Toyota busy working on an automatic GR Yaris

To say that the GR Yaris is a breath of fresh air from Toyota is an understatement. Despite its size, this tiny (rally-bred) hot hatch comes with a powerful 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Called the G16E-GTS, it makes a healthy 261 PS along with 360 Nm of torque. In true rally fashion, this is an all-wheel-drive machine with a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Toyota wanted to make sure the GR Yaris lived up to the reputation of the rally car that has carried the brand to its fifth WRC championship. However, unlike the rally car which comes with a sequential-shift transmission, the road-going version only comes with a good ol' six-speed manual box. While enthusiasts like the three-pedal setup, it seems Toyota wants to make the hot hatch available to a wider range of drivers.

Yes, Toyota developing 8-speed A/T for GR Yaris image

Believe it or not, the automaker is currently developing an 8-speed automatic transmission for the GR Yaris. In a report by Japanese publication Car Watch, they were able to get an up-close look of a GR Yaris fitted with a two-pedal gearbox when it made an appearance at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Rally Challenge.

Upon first glance, it appears the automatic version of the GR Yaris looks the same as the manual version. However, the publication noticed that the prototype came with no foglights. That's because it has an oil cooler on the right and an A/T oil cooler on the left to help with its performance.

Yes, Toyota developing 8-speed A/T for GR Yaris image

Since it has a slushbox, it doesn't come with a stick-shift. Instead, it has a gear selector and even comes with manual select. Depending on driver preference, they can shift via the gear selector or by way of the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

With an 8-speed automatic, will the hot hatch be aimed at delivering a more fuel-efficient drive? Not exactly.

While fuel efficiency is part of the development, Toyota is also aiming for the transmission to provide a sporty driving experience even when left to 'D'. Shigeru Hayakawa, Toyota Motor Corporation Vice Chairman, was actually behind the wheel of the automatic GR Yaris during the Rally Challenge. Hayakawa even mentioned that he has already broken the transmission once during the drive. However, he was told that it was alright since the gearbox was under development and subject to stringent testing.

Yes, Toyota developing 8-speed A/T for GR Yaris image

Despite the transmission already being used in a prototype, Toyota hasn't exactly confirmed that a production version is already on its way. But assuming it passes muster, the only question now is when will Toyota actually launch it?

While enthusiasts will complain that having an automatic gearbox on the GR Yaris will ruin its rally heritage, Toyota may actually be onto something. As more and more drivers prefer an automatic transmission, equipping the GR Yaris with this type of gearbox could mean more sales for the automaker. True, it's a homologation special, but perhaps there's a niche market that's just waiting for it.

If ever Toyota does start selling a GR Yaris with an automatic, would you get it over the traditional three-pedal setup? Share your comments below.