The unlikely Toyota Yaris is the model that’s been tasked with launching the Gazoo Racing sub-brand in Europe. With a limited run of just 600 cars (400 in Europe and a further 200 restyled versions for the Japanese market) it’s more of a toe in the water exercise than a full-on assault, but its character will set the tone for a raft of go-faster models from the Japanese firm.
Aimed squarely at the likes of the Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport and the forthcoming Fiesta ST, the Yaris hot hatch has been developed over two short years by a small team of dedicated car nuts who are keen to remind the world that Toyota still knows how to have fun. To this end it packs a 209bhp supercharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual gearbox, heavily revised suspension and a limited slip differential.
Given the limited time and budget for its development, the Yaris is actually a real hoot. For starters it’s genuinely quick, the mix of fizzy motor and closely stacked ratios making for rapid progress. And while the chassis lacks the ultimate finesse and poise of the 208 GTi, it makes up for that with an infectious appetite for fun. Whereas the Peugeot remains a little aloof until you really dig deep, the Yaris eggs you on from the moment you prod the starter button. Perhaps more amazing still is how Gazoo Racing has turned the roughest of supermini sow’s ears into a really desirable silk purse. It’s not cheap and they’re all sold out, but the Yaris GRMN deserves consideration among the top tier of hot hatches.Toyota Yaris GRMN in detail
> Performance and 0-60 time - You'll have to snatch third before hitting 60mph in 6.4 seconds due to the short gearing. The Yaris tops out at a 143mph.
> Engine and gearbox - Its supercharged, 1.8-litre engine develops 209bhp and 185lb ft of torque – the latter coming on stream at 4800rpm.
> Ride and handling - The chassis setup is well-judged, fostering confidence and exhibiting a pleasing degree of adjustability.
> MPG and running costs - Unsurprisingly the supercharger has a deterimental affect on fuel consumption in the real world, however Toyota quotes a combined 37.7mpg.
> Interior and tech - The lack of adjustment for the driving position doesn't do the hot Yaris any favours.
> Design - The GRMN-based makeover adds some visual aggression lending the Yaris a purposeful road presence.
Image 2 of 17Price and rivals
At £26,295 the Toyota Yaris GRMN is an expensive go-faster supermini – as a comparison the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, the only real alternative, is £23,550, which is hardly a bargain price. However, this financial argument is largely academic, because all the UK cars have been sold. And while the Yaris isn’t cheap, it does feel like a special car that’s been engineered by people who understand the thrill of driving. While we eagerly await the Ford Fiesta ST, the Yaris just edges the Peugeot as our favourite pocket-sized funster.Performance and 0-60 time
humb the starter button and the 2ZR fires keenly, idling with a note that’s more vocal than the Peugeot 208 GTi’s but a fair bit quieter than an earlier prototype we drove.
It’s a joy to work the GRMN’s engine hard. It’s not just a means of getting along the straight sections of a road quickly, but rather something that’s a source of satisfaction itself just to deploy. Clearly, it lacks the low-down punch of some, but the mid-range is surprisingly effective and most of all, it loves to be extended between 5000-7000rpm..
While there is the distant characteristic whine of a supercharger at lower revs, it’s the rush of compressed air and exhaust blare that you hear towards the red line. Crispness of response is its major advantage, complemented by a slick and precise gearchange.
The car’s outright performance figures are competitive rather than startling, with the 0-62mph dash taking a claimed 6.4 seconds – although the fact the sprint geared Yaris won’t crack 60mph in second, requiring a change to third, means this is a pretty impressive effort. Top speed is electronically pegged at 143mph.Engine and gearbox
The Yaris GRMN is in many ways defined by its ‘2ZR’ 1.8-litre supercharged engine. It’s a type of powerplant unique in the current hot match market, and while it uses forced induction its throttle response is superior to that of rivals that are all turbocharged. It’s powerful, too, with a peak output of 209bhp and a slightly less impressive 185lb ft maximum torque output developed at a high 4800rpm.
