The 2018 Toyota Yaris GRMN is a tightly-wound compact car with a manual transmission and a supercharger. Its output may be modest, but you get to use all it’s power all the time. And that gives you the ability to make every drive an absolute riot.
Turns out Toyota’s been listening to the endless stream of people asking for another affordable snappy hatchback here in Europe. In fact, as a soft launch for its GRMN performance sub brand it’s given the teeny tiny Yaris a 1.8-liter supercharged motor and some serious under the skin massaging. Could this little Toyota take on the established greats in the small car game and win?
(Full Disclosure: I asked the team at Toyota GB if I could borrow a Yaris GRMN and they said yes. It turned up at my house with a full tank of gas and was taken away a few days later.)
The idea of a Yaris breathed on by the Toyota Motorsport guys is appealing as hell. I mean, the rally cars they pump out are pretty great, and this year’s Le Mans performance raised the bar again. GRMN stands for Gazoo Racing Meisters of Nurburgring, if you really want to know. I wish I didn’t because it makes the brand sound like a cartoon special. But cars wearing this badge will be Toyota’s special ones, the fast ones, the ones to build a performance legacy on. And the 2018 Yaris GRMN will be limited to 400 units in Europe, with 80 of those hitting the U.K., making it something of a collector’s piece.
Pleasingly old school, is what it is. There are no turbos here, instead a supercharged motor built by Toyota and fiddled with by Lotus. That team does a pretty good supercharged Elise/Exige/Evora, so they’re up to the job. The 1.8 liter motor, according to Toyota, produces 209 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is quite perky for something quite as diddy as a Yaris. The car only weighs about 2,500 pounds, after all.
Under the skin, the Gazoo team has been busy. There’s a Torsen differential up front, shorter springs, Sachs Performance dampers, 17-inch forged wheels, a thicker anti-roll bar, faster steering, and a body that’s been braced to cope with the rigors of being thrashed.
Now that’s an awful lot of specialized work to go in to a limited run hatch, don’t you think? It is, and oh boy is it reflected in the price. It costs £26,295 ($35,215.60 at time of writing, if you’re curious) in the UK. That’s an eye watering amount of money for a Yaris.
You’d expect a car with fast bits behind the metal and a hefty price tag to be liberally coated in shiny trim bits that scream look at me I’m a fast thing, and it is. Sort of. At the back there’s a centrally mounted exhaust, a GRMN badge and a hefty spoiler. Up front and on the sides there are some garish rally-lite stickers, and that’s it. Inside it’s pretty tame, aside from a couple of subtle badges, it’s a standard Yaris. It doesn’t feel all that special.
As we mentioned above, this 1.8 liter supercharged motor kicks out a claimed 209 HP and 184 LB-FT, whipping it from 0-62 in 6.4 seconds and off to 143 electrically limited mph. It’s rather brisk.
Trunk space, as it’s a Yaris, isn’t huge at a little over ten cubic feet with the seats up and 27.1 with the seats down. For a lot of people it’ll be enough, but if you need to move house you’re best off renting a van.
Toyota reckons, in part because of its low claimed curb weight I imagine, it’ll manage 22.23 mpg city and 41.3 mpg highway. Those are ambitious numbers. I saw an average of 26.4 mpg in a mix of both, but let’s be real, I didn’t spend a lot of time being light on the throttle.
It goes a million miles per hour everywhere. It just doesn’t like being sensible in any way, shape or form. Its power, though comparatively meek in today’s climate, is rarely wasted.
To aid the urgent speed, the under the skin work is phenomenal. This thing handles and then some.
Because it’s the size of a Victorian fob watch you can park it pretty much anywhere as well, so you’ll rarely be stuck looking for a spot in town.
The seats are a joy as well. Designed specifically for the car’s “go everywhere like you’re on fire” nature, they’re supportive in bends and don’t give you numb bum after a hundred miles on the road.
Aside from its huge price tag? The interior is a bit of a let down. A few flashes of GRMN doesn’t make it feel special enough for a big money hot hatch.
Toyota’s infotainment is clunky, too. It’s not hard to navigate, but the UI feels a bit “My First Touch Screen” and the software can be a bit slow. The navigation isn’t all that smart either, and its ETAs are the fantasist side of optimistic.
You’d hope it would make a great noise, but that’s only the case when you’re really, erm, making progress. On a motorway cruise it’s not really tuneful, it just makes generic noise. Similarly, at idle it half attempts to make a rally caresque burble but it’s not loud enough to make you feel like you’re going to take on the Col de Turini, more that you couldn’t afford a more melodious aftermarket pipe.
