The new Toyota Yaris—the one we won’t get in the U.S.—will only be offered as a five-door hatchback. An understandable decision, as three-doors are diminishing in popularity, but one that created a problem for Toyota’s World Rally Championship (WRC) team. The people there felt that only a three-door hatch was suitable for competition. So, Toyota went and built one.
This was not a simple exercise. In fact, creating this car was “breaking all the rules,” according to James Clark, a Toyota Great Britain spokesperson familiar with its development process. But don’t worry, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda gave it his personal stamp of approval.
Clark explained to Road & Track that cars homologated for the WRC must have the same basic bodyshell as a production car. Toyota’s WRC team, and especially its team principal, rally legend Tommi Mäkinen, wanted a three-door with a lower roofline, a wider rear track, and double wishbones replacing the regular Yaris’ torsion beam rear. Doing all of this required Toyota to combine two different platforms—the front comes from the new Yaris’ GA-B platform, while the rear is based on the GA-C platform that underpins the Corolla, among other cars.
This was an expensive endeavor, and not something Toyota would typically undertake for a relatively niche performance model. But Mr. Toyoda wasn’t bothered by spending a little extra to ensure the brand would have a competitive rally car for 2021. As a result, Clark told us that that chief engineer Naohiko Saito was able to accommodate 90 percent of Makinen’s (the remaining 10 percent remains a secret, though.)
Really, the GR Yaris is more than just a homologation special—Toyota wanted to prove that it was capable of developing a performance car without a partner. As you’re likely aware, the 86 was co-developed with Subaru and the new Supra with BMW. Sharing development costs made good financial sense, but it created two cars that aren’t 100-percent Toyota. Mr. Toyoda and others at the company wanted a true Toyota performance car. So much effort was put in to this car because it was “hugely important to get it right, because company pride is at stake,” Clark said.
Toyota developed a new engine and all-wheel drive system for the car. The engine is a turbo three-cylinder that displaces 1.6-liter, the minimum for a WRC car. It makes 261 horsepower and is paired only with a six-speed manual transmission. The all-wheel-drive system uses a center coupling to distribute torque between the axles, and the driver can chose between a 60:40, 50:50, and 30:70 front-to-rear split, though up to 100 percent can be sent in either direction as necessary. Additionally, if you spec the optional Circuit Pack, you get a Torsen limited-slip differential for each axle.
Clark said that Toyota engineers prioritized driving engagement over big numbers, but on track, the GR Yaris should be able to pace a Honda Civic Type R. As a reminder, the Civic Type R is one of the fastest front-drive cars ever made.
Typically with WRC homologation requirements, you have to sell 25,000 examples of a base car, and 2500 of them have to be the model variant being homologated for rally. Wikipedia’s helpful example highlights Subaru: to homologate the WRX for rallying, you have to sell 25,000 Imprezas and of those, 2500 have to be WRXes. But, the GR Yaris is so different than the standard Yaris, Toyota will have to sell 25,000 for homologation. That considered, Clark said it’ll be priced “competitively,” but it’s fair to expect it to cost more than, say, a Fiesta ST.
And while it’s not coming to the U.S., the GR Yaris promises good things from Toyota. It’s clear that Toyota wants to be a real performance brand, and it’s committed to making fast cars on its own, true to its DNA. Something to celebrate.
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