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Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 2024 review – first drive of the production ready hot hatch

The GR Yaris now carries a punchy £44,250 asking price, but the early signs are that it moves the goal posts for small hot hatches once again

Short of donning a mask and cape, driving a GR Yaris on an ice track is the best way to feel like a superhero. Suddenly, the hot hatch that feels so impregnable and ruthlessly efficient on the road gives up its natural balance and dances over the ice, yet it feels as though it’ll never bite back. Being a homologation special we always knew that the Yaris was infused with genuine rallying DNA, and in this environment it bubbles right up to the surface. 

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We’re in Finland, a few miles west of Jyväskylä at a place called Rantapirtti. Double WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä grew up not far from here, and with test tracks of varying speeds and difficulty carved into a vast ice lake, it’s the perfect arena to nurture and refine your car control – and learn the intricacies of how a car behaves beyond the limit. 

This is our first time driving a production-spec second-generation GR Yaris, following a track test in a prototype late last year. The new car follows broadly the same recipe as the original, but Toyota has made a number of changes based on feedback from motorsport and customers to improve what was already one of the best hot hatches on sale. 

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Climb inside and the Gen 2 immediately feels like a step forward. For a start, you can actually see where you’re going thanks to a new dashboard and a repositioned rear-view mirror, and the seat is mounted a useful 25mm lower than before. Tall drivers will also appreciate the extra reach in the steering column, allowing you to sit further back without needing to stretch for the wheel. Small changes, but the cumulative effect is transformative. 

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The ergonomic improvements are backed up by a host of changes under the skin. The Yaris always felt like it could deal with (a lot) more power, and its 1.6-litre turbocharged triple has been boosted from 257 to 276bhp, with torque rising to 288lb ft. Power is transferred to the wheels through a revised four-wheel drive system – there are still three torque split settings, but Sport has been replaced by a new Gravel mode (53 per cent front, 47 rear), and Track is now automatically variable between 60/40 and 30/70. 

Bigger news is the addition of an automatic gearbox option. It’s an eight speed torque converter with shorter ratios than the standard manual, with shift times of 300 milliseconds. Out on the ice, we’re mostly in second gear with the occasional shift up to third, so a full verdict on the new ‘box will need to wait until later. 

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At the very least, the two-pedal option gives you more mental capacity to drive quickly – particularly useful on snow. The Yaris is an absolute riot around the lap at Rantapirtti, and its balance feels almost elastic in the angles you can pull without it getting away from you. On studded tyres you can attack surprisingly hard, but go in too hot – or veer slightly off the clean line of ice – and it suddenly isn’t interested in responding to your inputs. 

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Treading this fine line is where the rewards are, and the Yaris’s consistent, intuitive balance is perfect for it. We drove an original GR Yaris on the snow before heading out in the Gen 2, and there’s a step change between the two. The new car’s engine feels gutsier and requires more careful throttle modulation, and the chassis takes an attitude more quickly into corners with less weight transfer. You can thank revised spring rates – up by 10N/mm at the front and 4N/mm at the rear – and a stiffer front anti-roll bar for that. On ice it’s a little harder to relax into the new setup because grip breaks away more suddenly and it’s more reactive to bumps, but our drive in the prototype suggested that the Yaris feels grippier and more tenacious than before on tarmac.

If you’re used to track days, driving on ice is a steep learning curve. Try carving neat, smooth lines and the car just won’t hook up, so you need to almost bully it into corners using lots of steering and power. The Yaris is brilliant for this – bury the throttle at the turn in point, wait a beat for the turbo to spool up and it pivots smoothly into the apex, and if you’ve got the trajectory right, you can ride out to the exit in a full-bore four-wheel drift. Gravel is the mode of choice for this, initiating enough rotation in the middle of corners without wasting power away through the exit. 

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With more practice you get into a wonderful flow with the Yaris, dancing from one corner to the next and positioning it just-so on the ice. And then you carry slightly too much speed, wander out onto the loose snow and slide clumsily to the outside of the track, wondering why you’ve suddenly forgotten how to drive. Stringing together clean, consistent laps requires enormous concentration, but the rewards are almost unbeatable. 

For this kind of thing, the GR Yaris is too. There’s more bite and energy to this new car, and while we need to drive it on the road to deliver a definitive verdict, we get the sense that the 10,000-strong queue to buy a GR Yaris is about to get even longer – despite the Gen 2 costing a punchy £44,250 (or £45,750 for the automatic) in the UK. That's a considerable sum for a hot supermini, but given the depth of engineering behind it and the meaningful technical improvements made to the new Yaris, we think it has every chance of justifying that asking price. We'll need to drive one on the road to be sure, but either way, we're delighted that Toyota can still build it.

Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 specs

EngineIn-line 3-cyl, 1618cc, turbocharged
Power276bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque288lb ft @ 3250rpm
Weight1280kg (219bhp/ton)
0-62mph

5.3sec (est)

Top speed

145mph (est)

Basic price£44,250
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