A regular Yaris isn’t an exciting car. It’s not bursting with character, it’s not all that fun to pedal, and you’re unlikely to remember much about it once you’ve parked it. However, it goes about the business of being a city car immensely well. The glasshouse, bar the postage stamp-sized rear window, is large enough to give fantastic visibility so you can see cyclists sneaking up on you in town, or make sure you’re not about to clatter someone while you change lanes. It’s low enough that the rear window being tiny doesn’t matter all that much either – you can see the low objects you may be about to knock.
The changes to the steering rack make tight, quick turns in town a breeze. Given that you have pretty sterling feedback through it you can punt it about with confidence as well. Because it’s so small you never feel like you’re going to swap wing mirror paint with anything else, either.
Should you live in a place with under-maintained, unloved roads you’ll feel way too much of them through your arse. The ride is unforgiving on London’s streets. Every small imperfection is a nasty bump waiting to happen. It does rather take the shine off.
Its six-speed manual gearbox is easy to use in town thanks to an easy shift and a light clutch. It’s not so easy as to be effort free like a Golf GTI. There’s a pleasing notchiness to the shift that makes you feel a tiny bit like you’re driving something far more substantial.
You’re rarely troubled by the exhaust note unless you burn away from the lights. This isn’t necessarily a good thing for a hot hatch, though you don’t need to make a ton of noise to get noticed in it–the wing and stickers mean you stand out enough when you’re just looking to nip out and pick up a pint of milk.
On the highway its noise drones a touch, but it’s comfortable enough. Road and wind noise creeps in to the cabin which can irk after a spell, but you’re driving a hot hatch not a Rolls-Royce…
It’s small, easy to drive, and quick enough to get around trouble free.
The GRMN wasn’t designed for the city, or even the highway. It does well in either setting, but it was designed to shine on the country lanes of the world.
Giving it the beans sees the rev counter fire its way around the dial, the speedo picks up numbers as quick as Kanye does retweets. For something so small, and with such a small motor, it feels alarmingly fast. Hilariously so, as well. Lose track of things and you’ll soon find your license at risk, so take it easy, yeah?
When you’re at the upper reaches of the rev range the GRMN makes a raw, sharp sound. The sort of noise you hope turbo hatches would make, but simply don’t. You want to hear it over and over again, but the only way to do it is to either keep climbing the gears or to speed up, lose some speed, and start again. For a brief moment it’s one of the best sounding hot hatches out there but it’s over all too fast.
No matter, because while the noise is something of a nip slip the handling is simply brilliant. Turning in to a bend the car seems initially hesitant to commit, then the diff does its thing and you’re pulled round in short order. Ok, there are limitations to a FWD set up, but this is up there with the best. It makes slicing up back roads a joy you want to repeat over and over again. All that under the skin work has made a thrilling little car.
There is no sport button, you are the sport button. Once you’ve figured out the Yaris’ MO you’ll be blasting and buzzing around every bend you can find.
In a way it reminds me of the old R53 MINI Cooper S. They’re both small, both have diddy supercharged engines, and both are rather expensive. They also act perfectly fine as city cars on the day to day. 95 percent of the time you can happily bimble along, occasionally wondering why the ride is so damn hard, thinking what a solid choice of car you’ve made. The other five? You’re on a back road having an absolute ball. Whooping, shouting, going fast and enjoying the car for its intended purpose. It’s fantastic fun for those moments.
The basic interior, while something of an emotional let down, can be quite helpful in its standardness. Because there are so few buttons to press, flashing lights, or any other frippery you find yourself ignoring it and keeping your eyes on the horizon, looking for the next thing to attack at light speed.
More than $30,000 for a Yaris is a lot of money. An insane amount of money, some would say. You do get exclusivity, and the fact it’s the first in a line of super special GRMN cars serves to boost its appeal. However… there are cheaper hot hatches out there that offer most of the fun and have a bit more heritage behind them. Also, for that cash you’d hope there would be a bit more pomp around the cabin. This is a big deal for Toyota, why not make the bit the driver spends their time in feel a bit more special?
There’s no doubting the Yaris GRMN is a really good car, but the cost and cheap interior do it no favors. I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad all 400 have gone to loving homes. Drop the price, lift the limited nature of it, and I’d be 100 percent onboard. But as cool as it is, this car isn’t quite special enough to be a special edition.
Still, it’s impossible to drive without having fun. Toyota should be flooding the streets with these, to bring the joy of small fast cars to the masses.