Since the release of the Toyota GR Yaris, a hype like I have never seen before – at least for a hot hatch - has surrounded the car.
After 2,500km on the road and three laps on the Nordschleife I can confirm that the Hype is real – to an extend at least! While I have to be honest that the car does not feel extremely special using every day, as it is simple lacking a bit of exhaust note and "emotion", it completely transforms once you go for a spirited drive in the country or even hit the track.
I have never experienced a car inspiring so much confidence. It just makes you go faster and faster never feeling overwhelmed or out of its comfort zone.
However, I spoke to another GR Yaris owner during our last Track Day at Mettet, who seemed slightly underwhelmed with the car’s feel on the circuit. Though its outright speed was nothing but impressive, the GR almost seemed too “planted” and focussed to allow for some fun on the tight and twisty circuit.
Looking at the Yaris’ adjustable AWD-system with 3 different modes:
- Normal (40% front | 60% rear)
- Track (50% front | 50% rear)
- Sport (30% front | 70% rear)
I think many of us were expecting to "power oversteer" out of every corner in true rally fashion. From what I noticed so far, that is definitely not going to be the case – at least not on a dry circuit.
So last week, I wanted to experience what the car feels like on a Grand Prix Circuit and I headed over to Spa Francorchamps for a two-hour session in the evening (Tracknight).
THE GR YARIS IN SPA
The coversation about the GR's performance in Mettet still in my head, I hit the track not really knowing what to expect.
To begin with, I put the car in Track-Mode (50/50). The car is completely unmodified and is running the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S. After starting off with 2.0 cold pressure, I came in after the first warm-up laps to adjust the tyre pressure – I aimed at running around 2.3 bar hot (not sure whether it is the best) which felt good!
The car felt absolutely great. I definitely understand though where the slight “disappointed” regarding the GR’s driving dynamics may come from. In comparison to my MINI, the car is extremely neutral. While my MINI tends to oversteer on corner entry as well as when lifting off the throttle mid-corner, the GR stays neutral wanting to push over all 4 wheels most of the time.
In Spa, with its fast corners like Eau Rouge, Pouhon and Blanchimont, the neutral handling was something I liked though, as I felt confident to push almost right from the beginning.
After a couple of laps, I already did my first sub 3.00min lap - without too much effort which was incredibly impressive. Many of you are probably just here for the video, so I am not going to babble on for any longer. If you are interested in my impression on the different components on track, keep on reading!
The banging noise you sometimes hear is my son's child seat still in the backseat .
All in all, the car is simply GReat! While it might seem a bit bland during normal road use, it truly comes alive when being pushed hard and especially on a race track. If you are interested, I summarised some of my thoughts on the different components further below.
Extra: Does the car feel Track Day ready?
Spa is definitely not easy on the brakes with some heavy braking into "Les Combes" after the long "Kemmel Straight", some downhill braking into "Brussels" and another extremely heavy braking zone before the "Bus Stop Chicane" at the end.
Even after driving for 20-30minutes non-stop, the brakes performed like a charm.
Only thing: The standard pads seem to be extremely soft and are almost dead by now - but that is an easy change! I will also change for more track focussed, reinforced brake lines.
Wheels and Tyres
The stock 225/45 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performed really well as well. It sure is a street tyre but it is definitely not completely out of its comfort zone on a race track. I started off with 2.0bar cold. After the first stint I reduced the pressure to around 2.3 bar hot and the tyres felt good for the remaining track time. As an all-round tyre, they almost seem perfect!
While I am a bit worried to scratch the OEM-wheels (Yes, they are extremely pricey), I like them so much that I will probably take the risk - lets see what the future brings!
The suspension seemed to handle the beating quite well. As with every street setup, it is definitely lacking some camber for extensive track use. If I would have the choice, I would probably also try to set-up the car to be a bit more agile upon corner entry. Other than that, it has been just impressive!
That is probably the only real "let-down" (if you can call it that) of the car. I definitely sat too high and never really managed to feel truly comfortable. I am 1.81m and while I did not have any problems regarding headroom with a helmet, it was far from an ideal seating position and I think changing to seats that can be mounted a bit lower will change a lot!
In my opionion, the Toyota GR Yaris is definitely Track Day ready right from the start. The brakes definitely fascinated me the most. I am not even sure if the car needs any modification if you hit the track only occasionally. Personally, I think (lower seats) and a more track focussed suspension will transform the car in a true Track Day beast!