AutosToyota GR Yaris gets powerful refresh: 280 HP city car sensation

Toyota GR Yaris gets powerful refresh: 280 HP city car sensation

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris
Images source: © WP | Tomasz Budzik

7:34 PM EDT, July 7, 2024

What's the idea behind an engine generating 261 HP in a city car? Absurd! That's why Toyota while refreshing the GR Yaris model, decided to increase this power to 280 HP. However, that’s not the only change in this brand's most unassuming sports model. This is just the tip of the iceberg that could shatter its competitors except for the GR Yaris, which has no competitors at all.

Unassuming hero

When the Toyota GR Yaris first hit the roads, it did not cause a sensation, at least not among those with only superficial knowledge of the Japanese brand's endeavors. The car, which from the outside could be mistaken for a sporty version of a “city dweller” adorned with plastic additions, effectively grabbed the attention of those whose gaze it should attract. The GR Yaris was created out of a love for motoring and speed. And for their enthusiasts.

The unique nature of this car is evidenced by the fact that only the front part of its construction comes from the Yaris platform. The rear was taken from the Corolla. The engine, as befits a city car, has three cylinders. However, it can boast a displacement of 1.6 liters and a powerful - for this segment - output of 280 HP at 6500 rpm. That's 19 more HP than before. The maximum torque also increased - from 360 Nm to 390 Nm, available from 3250 to 4600 rpm. Of course, the driver is supported by all-wheel drive. This is not a sporty version of the Yaris. It's an entirely different car. Especially now, after the changes.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP | Tomasz Budzik

To experience this, open the doors and sit behind the wheel. The position of the front seats was lowered by 1 inch compared to the previous GR Yaris version, and what lies before the driver can boldly be called completely stripped of pretensions. You won’t find a dashboard similar to that of the “civilian” version of the car. The console, stretching out before the driver, is oriented towards them and looks like it was taken straight from racing cars—simple, almost rugged spaces without unnecessary embellishments, a large central screen, and switches. You don't get into this car to admire the design craftsmanship of the interior designers. How does the change affect car usage?

The two physical gauges separated by an electronic display are gone. Instead, there's a 12.3-inch color screen. The cockpit has lost some of its elegance, but thanks to this solution, you can quickly check and change the drive transfer settings between the axles while driving on track. In models with a manual gearbox, the screen with orange backlighting also signals when the RPMs are high enough that it's time to change gears. Yes, this means an automatic transmission has been added to the offerings. It's a traditional gearbox based on a torque converter with eight gears.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP | Tomasz Budzik

Toyota engineers also examined the suspension. The front shock absorber mounts were reinforced (now mounted at three points instead of one), and spring settings were changed to improve grip further. Additionally, the car's stiffness was enhanced using a different method for joining elements. Thanks to this, the GR Yaris is supposed to be more confident during fast driving and respond more precisely to even the slightest steering movements.

Japanese fire

How does the car drive? I tested it on roads near Lyon and the Circuit du Laquais track, which features a not-overly-long loop with two fairly substantial inclines. First up was a car equipped with an automatic transmission, and the group I was classified in started with a mountain route. It partially ran on particular sections of the historic Monte Carlo rally. In Normal mode, the transmission behaved appropriately, but the driving did not stir particular emotions. Everything changes when switched to Sport mode.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP | Tomasz Budzik

Then, the automatic transmission eagerly keeps the engine at high RPMs and behaves almost as if it sees the road ahead of the car. Despite numerous curves and significant elevation differences, I never once wished for a gear different from the one the automatic chose. The transmission also works excellently on the highway. At 81 mph, the tachometer shows less than 2500 rpm. This ensures comfort during high-speed driving. The gearbox operates extremely efficiently - especially in predicting which gear will be best at any given moment - drivers can, of course, use paddles that make the response to kickdowns immediate.

