2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

The Sleeper

My folks never bought me a console when I was a kid.

Never had a Nintendo, Sega, or Playstation. I would only get to try those things when I visited friends and only got to own a PlayStation (a third-generation one) when I was already working. The reason was simple: those were toys.

Don't be sad for me though. I did have a pretty sweet PC as a kid. Unlike a little colorful box you plug into the TV with cassette games, I was able to justify getting a computer and speccing it myself with a fast processor, a lot of RAM, and a great graphics card for the time. It didn't look modded though; back then there were no fancy LEDs, the cooling fans were all black, and the tower case was ordinary.

It was a sleeper in plain Jane white. Just like the GR Yaris.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

To a casual observer, this could pass for any small car available at low downpayment terms. I mean, it does have a “T” on the grille; nothing intimidating about that. The length is quite similar to a first-generation Volkswagen Beetle at 4 meters and has three doors. It's tiny; something a newbie driver shouldn't have a problem getting into a small parking slot.

Of course, if a bystander with a little bit of car knowledge saw one in the parking lot or stuck in traffic, they can spot some nice bits and pieces about the car, but nothing that can't be easily explained. The bumper has wide openings with black trim, but that's not out of the ordinary as many cars now have those kinds of design features. It's hard to spot any special changes with the body panels because the doors, the hood, and tailgate look like regular sheet metal, and the paint is the same as the rest of the body.

The Yaris doesn't even look lowered; no cool factor when it comes to negotiating speed bumps. Yes, the wheel arches seem a tad wide, but many roadside body kit makers have that available for many popular models with unli-body putty. Even the black roof, the GR badges, and the red brake calipers can be explained by saying you got a good bundle deal for a few rolls of CF sticker wrap, and you tossed in the emblems and caliper covers just to qualify for free shipping during the last Lazada sale.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

If you peek through the glass, the interior -while different- doesn't look out of the ordinary. It's boring with a monotonous shade of black and gray. There's a little bit of red with the stitching and some badges, but that's it. Even the seats seem ordinary, as some wouldn't recognize the GR embroidery means and think: “Oh, naubusan ng budget for Recaro, Sparco or Bride.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

Just looking at the seating layout is strange too: 2 in front and 2 in the back. Yes, only four can sit inside the car, though you can have someone sit in the middle in the back, but there's a recess on the cushion that resembles a training potty. This will not be great for a barkada getaway.

If you get a chance to sit inside, you'll spot the ordinary gauge cluster. There's a push-button ignition system; nothing extraordinary there. Even the steering wheel isn't special, but it has buttons for the audio system and other features including cruise control. Sosyal, right?

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

Of course, that goes away when you spot the there's the signature TV box style enclosure that juts out from the top of the dashboard for the 2-DIN unit; typical Toyota. Just below it is the A/C controls. Actually, it's a climate control system meaning it's an automatic type but for some reason, the transmission isn't. Yeah, it's a manual with three pedals. Very entry grade, right?

So where in the world did the PHP 2.65 million -yes, that's the price- for this GR Yaris go? And that answer is simple: the overall performance.

In the same way that BMW has M, Toyota now has GR. They used to be more focused towards TRD, but they're now concentrating on Gazoo Racing. And just like with models like M3 versus 3 Series M Sport, if the GR comes before the model name, it's a true and bonafide Gazoo Racing model like the GR Supra and soon, the GR 86. The GR Sport package in the likes of the Vios, Fortuner, and Hilux are more for aesthetics and mild suspension upgrades. Sometimes.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

Open that hood and you'll spot the G16E-GTS: it's a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine developed by Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) and honed at their Shimoyama test facility in Japan for performance. But despite only having three cylinders (as evidenced by the three coil packs on the valve cover) this engine makes 261 PS based on the official literature for the Philippine spec model.

There's nothing budget about this engine, especially for fuel. If you want its true performance, 98 octane is the minimum you can load up. If you're looking at it from a practical standpoint, then be glad that this is a 1.6L because it is very efficient; during my time with it, 10.5 kilometers per liter is easy in the city. On the highway, you can go up to 16.5 km/l. Of course, those figures depend on how willing your right foot is to cooperate with your wallet; this car can do a zero to 100 km/h sprint in 5.2 seconds. Easily.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

Close the hood, and the most noticeable thing is the lightness of it. The bonnet, the side doors, and the tailgate are all made from aluminum. And you won't need a CF sticker wrap for the roof because it's legitimate CFRP: carbon fiber reinforced plastic. Toyota Gazoo Racing went with those materials to chase an important figure: the power to weight ratio.

As it stands, the 261 horsepower (metric) and the 1,310-kilogram weight of the GR Yaris means it has 199 PS per metric ton. If we look at some of my favorite series of cars in history like the Lancer Evolution III, IV, V, and VI, the power to weight of those vehicles are in the same region: just over 200 PS per tonne.

