Toyota reveals shock new sporty car
It's been too long since Toyota did anything like the GR Yaris,and Naohiko Saito knows it. The car's chief engineer is emotional as he describes his project as the first truly Toyota sports car in decades.
The Japanese giant has two sports cars in its current line-up, but both these rear-drive coupes are joint creations. Toyota teamed with Subaru to develop the 86 and BMW to create the new GR Supra (GR stands for Gazoo Racing). For the all-wheel-drive GR Yaris, Toyota turned instead to its company library.
There engineer Saito found the records for the Celica GT-Four, the company's last completely home-made sports coupe. He studied the old technical papers carefully before beginning work on the GR Yaris three years ago.
With a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel-drive, the Celica GT-Four was the basis for a string of World Rally Championship titles through the middle 1990s, driven by stars like Sainz, Kankkunen and Auriol. Despite the success, Toyota killed the GT-Four in 1999.
The GR Yaris, due to reach Australia late in 2020, will strive to emulate its forebear. As well as providing a basis for both WRC and Australian Rally Championship racers, it will add some sporty spice to Toyota showrooms.
It will be a very different car from the new-generation Yaris that arrives in the middle of next year. The GR Yaris is a three-door hatch, not five-door like the normal version. Toyota's all-new 1.6-litre turbo three-cylinder engine will be seen for the first time in the GR Yaris. Maximum power will be around 185kW, similar to the final version of the Celica GT-Four, and torque will peak above 350Nm. These are impressively high numbers for an engine this size.
Further details were revealed by Saito at a recent long-range preview in Portugal. The car will have a six-speed manual transmission, and its full-time all-wheel-drive system is based on one used in the RAV4. The system varies the power split between front and rear axles according to the mode chosen by the driver; Normal is 60:40, Sport 30:70 and Track 50:50.
Multilink rear suspension replaces the simple bendy beam of the normal Yaris. Bigger, more powerful brake discs and calipers fill the 18-inch wheels of the GR Yaris, and a new rack makes its steering more direct.
Toyota promises the GR Yaris will be a lightweight. Its carbon fibre roof and aluminium doors and bonnet ensure it will come in under 1300kg. Lack of flab plus ample power adds up to a sub-6.0 second 0-100km/h time, according to Toyota.
Big power in a small car practically guarantees big-smile fun behind the wheel, but the GR Yaris is laugh-out-loud good. Toyota hired the Estoril Grand Prix circuit near Lisbon for a first taste of the car, then let us loose on winding Portuguese roads sometimes used as rally stages.
The throbby three-cylinder engine is a ripper, combining oodles of low-down oomph with great willingness to rev all the way to its 7000rpm redline. Slick shifting gears, strong brakes, quick-acting steering and firmly disciplined suspension complete an impressive dynamic picture.
After hitting 200km/h-plus down Estoril's long straight and carving neat lines through its corners, the GR Yaris handled public roads with equal skill. The engine's mid-range muscle makes it a quiet top-gear cruiser that's ever-ready to overtake. While sporty, the suspension rounds the rougher edges off road bumps.
At $35,000, a little above front-drive rivals like the VW Polo GTI and Renault Clio RS200, the Made-in-Japan GR Yaris would be a bargain.
"We understand that the car's got to be attainable," says Sean Hanley. But the Toyota Australia sales and marketing chief won't say what price he has in mind for the GR Yaris.
There are indications it could be costly. Hanley says the Performance Pack version of the GR Yaris, with limited-slip differentials front and rear, premium Michelin rubber and altered shock absorbers, will not come to Australia. This could be a cost-containment measure.
The car's Japanese creators are focused on making the GR Yaris affordable. "We must find more ways to reduce cost," admits Takashi Doi, assistant chief engineer, discussing preparations for production.
But for the moment, Toyota deserves some kudos for rekindling its long-dormant sporting spirit. It's about time …
Toyota is shy about taking on a long-established legend with the GR Yaris. The Subaru WRX is larger, with a bigger engine, but not invincible. "Even if it has a 2.2-litre turbo engine, we have to compete with it," says Naohiko Saito, chief engineer of the 1.6-litre turbo GR Yaris.