2021 Toyota GR Yaris praised and panned: world divided over new hot hatch

The first road tests of the Toyota GR Yaris have delivered the highest praise and a lukewarm reception. We think we know why the reviews are worlds apart.

The new Toyota GR Yaris – the year’s most anticipated hot hatch – has received mixed reviews around the world based on initial road tests.

YouTube channel JDM Masters, in a segment hosted by advanced driving instructors and motorsport competitors K Bradford from Japan and Shaun Thong from Hong Kong, praised many aspects of the new Toyota GR Yaris. The hosts agreed “people are going to love it”.

However, in their conclusion it was apparent they felt underwhelmed.

Thong said: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good car, it’s very sophisticated, it has a lot of grip, the engine is great, the gearbox is great, but at this price range there are better cars.

“I’m a hot-hatch lover but even for me … in terms of being a hot hatch, it feels more like a warm hatch … (perhaps) warm to hot.”

Bradford said: “Real sports car enthusiasts might be disappointed with it … it’s how Toyota’s marketed this car, they’ve marketed and promised a lot of things. I like it as a car that can perform everything well for your daily life and it’s still a bit exciting, but as a hardcore driving enthusiast, it does lack a little bit, honestly.”

At the same time, respected British institution Autocar magazine wrote on the cover of its latest issue “If only we could give it six stars” (our of five) and declared the Toyota GR Yaris is “probably the most exciting addition to the hot hatchback market in a decade”.

The magazine continued: “The GR Yaris is a new pint-sized champion among affordable, road-going, any-weather driver’s cars (and) every bit as good to drive as you might have been hoping it would be”.

However, there is one key difference in the opposing reviews which may have gone unnoticed by many fans.

The YouTube channel tested the regular Toyota GR Yaris – the same type as the first 1000 examples that sold out in Australia within a week.

Autocar UK tested the higher-spec Toyota GR Yaris with limited-slip front and rear differentials, stickier Michelin tyres, and lighter wheels (this version is called Circuit Pack in the UK and will be called Rallye when it arrives in Australia next year, price is yet to be announced).

As an aside, in New Zealand, Toyota has for now decided to only import the high grade GR Yaris with limited-slip differentials, grippier tyres, and lighter alloy wheels.

To be clear, the example tested in Japan by the YouTubers was the 1.6-litre turbo all-wheel-drive version that will initially be sold in Australia, not the extremely basic trim grade sold in Japan only with the 1.5-litre engine, CVT automatic, and front-drive layout from the regular Yaris. You can see how the variants compare in Japan here.

When CarAdvice tested both high performance versions of the GR Yaris back-to-back last year on a race track – where the difference is most apparent – we pleaded with Toyota to bring in the top-spec Level Two version, either instead of the Level One car or to sell alongside it.

We wrote at the time: “For what it’s worth, we reckon if there is only one roll of the dice, Toyota should opt for the GR Yaris with the works, not the watered-down version. Enthusiast hot-hatch buyers know their stuff, and there’s no way Toyota will be able to hide the GR Yaris Performance Pack from view. It’s not as if they don’t have the internet.”

We will get to sample the Level One version of the Toyota GR Yaris on local roads in a couple of weeks, when we will bring you our first first drive impressions on familiar roads. The Level Two version (dubbed Rallye locally) is due here in the first half of next year.

In the meantime, here’s how the rest of the world views both models.

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