Of all the car brands you thought might launch a proper hot hatch in 2020, where was Toyota on your list?
Come now, be honest. This is a brand that hasn’t dipped a solo toe (so not including partnership deals) into performance waters in decades, after all, and so I’m guessing it was somewhere near the bottom.
And yet here was are, standing in the pit lane of Portugal’s Estoril race circuit, a squat and heavily camouflaged GR Yaris parked in front of us, its twin exhaust pipes chattering away, its driver’s door open to reveal a par of decidedly sporty seats and a manual gearbox.
Yes, it’s been a long, long time coming, but Toyota is finally back on the hot-hatch scene.
And we’re talking a proper, rorty hot hatch, too – all turbocharged engine, all-paw power and a weight-stripped framed – which Toyota says is enough to push the Yaris deep into Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N territory on the performance front.
The question now, of course, is was it worth the wait?
Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Full disclosure, Toyota is yet to divulge just how much the GR will cost when it arrives in Australia towards the end of next year.
We do have some hints, though. For one, while international markets will get the option of a base-model car as well as a Performance Pack version – the latter adding a pair of mechanical limited-slip differentials and stickier Michelin tyres – Australia will only introduce the cheaper variant for now, and for the foreseeable future.
That means we get the engine, gearbox and all-wheel-drive setup (but more on that in a moment), as well as a yet-to-be-determined feature list that will be confirmed closer the GR Yaris’s late-2020 launch date.
Be warned, though, the GR Yaris is unlikely to be cheap, with Toyota not seeing any of the regular city-sized hot hatch crowd (think Fiesta ST) as a threat. Instead, they list the bigger and more expensive Subaru WRX and Ford Focus RS as its true competitors.
And that means, should you read between the lines, that the Japanese brand’s mean micro-machine will likely be priced accordingly.
Short answer? We hope it's priced around $35k (and if it is, it’s a gem). But we suspect the price will start above a far-harder-to-digest $40k. If so, it risks feeling like a lot of money for not much car.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what’s happened with Toyota lately, but this is not the car company we’ve come to know over the past two decades or so. In fact, it feels like an entirely new brand.
If you had told me even five years ago that I’d be lusting over a Toyota Yaris, I’d have told you you were crazy. But here I am in 2019, lusting.
If they get the pricing right, and that’s a big if, then the GR Yaris will be one hell of a buy.