of fire, but I think I can sum up my thoughts; the GR Yaris is one of those rare things that really does live up to the almost unbelievable hype around it, it's the real deal, this will be the car to inspire the next generation of petrolheads which in my opinion is this cars true aim, even more so than to go rallying.

In my opinion this cars importance to the industry and car enthusiasm as a whole cannot be over stressed; inspirational but obtainable & desirable drivers cars are just as important throughout the history of the automobile as supercars on posters in terms of bringing next generation into the love of the motorcar, as someone who grew up with a Ferrari F50 and Mitsubishi Evo 8 on my wall, I know this to be true.

This is car is now enjoying prime realestate at the top of my next car list & I hope to buy one sooner rather than later.