The Toyota GR Yaris is the overall winner of the 2021 AA DRIVEN New Zealand Car of the Year. It was one of the first cars we reviewed this year and we simply couldn’t get it out of our heads.
The GR Yaris is a perfect blend of exquisite engineering and high emotion. It appeals equally to the details-obsessed and red-blooded enthusiast.
It says “Yaris” on the tailgate, but it’s really a bespoke hot hatch. The only obvious components carried over from the Yaris hatch are the headlights and door mirrors.
The NZ model has 200kW and comes as standard with the Circuit Pack, which includes stiffer springs, dampers and roll bars, lightweight forged 18-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and Torsen limited-slip differentials front and rear. The roof is carbon fibre, while the bonnet, doors and tailgate are aluminium.
With all of the above, manual transmission with iMT that rev-matches your downshifts and the intelligent GR-Four AWD system, the GR Yaris is a pint-sized superhero on the road or track.
Yet it’s docile and torquey enough to drive to the shops and of course it’s Yaris-sized, so you can even park it. It’s an unbelievable combination of punch and practicality… at least for two people. It even has all the driver-assistance and safety equipment you expect of a modern hatchback, including adaptive cruise, blind spot monitor and autonomous braking.
Like all true winners, the GR Yaris has a fascinating backstory. It’s a homologation car, created to World Rally Championship (WRC) regulations. The WRC team was hands-on with the production model, led by four-time World Champion Tommi Makinen.
Covid-19 and new rally rules got in the way, so we’ll never see this car compete. But we’re so glad it made it onto the road.
The GR Yaris has all the proper ingredients of a race or rally car with the comfort, looks and economy of an everyday pocket rocket. It's everything that was great about the 1990s WRC era, a modernised, capable, practical and simply awesome roadgoing version of the late-'90s Corolla WRC road car that never was.
This has definitely been the year of electrification and plug-in vehicles in NZ, so our choice of a frisky turbo-petrol, manual-transmission hot hatch might come as surprise. But the GR Yaris proves you can achieve maximum entertainment and ability while still being mindful of modern sensibilities: Toyota’s small wonder is far lighter than traditional hot hatches and does its thing with an intelligently designed 1.6-litre, three-cylinder engine; it’s still an economical package with a light footprint.
The GR Yaris fulfills Toyota Gazoo Racing’s stated aim of bringing authentic motorsport influence to road cars brilliantly, as well as shifting the goalposts for hot hatches generally. It ticks all our AA DRIVEN NZ COTY boxes, plus some we hadn’t even thought of.
Just prior to publication of our COTY, Toyota NZ announced that an additional 100 units of the GR Yaris have been made available to NZ buyers from mid-2022. So the GR Yaris dream is achievable again... if you get in quick. Toyota Stores are taking expressions of interest now.
Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia Sorento
TOYOTA GR YARIS
ENGINE: 1.6-litre turbo-petrol three cylinder
GEARBOX: 6-speed manual, AWD