I wrote the heading for this story and then I read the opening paragraph of the press release and saw Toyota had said exactly what I was about say – and what many of you are probably thinking.
Exciting Toyotas? Really? I don’t mean that in an offensive way. A number of years ago, Toyota certainly had exciting road cars. Most of you should remember the likes of the road-and-track ruling Group N Conquest RSI, their championship winning rally car, and even the Corolla sedan derivatives that wore the same badge.
Let’s be blunt, as the years passed the Toyota brand has really embraced its position as a class leader with an enviable reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
But I don’t know of any performance enthusiasts, or even anybody under the age of 30 (or even 100) that would say there is a performance Toyota that rocks their boat.
This is set to change as Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda has spearheaded a refocus on fun-to-drive vehicles and established a platform for Toyota to participate in motorsport – to the benefit of all Toyota cars. This is not just talk based on overseas cars that we will never see in South Africa.
Although, ironically, the limited edition firecracker of Yaris GRMN we drove last week at the Dezzi Raceway in KZN is not for sale here.
Only 400 units were built worldwide and there are only three in SA for marketing purposes.
But the Gazoo Racing (GR) brand is set to be rolled out to local Toyota dealerships as a proper performance offering.
There are four different levels:
- GR-Line: cosmetic package
- GR-Sport: suspension package
- GR: power package
- GRMN: high-power package
The brand will cater to the needs of a wide target audience. It will also be expanded to multiple model ranges.
Toyota Yaris GRMN
Talking of the Yaris GRMN, its name says it all. It stands for “Gazoo Racing tuned by the Meister of the Nürburgring”.
The team working on the car have developed their skills through participation in motorsport, working side by side with racing professionals and through sports car development programmes.
They have also been able to draw on the competition experience gained by Toyota Gazoo Racing at the circuit.
It is also inspired and influenced by the Yaris WRC, the car with which Toyota has returned to the FIA World Rally Championship, with event-winning success.
Its performance Toyota GT86 Toyota Yaris GRMN focus is made known by the car’s lightweight 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, larger brakes, central oval tailpipe and a bespoke exterior finish that displays Toyota Gazoo Racing’s white, black and red competition colours.
Under the bonnet is a nice and punchy 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, 16V, supercharged engine, tuned to produce 156kW at 6 800rpm and 250Nm at 5 000rpm, and weighs in at only 1 135kg.
Driving through the front wheels and a six-speed manual gearbox means you should get to 100km/h in around 6.3 sec and run an electronically limited top speed of 230km/h, which we did not test on the speed-trap-infested KZN highways during our launch drive.
But straight-line speed is not what this car is all about.
It is about having fun, and fun to a petrolhead means getting around corners fast. The GRNM does this ever so easily thanks to a stiffened chassis, shorter springs with Sachs performance shocks and a Torsen limited-slip differential upfront.
And making sure you get it right before you turn into the corner are 275mm-diameter grooved front disc brakes that are fitted with four-piston callipers; 278mm discs are run at the rear.
For extended track use, cooling is crucial, so there is an intercooler for the supercharger and an oil cooler, both located in front of the radiator, and an enlarged air intake to support better engine breathing.
The fuel system has also been upgraded, using components from a V6 engine.
Inside, the sporty theme continues with front seats designed specifically for the car by Toyota Boshoku, providing best-in-class body holding and support.
And it continues with little details such as an engine start button and a small-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sourced from the Toyota GT86 coupe, along with an aluminium sports pedal set, aluminium trim detailing and a bespoke, high-grade combimeter with TFT display, all designed to reflect the car’s special performance character.
I can tell you, this was the first real taste of where Gazoo Racing is going in terms of road cars, and it simply means that the good old days of potent, fun-to-drive Toyotas are very much on the way back.
While playing at Dezzi Raceway, we were also introduced to the upgraded Toyota 86, that now goes under the name GT86.
We didn’t get to drive the car, other than a brief spin around the skidpan, but the upgrades are mostly there for improved on-road and track dynamics.
You now get a Brembo performance brake package that consists of high-performance ventilated discs measuring 326mm at the front and 316mm at the rear.
In conjunction with the larger brake discs, the brake callipers are bigger too, and their sweep area increases by 38% and 6% for the front and rear respectively.
You also get Sachs performance shocks and an all-coil suspension that consists of MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear, both with a stabiliser bar.
Visual changes comprise black treatment to the rear spoiler and side mirrors, while new black-hued 17-inch alloy wheels complete the black-out theme.
Inside, a newly fitted touchscreen infotainment system occupies the dashboard – complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Show Plus functionality. In addition, on-board Satellite Navigation is included as standard.
The system also offers Bluetooth telephony and USB interface – all accessible from the steering-mounted switchgear.
Perhaps, sadly, the model retains the same 2.0 litre D-4S naturally aspirated, boxer engine delivering 147kW of power and 205Nm of torque.
The close ratio six-speed gearbox and limited slip diff remains for fun in the twisty stuff.
But imagine this car with the supercharged Yaris GRMN engine?
The line-up has been revised to consist of a single derivative based on the high-grade six-speed manual specification package only.
It comes in at R575 700, and this includes a four-year/60 000km service plan and three year/100 000km warranty.