Everyone loves a homologation special, but where have they all gone? Noted petrolhead Akio Toyoda may have kicked off a comeback with this hot new Toyota GR Yaris…
I guess for horse lovers, it would be Pegasus. For car people, it’s a homologation special. Remember those mythical beasts? All box-arched, bewinged, fog-lit, mud-flapped… They went extinct around 20 years ago, with quite a sign-off – the last proper homologation specials were cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and the Porsche GT1 Strassenversion.
Homologation specials however have always been synonymous with rallying, at their peak in the 1980s and 1990s and expressed in outrageous ways by the meekest of brands. You could buy a supercharged wide-body Golf Rallye from Volkswagen, a sausage maker. Ford, on a break from rep-mobiles, put a Cosworth in a Sierra and added 200% extra wing. The French were particularly anti-social, developing an aversion for rear seats and a penchant for mid-engined turbocharged hatchbacks. Even Opel, the protagonist in a German expression involving boogers, was knocking it out of the park back in the day. Jeder popel fährt ‘nen Opel? That’s fine – give me a Manta 400 and a tissue.
Progressive racing rules pretty much spelt the end of homologation specials, but they hung on here and there, cars like the BMW 320Si, Maserati MC12, Suzuki Ignis Sport…
I remember over a decade ago when Akio Toyoda first took charge and promised to make a more fun company out of Toyota, and I remember skepticism. The Lexus LFA followed, and then the affordable, rear-drive 86 coupe. Now the Supra is making waves. Nobody is questioning Toyoda any more. Even before becoming president of the company he created Gazoo Racing, a works racing outfit, just so he could enter the Nürburgring 24-hour himself and drive at the Nordschleife. His chauffeur wheels him around Tokyo in a one-off Toyota Century, badged GRMN – Gazoo Racing Masters of the Nürburgring. Best of all, Toyoda conceived the brand’s return to the World Rally Championship.
To challenge the world’s best cars and drivers on the toughest stages, Toyoda did things the right way – he entrusted the operation to Tommi Mäkinen, and let the four-time world champ get on with it. Based in his native Finland, the Toyota WRC team fielded a Yaris making a debut in 2017. The following year Toyota won its first constructors’ title since 1999, and in 2019 the drivers’ title was secured by Ott Tänak. Where everyone else failed, Tommi and Toyoda had toppled Citroen and halted Sebastien Ogier’s consecutive run of six championships.
Still Tommi wanted more. He asked for a lower, wider body, with double-wishbone suspension at the rear to replace the standard torsion beam set-up, and he wanted an engine mounted further back in a stiffer chassis. For the increased rigidity Tommi wanted a three-door body instead of the Yaris’ five-door body style. Tommi wanted it all, and Toyoda let him have it.
The result is the new Toyota GR Yaris, a true homologation special developed for the WRC with little in the way of compromising performance.
To appease the FIA, competing manufactures need to sell 25,000 examples of the homologated model, and for Ford, Citroen and Hyundai that’s easy. They just sell a ton of diesel crapboxes and then line up in Monte Carlo for the season opener.
Toyota did it the hard way, developing a model specifically for homologation, with a specification that’s entirely different to the standard Yaris. The GR for example, is manufactured in Toyota’s Motomachi plant best known for the carbon fibre, V10-engined LFA. The significance of Toyota’s investment into the GR Yaris is evident just from the fact that no other manufacturer is prepared to go to such lengths.
The hot hatch employs four-wheel drive with a dedicated vehicle architecture, developed by combining Yaris and Prius bits coincidentally, and comes with a new 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 270 horsepower and 370Nm of torque. The body uses carbon fibre for the roof to lower the centre of gravity and aluminium for the bonnet, tailgate and doors. A six-speed manual transmission drives the wheels, with the dynamic characteristics open to the driver – you can pick from a 50:50, 60:40 or 30:70 power split, and the options list gives you the choice of Torsen limited-slip differentials. It all totals up to a car weighing 1,280kg, which makes the GR Yaris way lighter than everything else on the market including the Mini Cooper S.
Compared to a regular five-door Yaris, the three-door GR is quite a bit shorter, but much wider and lower, adorned by intakes, winglets, diffusers and spoilers, as well as some forged 18-inch BBS wheels over 356mm brake discs up front and 297mm rears.
Considering the need to sell 25,000 a year the $36,000 price tag seems reasonable, and competitive with the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, Renault Megane Sport, Hyundai i30 N… The order book for the Toyota GR Yaris is already open with first deliveries planned for this summer. We can only hope the thing dominates this season in the WRC championship, forcing everyone else to brush up on their homologational skills. We could be in for another golden age.