How does the automatic compare to the manual gearbox? A short lever with the same throw between gears operates with pleasant mechanical resistance and excellent precision. The third gear proves to be highly versatile. Thanks to the high torque ensuring engine flexibility, the third gear can be effectively used from 12-19 mph, and if you feel like more aggressive driving, revving the engine to the red zone translates into speeds well above 60 mph. On the track, I had the opportunity to test both the automatic and the car with a manual gearbox. I'm almost sure I achieved better times in the first car, but it must be admitted that lapping with the "manual" provided me with slightly more enjoyment. However, if I had to buy this car, I would choose the automatic.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP

Everyday sporty machine

Who is this car for? The best part is that it’s basically for everyone - as long as you understand this statement well. The advanced all-wheel drive and excellent suspension make it so that you don't have to be an expert to drive this car fast and safely. The GR Yaris quickly sets itself up on corner entries and exits effortlessly. The car forgives mistakes, and the powerful, almost unbelievable dose of grip makes you want to drive faster and faster.

While driving on the track at too high a speed in the curve, the car first signaled a slight front axle slip, which was easy to correct by gently reducing the throttle. Even slight braking in the corner did not throw the car off balance. In such a situation, the rear of the GR Yaris would make a small slip to position itself correctly, allowing for a safe exit from the curve. The degree of excitement and fun that Toyota offers is simply enormous.

This does not mean that the GR Yaris is a toy meant to provide fun for affluent buyers during occasional track outings. It's a sports car designed for sports driving. Moreover, the changes in the model were primarily dictated by the opinions of those who used the car this way. During the presentation, we were shown pistons and other parts of the engine or gearbox that were damaged during sports trials. The materials used to make them were replaced with more durable ones.

Something went wrong? So it needs to be replaced with something stronger. That's how the refreshed Toyota GR Yaris was created.
Something went wrong? So it needs to be replaced with something stronger. That's how the refreshed Toyota GR Yaris was created.© WP | Tomasz Budzik

There are many more such changes. The front bumper is no longer a single piece. It now consists of five parts, so people who drive the GR Yaris sportily can replace only the part of the damaged bumper - for example, by hitting the track's curb. The grille in front of the radiator is now metal because the previously used plastic often got damaged on gravel. The third brake light has been moved from the top spoiler to the window to give car owners more freedom regarding using a different spoiler.

A water spray system for the intercooler, activated by a button on the left side of the dashboard, has also been added. It sprays water on the cooling element (tank in the trunk), which, when the engine is scorching, reduces the temperature by up to 45°F and - according to Toyota engineers - results in an extra 15 HP compared to a car without this system.

Attention has also been paid to the driver's workspace. The upper edge of the dashboard has been lowered, and the interior mirror has been raised by 0.8 inches to give the driver better visibility. All the switches inside have been arranged so the driver, strapped tightly with five-point harnesses, can reach them easily. The car is also tailored to quickly relocate the handbrake lever near the steering wheel.

They also decided to change the operation of the drive transfer system. Currently, in Normal mode, 60% of the engine's power is transferred to the front wheels and 40% to the rear. In Gravel mode, the ratio is 53:47, but Track mode is the most interesting. Here, we have variable torque distribution. Based on driving parameters, the computer continuously adjusts the torque distribution between the front and rear axles using a range from 50:50 to 30:70.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP

In 2025, new regulations regarding CO2 emission reductions in motoring will come into effect, which may mean that selling models like the GR Yaris will no longer be profitable. The Japanese car currently has no competition on the market. Among small, high-powered cars, the Hyundai i20 N can still be bought, but if you want all-wheel drive, you have to opt for larger models - such as the significantly more expensive and powerful Audi RS 3.

Toyota GR Yaris
Toyota GR Yaris© WP | Tomasz Budzik

Special versions of the GR Yaris featuring famous names like Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier are also interesting. The cars differ in appearance - a rather wild Rovanperä version and a toned-down, matte Ogier version - as well as software responsible for power transfer. I had the chance to try the version created in honor of the French champion on the track, and it indeed shows a greater tendency to work with the rear axle.

  • Toyota GR Yaris
  • Toyota GR Yaris
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  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in the Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier editions
  • Toyota GR Yaris in Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier versions
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  • Toyota GR Yaris
  • Toyota GR Yaris
  • Toyota GR Yaris
  • Toyota GR Yaris
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[1/35] Toyota GR YarisImages source: © WP | Tomasz Budzik
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