NOW and again a car comes along that opens my eyes, makes me sit up and, yes, forces a smile across even brows as furrowed as mine. It doesn’t happen too often, I can tell you.
n this exceptional case the object of my eye-opener is called the Toyota GR Yaris.
The ‘GR’ stands for ‘Gazoo Racing’. It may carry the Yaris name and a few odds and pieces (it is a 3dr with two back seats of little consequence but the resemblance with what we regard as a benchmark family hatchback ends there).
Sure, it has the 2,560mm wheelbase of the Yaris, the light clusters and door mirrors but that’s about that. It is 55mm longer, 60mm wider and 45mm lower.
Built on its own platform, the GR is a hot-hot hatch, a pocket rocket… call it what you will but it is a million miles from the everyday supermini that has ferried thousands of us to work, rest and play for years.
This GR had such verve and vim about it that you can see why they have called it ‘Racing’. Built by the rally/performance people at the Japanese carmaker, it is a car worthy of note – not just for its power and pace but for its ability to harness and marshal those elements into memorable torrents of output and extraordinary sequences of pulling power.
I’ve driven a good few hot hatches over the years. Some would raise the hairs on the back of your neck with their velocity but many would, I feel, appear less complete beside the GR despite the fact that several had more power on tap.
The thing was that they just couldn’t handle it as well; or translate it as well. That is not to denigrate any of them; rather it is testament to the combined exceptional prowess of the GR and its ability to thrill all the time.
In its case we are talking about managing at least three times more power (275bhp) channelled to the wheels than in your normal supermini.
That means a lot of balancing the surging performance with surefooted grip and safe, predictable handling.
Oh! Yes, and a sense of driving freedom that I haven’t found in a car in a long time.
I can sense you are wondering why I am telling you about something that is, to all practical intents and purposes, ephemeral to most, and irrelevant to all but an elite handful?
Think of it as being the result of world rallying experience. And think of it as a future source of engineering for more ‘ordinary’ cars. So it is relevant in those key areas.
Even if it wasn’t it is a noteworthy inclusion because it has what so many strive for and fall short – outstanding driving appeal that mixes edge and capability.
As soon as I pressed the accelerator in any meaningful sense of the word this responded brilliantly.
Straightaway I knew I was onto something special. Even at moderate speed – one has to be so careful – the chassis, engine, steering wheel all conveyed the ‘let’s go’ feeling of a rally car.
It isn’t often one gets such an opportunity or thrilling sensation. Sport mode is the one to be in. It relays 70pc of the pulling power to the rear wheels and that surely adds to the dynamics. Track mode? Didn’t do track. And that is the only downside as far as I’m concerned. To get any real idea of what this can really do, you’d have to get it on a circuit.
Now the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTi is smoother, no doubt, and I like the Honda Civic Type R, but this GR was distinctive in how it went.
I loved the fact that it had a 6spd manual – what a tight, slick operator it was, and then there was a manual parking brake.
But what about the engine? At 257bhp it trails most rivals on 300bhp but the car is lighter than most and it punches really hard mid-range – just where you want it.
I think it is extraordinary power from a 3cyl 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine – the most powerful of its kind in the world. Any concerns with it being too small, or being less powerful than rivals instantly evaporated.
Look, I could go on and on about 4WD making it feel so secure on bends and poor surfaces, about the (engineered) sound from the exhaust, about how the sports seats fitted me snugly and made me feel such a part of the experience, but really this car is all about being lots more than the sum of its parts.
It just had that indefinable ‘something’. It had the control of the Golf, the thrust of the Type R, the brio of a Ford Fiesta ST – and some more.
Would I buy it? Obviously I would at the drop of a hat if I had the money. And I sense I’d never get tired driving it.
It already has the makings of a classic.