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Considerable work was needed to fit the big unit in the nose of the Yaris, with many of the challenges revolving around heat management and maintaining emissions compliance. The Magnusson-Eaton supercharger, its intercooler, and the air intake, are packaged as one, slotting down into the front of the engine bay. The exhaust was a particular headache, as there was no provision for the necessary shape and diameter of a performance pipe with the standard Yaris underfloor.
The only transmission option is a six-speed manual with a close ratio gearset. This drives the front-wheels through a Torsen limited slip differential.Ride and Handling
In normal driving the GRMN is surprisingly undemanding, with a ride that, while possessing an underlying firmness, is far from uncomfortable. There is perhaps a fraction more weight to the steering, but there’s still a slightly artificial manner to the way it self-centres and, in fact, during those first few degrees of lock when you turn into a corner. It’s a glassy, remote kind of sensation, which on cold, wintry roads makes it easy to over-commit on the amount of steering lock required, and therefore overload the front tyres, which clearly don’t have the outright grip of the Michelin Supersports used by the Peugeot 208 GTi. Nevertheless, get through this phase and it’s clear that the nose does stick, and the Yaris GRMN can be thrown down a road with manic enthusiasm, revs flaring, nose gently torque-steering under power but never requiring a firm hand, and all at very high speed.
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The GRMN engineers have consciously settled on a chassis tune that’s playful, but also one that strikes a fine balance between interaction, adjustability and confidence-breeding stability. It’s appreciably less tail happy than the 208, but no worse for it.
Perhaps the only real criticism is that the Yaris seems to quickly run out of suspension travel, which is no doubt down to the many limitations of the standard car. It never gets unruly and there’s just enough control at the very limit of compression, but it can sap a little confidence when really attacking a bumpy section of road. A 208 GTi is more controlled in similar conditions, but this poise comes at the expense of some communication at more realistic everyday speeds.MPG and running costs
The GRMN is based on a humble Yaris, so you’d expect it to be relatively cheap to run – and based on the claimed figures, you’d be right. At pumps Toyota says you’ll see a return of 37.7mpg, while CO2 emissions run to 170g/km.
However, work the supercharged unit hard and the fuel consumption will drop to the mid to high 20s, which isn’t so bad in itself, but when it’s combined with the measly 35-litre tank, you’ll find that the Yaris will barely go 200 miles between refills.
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The rest of the running costs will be fairly low, with the Toyota’s light weight paying dividends when it comes to brake and tyre wear. Some of the more bespoke parts, such as the Sachs dampers, will be more expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for what is essentially a bespoke, low volume performance car.Interior and tech
Inside, the GRMN is almost pure Yaris. There’s a GT86 steering wheel, a RAV4 gearknob (yes, really) and a pair of heavily bolstered high-backed seats, but that’s as far as the modifications go. That means the driving position is too high, there’s not enough wheel adjustment and you’re drowning is a sea of cheap plastics. There’s decent kit, including sat-nav, but the lack of illumination for the window switches and steering wheel controls is a constant frustration after dark.
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Tech is fairly limited and essentially runs to Toyota’s Touch & Go infotainment and sat-nav set-up. The large touchscreen is fairly easy to use, but the graphics look clunky and the mapping seems about a generation behind that used in superminis from the VW group.Design
Visually, the car closely follows the template set by the standard three-door Yaris – cost restraints meant sheet metal changes were out of the question. As a result, the GRMN (Gazoo Racing Masters of the Nurburgring. I know, it’s obvious isn’t it) gains its visual muscle courtesy of some natty body graphics, a large tailgate spoiler and centre exit exhaust that takes its cues from the brand’s WRC machine. The whole lot is set off by the addition of 17-inch forged BBS alloys.
