Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 prototype 2024 review – rally‑bred hatch turned up to 11
The original blew us away. Now Gazoo Racing has overhauled its motorsport-inspired hot hatch for a new version – with astonishing results
Slip into the driver’s seat of the second generation GR Yaris, place your hands on the wheel and cast an eye over the new, bespoke facia. You might conclude that Toyota’s work here is done. The high rise driving position of the original was a bugbear for many but this is more than just a 25mm seat drop; the steering column and wheel have been repositioned to suit, the rear view mirror is now higher and the centre screen has been dropped into a bespoke, new facia, improving visibility. Before it’s turned a wheel it’s a car transformed, and there’s lots, lots more.
The feisty little Yaris was already a cracking fast hatch but for all its character, ability and WRC pedigree, there was room for improvement, mostly in ergonomics, a little in dynamics, yet a whole tranche of components and features have been revised, reworked or redesigned in response to feedback from customers, race and rally drivers, and from learning in the heat of competition.
A hattrick of driver and manufacturer titles in the WRC and the unexpected sales success of the current car encouraged Toyota to take a thorough, holistic approach to improving the Yaris. It set out to build 25,000 examples, the number required to homologate the body for the WRC (a requirement subsequently dropped) but in three years over 32,000 have been delivered and demand remains strong; in the UK alone there are 10,000 unfulfilled orders.
In addition to the new dashboard and revised ergonomics, the 1.6-litre turbocharged triple has been boosted from 257 to 276bhp, there’s a new drive mode switch with three settings and the 4WD torque splits have been revised. Also, feedback from motorsport has resulted in a beefed up body and better located front strut tops to lessen suspension geometry changes under load. Some desirable, motorsport-led options will be offered too, including front brake ducts, a cold air feed for the engine and an intercooler spray.
We drove late-stage prototypes at Jarama in Spain. I was concerned that even a race track as varied and challenging as this might not be the best place to evaluate a new road car but I needn’t have worried. There is now just the one version, ‘Circuit Pack’, with front and rear Torsen diffs, and the schedule put me in the six-speed manual first; there’s now the option of an eight-speed, torque converter auto too.
The new driving position and dashboard gives the cockpit a sportier feel, as does the new, digital instrument pack. There’s a slicker feel to the gearshift and hitting the throttle at the end of the pit lane the uprated engine picks up keenly and thumps the Yaris forward, but after just a few corners it’s the lowered driving position and reworked dynamics that emphatically redefine the experience. The spring rates have been increased all round and the front anti-roll bar is beefier too, so there’s less roll and pitch as you’d expect, but being sat lower also makes any roll and pitch seem less too, seemingly doubling the improvement.
Revised torque splits see Normal remain 60/40 front/rear, Sport is replaced by Gravel which is 53/47, while Track which was a fixed 50/50 is now variable, automatically, between 60/40 and 30/70. The short wheelbase Yaris still rotates keenly into corners but now feels more settled and even grippier, like it’s getting the best out of all four tyres without torturing them with slip at either end.
Swapping into a current car confirms how dramatically better the driving position is and also that the new car has fractionally lighter and more consistent steering weights and activates stability control much less. Also, the new car is over 10kph faster at the end of Jarama’s epic pit straight, clocking 210-plus.
Toyota has been developing the compact eight-speed automatic in endurance racing and rallying and says that it shifts almost as quickly as a DCT, is reliable and requires less servicing. It says it reduces the driver work load in endurance events and will open up new markets. Around Jarama it was effective, always in the right gear and shifting quickly and seamlessly, though general road driving, where your pace can fluctuate corner to corner, is arguably a stiffer test.
Following our drive in the prototype, we had an early taste of production-spec model on a Finnish ice track. The Yaris's rallying DNA came to the fore and it clawed impressive grip from the surface, the recalibrated four-wheel drive system rotating the car beautifully and pulling hard out of corners. The improvements we felt on the track – from the gutsier engine to the flatter cornering attitude and vastly superior ergonomics – made the Gen 2 even more enjoyable than the original on snow.
Indeed, the new GR Yaris takes the original recipe and elevates it significantly, unlocking more of the car’s dynamic potential. It’s only February and we’ve already got a contender for evo car of the year. Prices are yet to be announced. UK sales start in June.
2024 Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 specs
|In-line 3-cyl, 1618cc, turbocharged
|276bhp @ 6500rpm
|288lb ft @ 3250rpm