NZ revved up for WRC-spun hot Yaris

Toyota here has rallied to the parent brand’s WRC cause, with confirmation it wants a road car celebration of the factory’s gravel-prepped racer.
Saturday March 18, 2017

By Richard Bosselman

KIWI enthusiasm for the World Rally Championship, already fired up by Hayden Paddon’s involvement, could spark up all the more with Toyota here confirming it is striving to sell a hot hatch directly inspired and influenced by the Japanese brand’s return to the competition.

Toyota New Zealand’s new product manager says achieving distribution rights for the muscular Yaris GRMN, unveiled at the recent Geneva Motor Show, is being worked through.

Availability is still murky – the brand is reluctant to even talk about this year or next – because discussion only began last week when Spencer Morris visited Toyota head office in Japan but, he says, just a very short conversation was enough to leave him convinced the ballistic baby hatch is right for here.

“We have put our hand up for it. It’s too early to know anything about when we might have it, I just don’t know that yet … to us, the timing is unclear.

“But we have said we would like to take it, to bring it to New Zealand. That’s where we are at just at the moment.”

The Paddon fanbase might not be so keen to be driving a Toyota, however the emergent moves to return a WRC round to New Zealand – a push enthusiastically backed by the Geraldine driver – has certainly revved up Toyota’s man as well.

TNZ makes no bones that it sees potential for leveraging off Toyota’s WRC campaign. Having the championship back on our own roads would make a good thing even better.

“It would be great if it WRC came back to NZ. It sounds like it could be a possibility. Obviously that would be even better for us if that happened.”

TNZ is, of course, already back in performance mode with the 86 coupe. While the sales volume is small it has been a fantastic sporting ambassador for the brand, with the national grade racing series now in its fourth year attracting a strong field and generating significant feel-good.

There’s every chance the Yaris GRMN can do the same.

“It’s probably not going to be a big volume for us but that’s not the point,” says Morris.

“I think it is great to have a car like that in the lineup. It’s quite exciting for us. It brings another dimension to our product range. It’s fantastic being back in the WRC and it’s great that a car like this is being developed.”

While not a full replication of the Yaris WRC – specifically, unlike the previous pitch rallysport-spawned Celica GT4s of 20 years ago it is front rather than four-wheel-drive – the GRMN is nonetheless packed with enough dedicated performance features to be considered rather more than a marketing exercise.

Beyond the special paint finish – white with red and black flash detailing on the bonnet and sills to accurately echo the works racer’s livery - there’s genuine sizzle.

Though Toyota has yet to release full performance details, it has confirmed the GRNM has the most powerful engine yet to slot into a Yaris road car, a 152kW supercharged 1.8-litre four cylinder.

It suggests the manual-only edition will achieve best-in-class times both for the 0-100kmh sprint and acceleration from 80-120kmh in fourth gear.

The brand has also vowed that its product will present as a more than valid competitor for the Ford Fiesta ST, VW Polo GTI and Renault Clio RS, all of which are available here, with the $34,990 Ford being the cheapest present choice has a special paint finish – white with red and black flash detailing on the bonnet and sills – to echoe the works racer’s livery.

It’s not just about smart style. There’s genuine sizzle, too. Though Toyota has yet to release full performance details, it has confirmed the GRNM has the most powerful engine yet to slot into a Yaris road car, a 152kW supercharged 1.8-litre four cylinder engine.

It suggests the car will achieve best-in-class times both for the 0-100kmh sprint and acceleration from 80-120kmh in fourth gear.

There is no mention of the impending debut product from Hyundai’s own N-Sport skunkworks. Their first product, a road car version of Paddon’s i20, will be out later this year and is an obvious competitor – but perhaps not on the NZ scene. Despite the association with the Kiwi ace, the i20 N is not being considered for NZ. Our first N car will arrive late in 2017 and is based on the soon-to-show next generation of the i30.

Toyota’s presentation at Geneva enforced that the GRMN is “more than a simple hot hatch, but is a thoroughbred performance model that directly benefits from the engineering and tuning skills Toyota is developing in its motorsport programme.”

The naming convention alone sets out to reinforce the link with the rally monster which only began racing this season and has already notched up an outright victory, in the series’ second race, Rally Sweden. Jari-Matti Latvala’s victory was Toyota’s first in world rallying since Didier Auriol snatched Rally China in 1999.

GRMN stands for Gazoo Racing Masters of Nurburgring, a reference to the name of Toyota’s racing organisation and the world famous German track where car brands test and race performance cars.

It’s also a circuit special to by Toyota’s president. Akio Toyoda, who loves motorsport and wants Toyota to make more exciting cars, has raced Gazoo-fettled cars at the 28km venue’s famous annual 24-hour sports car event, under a pseudonym.

Gazoo runs the WRC effort, with rally legend Tommi Makinen installed as the programme’s head, and its test drivers played a big role in developing the road car’s performance and handling on the legendary circuit.

Toyota has significantly re-engineered the Yaris’ structure to cope with the performance ambition. Focus restricts to the three-door shell, a format TNZ has not previously sold here in the current generation.

The car has a reinforced chassis with additional bracing, including an extra bar between the front suspension towers.

A Torsen limited-slip differential bestows better traction and handling on the Yaris GRMN, while shorter springs allow it to hug the ground more closely. These are teamed with dedicated shock absorbers, developed with Sachs, and a larger diameter front anti-roll bar.

The Yaris GRMN is also equipped with highly efficient performance brakes with large, ventilated discs and four-pot front callipers and it ride on 17-inch BBS multi-spoke alloys.

Aero enhancement runs to a bespoke, black wing-type rear spoiler.

The interior also reflects the performance intent. The front sports seats are designed specifically for the car by Toyota Boshoku and the small-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel comes from the Toyota GT86 and, as in that car, incorporates a centre line mark to help the driver place the car precisely on the road. It also achieves aluminium sports pedals.

TNZ’s concession about the GRMN comes as it has begun introduction of the mainstream model’s mid-life facelift, which brings some modest styling changes and an equipment update.