Some would wonder why I pointed out the old Lancer Evo which won four straight titles from 1996 to 1999 instead of the 2017-2021 FK8 Civic Type R or even the current (and incoming) Subaru WRX STI. I mentioned Evo because the GR Yaris is a homologation special built to allow Toyota to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC). Those championship years are also important, and we'll get to that later.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

The Yaris we normally have in local showrooms isn't the same platform as this one; actually, this GR version is unique. Being a rally special means the drivetrain isn't normal: it's four-wheel drive. To achieve that, TGR had to chop up two platforms to make space for an all-wheel-drive system called GR-Four. It's an obvious homage to the Toyota Celica GT-Four that also competed in WRC and won four titles: 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1994.

During my first few days with the GR Yaris, I just drove it around the city. Normally, performance cars of this type are not comfortable at all, especially with the manual. The STI, while definitely a favorite of mine, isn't something I would pick out of a garage to drive every day. At first, it'd be great and fun, but the clutch can be a pain if you get stuck in a perfect storm of traffic: a rainy Friday payday leading into a long weekend.

In the GR Yaris, no such thing; the clutch is very easy for a performance car, and the gearshift is very positive. Noise control is actually really good in this car; loud motorcycles, trucks, and jeepneys are muted nicely by the structure and the insulation. The suspension's manners in town are also very good; yes, it isn't going for super comfort and the short wheelbase does have a trade-off. The ride may even be better than the FK8. The only thing that takes getting used to is the noise of the diff for the rear; it seems a bit louder compared to the STI, but not enough to worry or be bothersome.

Out on the expressway, I really like it. A lot. Three-cylinder cars aren't normally smooth at low RPMs, but this one is. And on the highway, it's in its element. The Toyota Safety Sense package seemed a bit out of place, but I have to say that the adaptive cruise control is a nice touch. My time on the highway was mostly in heavy rain, so it was good to see that the ACC on this GR Yaris works well even in those conditions, and the GR-Four gives you the confidence to maintain a fairly high but steady speed even in the wet.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image
But if you take the GR Yaris onto a racing circuit, that's when things really come together. My first time with the GR Yaris was at the Clark International Speedway; that's a nice circuit, but I always felt the straights were too long and the spacing between the corners don't fully exploit the capabilities of the car. Well, except for the S curves and the double apex heading to the last corner and main straight. There, the GR Yaris was in its element.

I did want to go onto a rallycross track, but I didn't want the risk of dings and scratches, but Pradera is no longer available. So instead of CIS, I went to CKR: Citykart Racing which is in the “city” of Porac, Pampanga. The track may be built for karts, but the layout is more challenging for the Yaris. And boy, what a good decision it was.

This car isn't about top speed, but about how it can manage its weight even around the trickiest bends. And the spacing between the corners at CKR meant you can really feel how the car just stays settled as you transition from a fast left-hander into a tight right-hander, or a sweeping right to a 90-degree left, so on and so forth. These combinations of corners can really show how well sorted the GR Yaris is, and that's without playing around too much with the Track mode.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

One feature I'm not too sure about is the "enhanced" engine sound. Being a small turbo three, there's not much noise from the stock system. What Toyota did is to amplify the engine sound. Honestly, I'd prefer to remove that and just put in a slightly louder exhaust that would match the engine. The IMT rev-match also works well, but I switched it off and did the heel and toe myself. It's more fun that way. 

CKR doesn't normally allow this; actually, they don't, but we got permission. I just stayed off the kerbs to avoid damaging them. This is still a kart track after all, and even a car as light as the GR Yaris isn't anywhere near the weight of even a heavy go-kart.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

The value in the GR Yaris isn't put on the kit or the look or the features. It's in the drive, pure and simple. And safety too. On the same day, I was at CKR, the other GR Yaris demo car figured in a major shunt at Clark Speedway. The driver was thankfully unhurt, and it was clearly a testament to the safety of the car, but it underlines the need for high-performance driver training if you drive a sports car or performance car. Give our buddies at Tuason Racing a call if you want to learn those skills. That's not a shameless plug; we don't earn a peso by saying that, but what you can save will be priceless.

Some would point to the performance potential of the GR Yaris, but personally, I'm a sucker for the backstory. Remember the four championships won by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999? The driver behind the wheel of those four consecutive championships was Tommi Makinen, and he was the man that Toyota went to to help them build the Yaris rally car and the road-going GR Yaris. So it's no surprise that Toyota Gazoo Racing took the WRC titles in 2019 and 2020.

2021 Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Turbo GR-Four image

I like the concept of a sleeper; a wolf in sheep's clothing. Much like my gaming rig masquerading as a student's computer for homework and reports, this GR Yaris really appeals to me. Mitsubishi may no longer be making the Lancer Evo, but I'm so glad Toyota built the GR Yaris. 

Maybe in a year or so, they can come up with a Tommi Makinen edition too.

  • Make: Toyota
  • Model: GR Yaris
  • Engine: 1.6-liter DOHC 12-valve Inline-3 Turbo Intercooler
  • Max Power: 261 PS @ 6500 rpm
  • Max Torque: 360 Nm @ 3000-4600 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed MT, GR-Four AWD + IMT
  • Price as Tested: ₱2,650,000