The performance makeover the Yaris has been through in order to make it to GRMN status is an impressive one, though not as thorough as the company might lead you to believe. Having braced the hatchback’s body-in-white in key places, Gazoo Racing has fitted shorter suspension springs (up 60% on spring rate compared with those of the standard Yaris) and some rather special Sachs Performance dampers, as well as a fatter anti-roll bar up front. Forged 17in alloy wheels from BBS save 2kg per corner on standard Yaris specification, are wrapped with 205-section Bridgestone Potenza RE050A performance tyres and are equipped with around-uprated disc brakes and four-pot front calipers.
The steering rack has been quickened, too. But there are no widened axle tracks here and no lightweight suspension arms or dedicated knuckles of the sort we’re beginning to see on hot hatches at this level, which allow car makers to adjust ride height and suspension roll-centre position more freely and independently of each other. The Yaris GRMN's rear suspension, like that of the regular car, is by torsion beam.
The engine ought to be a strong selling point: a supercharged 1.8-litre petrol four-pot built by Toyota in the UK but tuned by Lotus to a similar specification as the ones that power the Elise. Producing 209bhp, just shy of 7000rpm and 184lb ft of torque, it makes a refreshing change from the smaller-capacity turbos that power most cars within this class. And, fitted with a centre-exit exhaust designed especially for the car, it sounds great when it’s working hard: waspish, brassy and slightly rough-edged. It’s as if this Gazoo had a giant kazoo, and blew it for you just as you wanted it to (and if you don’t like it, boo to you too).
The Yaris GRMN has some excellent ‘ultrasuede’ sports seats that hold you in place very securely. A pity, then, that the place in which they hold you isn’t quite where you’d ideally like to be. You sit high at the controls, close to the pedals, and with a provision for driver leg room that anyone taller than 6ft 2in will likely find troubling. But somehow, the car also fails to give you quite enough steering column reach adjustment, and its pedal layout also puts too much fresh air between brake and accelerator to make for easy heel-and-toeing, which is something that drivers in the market for a performance car of this focus and flavour are likely to want to do.
In broader terms, plenty might find fault with the car’s perceived cabin quality, given the price they’re being asked to pay – the fascia is undoubtedly dark, plain, antiquated and cheap-looking in places, although that’s likely to bother those primarily interesting in the driving experience less.
That Lotus-tuned engine certainly proves a fine advert for the road less travelled where a fairly light hot hatch is concerned, and it's perfectly at home in a car that loses little for not being the most brutally fast thing from point to point. The Yaris GRMN doesn’t have the low-down torque to bludgeon its way down short straights with the vigour of something more powerful and expensive, but its engine responds very crisply, revs with rapacious zip all the way to its 7000rpm redline and makes the accelerator feel like it operates in an entirely analogue and linear dimension (unlike that of so many big-boosted turbo rivals).
On ride and handling, the Yaris makes a decent effort out of a poor start in life. Being unusually tall even by supermini standards, the Yaris plainly has a high centre of gravity and so doesn’t exactly dive into bends with the agile glee of a Mini Cooper S or a Ford Fiesta ST. Instead, it takes a brief but perceptible instant to settle on its outside wheels before changing direction and doesn’t point and rotate underneath you in quite the same puppyish way as those key rivals.
But that’s not to suggest the car isn’t an engaging, lively type. If you set about the Yaris’s meaty controls, working hard to shift its mass around during cornering and wringing every available rev out of that engine, it rewards you plenty. The car has a very simple, likeable, old-school performance vibe because it has passive dampers and a manual gearbox, makes real engine noise, and has but one driving mode. And, frankly, if you don’t like ‘up and at ‘em’, you should have bought the Yaris Hybrid.
The Yaris’ body control is very good and its damping superbly tuned, allowing enough short-wave suppleness to keep the body settled over smaller lumps and bumps but checking it firmly over bigger ones. Steering is feelsome and true, although it weights up unhelpfully when you gather the car’s weight over its front axle, and it can squirm and fight a bit when the slippy Torsen differential is attempting to put all 184lb ft through the outside front wheel.
Also, although handling isn’t as adjustable as in the very best hot superminis, the Yaris’s attitude can be manipulated a little with a mid-corner dab of the brakes. So, on road, just as it is on track, this car’s a lot of fun.