Overall, the GRMN looks surprisingly purposeful. It’s not got the sort of instant presence of, say, a Renault Clio 197/200, but it gives off enough racy vibes to let those in the know that this is no ordinary Toyota shopping trolley.20 Mar 2018
The mk1 Ford Focus RS might steal the limelight but there’s another option if you’re looking for a hot hatchback based on the first-generation Focus: the ST170.
It’s fair to say the ST170 didn’t shine on its debut in 2002. Part of that was due to the increasingly exciting hot hatchbacks available at the time, following the EP3 Civic Type R that kicked the class through the 200bhp barrier, but in part, it seems, it was Ford’s decision to hold back the ST170 just a little given the RS was just around the corner.
Even so, the first hot Focus packed an excellent chassis and handsome styling, and slotted neatly into the space left by the short-lived Ford Racing Puma and alongside the concurrently-launched Mondeo ST220 - the early 2000s was a great time to be a fan of understated but otherwise excellent fast Fords.
Image 7 of 7Ford Focus ST170 in detail
If the Mondeo had demonstrated Ford getting its act together and the Ka and Puma cemented its ability to create drivers’ cars from humble underpinnings, then the first-generation Focus was Ford showing it could create a true class leader completely from scratch.
The Focus differed from the old Escort in virtually every way, save the carry-over of a few Zetec engines, and was all the better for it. With VW’s Mk4 Golf on the horizon Ford had made a big quality push, but when the Golf arrived it couldn’t compete with the Ford’s dynamics and for a company as staid as Ford had been in the preceding decade or two, the sharp “new edge” styling was bang up to date.
With a 128bhp 2-litre Zetec topping the range though, the one thing the Focus initially lacked was a performance variant. That took four years to arrive, with the ST170 finally making its debut in the spring of that year.
The Zetec saw some work to lift its output, with new forged pistons, dual-length inlet tracts, a new cylinder head with larger inlet valves and stiffer valve springs, with variable intake cam timing and a freer-flowing exhaust system. This little lot raised power to 171bhp (unlike modern use of numerics for power figures, ST170 is more of a guide than a PS figure), with 144lb ft of torque.
Ford opted for a six-speed Getrag manual gearbox, which sent power to the front wheels like every other Focus. The fifteen-spoke, 17in alloy wheels were large for the day, and housed 300mm front and 280mm discs behind, with 215-section, 45-profile tyres transferring that acceleration and braking force to the road.
Unfortunately, these efforts were overshadowed by those of the ST’s competitors, which offered more punch or less weight, and it was the Ford’s engine, though willing, which let down the car’s performance overall. The fluid chassis was another story, with great damping and plenty of feedback through the steering, while the subtle cabin turned out to make the RS’s violent combination of blue and black look a little try-hard.
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Available with three or five doors or more rarely as an estate, picking up even a good ST170 requires very little cash these days. With the next-generation five-cylinder turbocharged Focus STs keeping a lid on prices from above they’re likely to remain affordable for a little while longer too, but sporty Fords only ever go up eventually...
Max power (bhp @ rpm)
128 @ 5750
171 @ 7000
212 @ 5500
Max torque (lb ft @ rpm)
128 @ 3750
144 @ 5500
229 @ 3500
144mphWhat we said Ford Focus ST170
evo 043, first drive, May 2002
‘The first few metres of driving tell you an awful lot about Ford’s command of chassis tuning. The damping feels fabulous, the low-speed ride displaying an almost oily suppleness, belying the stiff-sidewalled tyres that barely smear themselves around the 17in rims. The steering also has fine feel, with precise response and keen weighting.
‘While the chassis shines the engine never quite feels its equal. Those tight uphill hairpins make all but the most powerful cars feel breathless...on a less extreme road I suspect the ST would feel more muscular. A bigger disappointment is the gearshift, which lacks the brilliantly wristy shift quality of the standard-setting Puma’s ‘box, or indeed that of the Civic Type R.’What to pay
Ford Focus ST170
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