My driving partner in Toyota’s new hot hatch is a nice man called Alan. As well as being a motoring journalist, he’s already paid a hefty deposit for one of the 80 Yaris GRMNs coming to the UK. “It’s going to be special,” Alan tells me. For his sake, I hope that he’s right.
Not heard of GRMN? That’s about to change. Improbably, it stands for ‘Gazoo Racing tuned by Meisters of the Nurburgring’ and the Yaris will be the first of many harder, faster Toyotas from this grammatically challenged new sub-brand.
The GRMN does indeed look special. This formerly sensible supermini apes the wild Yaris WRC rally car with black and red graphics, a roof spoiler, rear diffuser and custom centre-exit exhaust. It sits 24mm lower on stiffer springs, Sachs Performance dampers and 17-inch BBS alloys. Each car has a numbered plaque and you can have any colour you want, so long as it’s white.
Under that stubby bonnet, Toyota has shoehorned the 1.8-litre supercharged engine from a Lotus Elise. With 212hp, it hits 62mph in 6.4 seconds and 143mph flat-out. More important, though, is the way this car goes around corners – it was honed at the ’Ring, remember? So Toyota has brought us to a racetrack, the challenging ParcMotor circuit in Spain, for the full Gazoo experience.
Press the engine-start button and the GRMN ignites with a gruff bark. Its interior is mostly common-or-garden Yaris, but the body-hugging suede seats and small steering wheel (borrowed from the GT86 coupe) feel suitably sporty – a point hammered home by the abundance of ‘GR’ logos. I sit in the pitlane, engine idling, waiting for the marshal to beckon me forward.
Green light: let’s go! Hard onto the back straight, I immediately feel the mechanical Torsen differential at work. It keeps the wheels straight, banishing the scrabbling ‘torque steer’ that afflicts many powerful front-driven cars. Approaching the first corner, the four-piston brakes inspire confidence (although they soften noticeably after a few hot laps) and the Yaris turns in eagerly and precisely.
Gradually, I begin to push harder, but the chassis stays poised and planted. Unless you deliberately overcook it, of course, in which case the GRMN will perform screeching four-wheel drifts until you run out of tyre-tread.
I’m less sold on the steering, which doesn’t fizz with feedback like a Fiesta ST, but there’s no shortage of grunt or grip. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and snappy, too. How will it fare on the road?
All 600 examples of the GRMN are already sold. Future classic status seems assured.
Alan and I set the touchscreen nav for Montserrat, in the mountains near Barcelona. Now there are no marshals or gravel traps, just sheer drops and suicidal SEATs. Oh, and some of the best driving routes Europe has to offer.
The tightly damped Yaris bumps and thumps around town, but the payoff is excellent body control when the tarmac gets twisty. The diff does its best to haul us around hairpins, the bassy growl of the exhaust building to a metallic blare as we blast between bends. Like the best hot hatches, this a car you can grab by the scruff of the neck and take liberties with. It’s fast, forgiving and fun.
There is a catch, though. The GRMN costs £26,295: twice as much as a basic 1.0-litre Yaris and £7,000 more than a Volkswagen Polo GTI. That’s an awful lot for a supermini, but Toyota isn’t worried: all 600 examples of the GRMN are already sold. Future classic status seems assured.
Alan, thankfully, has no regrets. As we hand back the keys, he’s already looking forward to taking delivery of his Yaris GRMN. Me? I’ll confess to being somewhat jealous.