Monday 21 January 2019

Why are Toyota only making 400 Yaris GRMN hot hatches? You'll have to just wait and see

First drive in Barcelona: Toyota Yaris GRMN

Toyota Yaris GRMN
Toyota Yaris GRMN
Toyota Yaris GRMN interior

Aidan Timmons

First the bad news. Only one Irish person is getting an ultra-rare Toyota Yaris GRMN (Gazoo Racing Meister Nurburgring). Indeed only 400 models are being made. And the entire lot was sold between Europe and Japan while the car was still in pre-production.

It is likely that the €42,000 (approximately) price tag here would have dented sales anyway.

But why did a mass market behemoth, which sells millions of models globally, bother making such a limited thing at all?

Toyota says it's to mark the company's return to World Rallying, but another answer might lie more in the future than in the present.

Toyota Yaris GRMN interior
Toyota Yaris GRMN interior

The two years it took Toyota to develop a supremely lightweight hot hatch with a segment-leading power-to-weight ratio (0-100kmh in 6.2 secs) is the production line equivalent of performing heart surgery in a heartbeat.

The first problem was shoehorning a 1.8-litre motor into an engine bay which more suitably houses a 1-litre 3cyl. Once it fitted, the next hurdles were making it quicker and cooling it. Problem solved with a fancy supercharger, which triples as a cooling unit and air intake. Clever.

The performance exhaust had to be meandered around the bottom of the chassis like a boa constrictor. The whole car was stiffened to keep the Yaris' regular skeleton from warping. For the sake of just 400 cars, the whole venture sounds like Toyota also made a rod for its own back.

On the face of it, the Yaris GRMN sounds like it was a rushed job, but any notions of corner-cutting are removed from the first turn of the steering wheel or press on the accelerator pedal.

The car hunkers down 24mm lower than a regular Yaris and expensive Sachs suspension limits all body roll in fast, sweeping bends; the type for which our test route around the Barcelona mountainside is famous.

The decision to supercharge the engine instead of simply bolting a turbo onto it was a stroke of genius. In a hark back to older Japanese hot hatches, you drive the car all the way to the limiter to extract the most from it. It's a great buzz.

And the Yaris doesn't run out of puff too easily either. Every gear pulls with gusto and, even on a few laps around a test track, it never felt out of place on long straights or tight hairpins (I ran out of talent before the Yaris GRMN could run out of ability). It's all very usable, which again begs the question of why on earth Toyota limited production?

The company is famous for streamlining the large-scale production process. Few match it. Big companies can oftentimes find that they lose agility, and being agile in the motor trade will be central to succeeding in a volatile landscape where through technology and legislation, car companies will need to adapt and adapt quickly. Consolidating Gazoo Racing with Toyota's other motorsports ventures and building the Yaris GRMN in the fashion it did and in the time it took might be a somewhat concealed test of the company's pulse. And it is clearly very much alive.

As far back as 1952, Kiichiro Toyoda (yes, with a 'd'), Toyota's founder, said car racing was "vital to the development of the Japanese passenger vehicle industry [....] enabling them to discover new ways of advancing automotive technology".

So, just because you can't buy the Yaris GRMN does not mean you won't soon benefit from its existence and the lessons learned from its whistle-stop production.

To the one Irish person who has managed to secure one, if you are reading this, you won't have to wait much longer for your own heart-racing experience. To the rest of us, we will just have to wait to see where Toyota's re-investment in motorsport will take them. If the Yaris GRMN is anything to go by, the signs are promising.

Irish Independent

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