Thursday 19 September 2019

A Yaris like you've never seen. And, er, you can't buy it...

Sizzling hatch a sign of tomorrow's world

Toyota Yaris GRMN
Toyota Yaris GRMN
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

What's seldom is wonderful they say so I hope, in that spirit, you'll divert with me from the practical paths we normally tread. It's an unusual situation in that you can't buy the car I've just been driving for love nor money.

Ireland got its full 'allocation' of just one (out of a total limited run of 400) so we envy the sole, and presumably proud, owner of this Toyota Yaris GRMN sizzling 3dr hatchback.

The 400 sold out before the car hit the roads; therefore unless you go abroad or buy it second-hand somewhere you can't purchase or drive one here. On that basis, God help us, you'll have to rely on my inadequate outline of what it was like to drive.

But why, I hear you ask, would I waste your time driving and assessing something that isn't immediately relevant and obtainable?

Well, it's not a waste (I hope). So much of what it took to make this outrageous GRMN version a reality, will filter down into other, far more affordable Toyotas in the not-too-distant future.

Therefore it is a car for tomorrow's world in some respects - but also a full-blooded performance car of the present.

You'd never know; in a couple of years, you could be driving a Yaris, or its equivalent mainstream stablemate, that has many bits of GRMN DNA making it better, safer, more dynamic - and affordable.

And it won't cost €42,000 (roughly the price of the 'only' Irish GRMN).

Every so often Toyota like to show what they can do when they pull out all the stops on the high-performance front. That's what they've done with this. They're seriously into competitive motoring and this is to mark their return to world rallying. GRMN, by the way, stands for Gazoo Racing Meister Nurburgring. Not to be attempted with a mouthful of muesli.

For performance and the trickle-down effect to be worthwhile they had to go to extremes when developing it.

The road-going result, I hope, is justification for giving you a taste of something as much at home on the competitive routes of the world as on pot-hole-pocked Irish roads.

The super-strong-tweaked sport chassis (body 24mm lower than ordinary Yaris) fairly thudded on stretches of Wexford and Wicklow backroads.

But the car clung like glue to surfaces on tight and twisty routes. The feedback was sensational; the sense of energy, grip and propulsion would intoxicate a teetotaller. The way the car is set up built my confidence with every turn of the wheel. Of course the right place for it is a race or rally circuit. But you can drive it 'gently' in everyday mode with some reward too.

The fun, and the danger, on narrow 'blind-turn' roads is you want to push it harder all the time. There was one section of my drives that, on its own, made the whole exercise worthwhile. There were a few seconds of power, poise and propulsion when I wished I was a rally driver. Luckily I've long known my severe limitations, which means I could never stretch this car remotely enough to discover if it came up short on many, or any fronts.

My one basic, and obvious, complaint was the shuddering when its stiffened chassis passed over the teeth-rattling (that's another story) jarring of the potholes.

Another whinge was the labour involved in getting into the back as the front seats grudgingly yielded passage.

But they're minor cribs for a car I didn't need to drive fast to enjoy. And the odd squirt to 120kmh on open motorway had even the laconic youngest daughter reacting to its energy.

Yes, its 0-100kmh time of 6.2 seconds sounds 'slow' for a 212bhp motor in this size of car but it felt like half that time, such was the swiftness of acceleration (the weight-to-power ratio is impressive).

There was such an energetic buzz about the whole drive (6spd manual a delight to shift).

The trick for Toyota was making it lightweight enough for the 212bhp 1.8-litre engine to have optimum impact.

But driving it, I wasn't thinking that much of all the engineering, mechanical innovations and problems they had to devise and overcome to make this a road runner.

A supercharger, which also acts as a cooling unit and air intake, gives some idea of the complexity involved.

They sure put a lot of work into something that yielded just 400 cars, didn't they?

So it has to be about a lot more than just that. Has to be.

I'd say if only 1/100th of what they've done with, and learned from, this ultimately finds its way into your next Yaris, Auris or Corolla this GRMN adventure will have been well justified.


Toyota Yaris GRMN, 1.8-litre 3dr super-hot hatch, 212bhp 0-100kmh in 6.4 secs, 170g/km, €570 tax. Top speed 230kmh (electronically limited).

Price (if you could get one) around €42,000.

Spec includes: Alcantara upholstery, bucket front seats, sat nav, Toyota Touch multi-information system (6 speakers), climate control, 17ins forged alloys (205/45 tyres), rear spoiler/diffuser, centre exhaust, GRMN badges, body stickers, LED DRLS, front fogs, auto light/rain sensors, stability control, 15ins disc brakes, Torsen limited slip differential, rear twist beam suspension.

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