GR-rrrr… A Yaris with purpose

As a prelude to the local launch of the GR Yaris, Toyota South Africa and Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (TGRSA) have partnered up to provide enthusiasts a sneak peak of the newcomer’s dynamic abilities by conducting a FIVEDRIVES campaign to highlight the car’s potential. The GR Yaris is a WRC-inspired hot hatch featuring a combination of analogue driving dynamics, ‘retro’ H-pattern manual transmission, driver-selectable AWD and a throaty, turbocharged ‘three-pot’ engine. The FIVEDRIVES campaign combines five Iconic locations across South Africa with five TGRSA ambassadors putting the GR Yaris through its paces, giving the motoring public their ‘off-the-cuff’ feedback on the vehicle. Part 3 of the campaign involved Serge Damseaux and FMM’s PlaasPad test facility…

The name Serge Damseaux will be familiar to anyone that followed local rallying and racing in the 1980s and ’90s. Piloting two generations of Toyota Conquests, Serge is no stranger to high-powered, 4WD Toyotas. The locally-developed AE82 Toyota Conquest 4×4 Turbo (in full Group B-trim), became a crowd favourite for its wild acceleration and four-wheel power slides. It was produced to compete against the world’s best rally cars in a time when the WRC really pushed the envelope. It even went head-to-head with its WRC-cousin, the Celica GT-Four, during an exhibition rally, where it infamously beat it on local turf… The Castrol-liveried AE92 proved to be one of the most successful local rally cars, helping Serge rack up a total of 74 National Rally Championship wins – a  hugely impressive feat.

Conceived as a bespoke ‘homologation special’, the GR Yaris was built as a rally car foremost and production car second. In this regard, it is the spiritual successor to the Celica GT-Four and locally-brewed Conquest 4×4 Turbo. The GR Yaris revives the analogue driver’s car philosophy in a thoroughbred modern package.

Under the bonnet is an all-new  three-cylinder, d-o-h-c, turbocharged 1,6-litre,engine making a heady 192 kW and 360 N.m of torque, connected to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. The 4WD system can split power between the front and rear axle depending on the situation via modes such as Normal (60:40), Sport (30:70) and Track (50:50). An optional Circuit Pack, which comprises a Torsen limited-slip differential on both the front and rear axle, performance-tuned suspension and 18-inch forged alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4s 225/40R18 tyres are also offered for the GR Yaris. The GR Yaris is capable of a 0-100 km/h in just 5,5 seconds and has a limited top speed of 230 km/h.

Apart from exploring the off-road track, which was the main point of the exercise, Serge took the opportunity to do some laps of the PlaasPad test track, with a few willing passengers going along for the ride – including me. We have a long history of motor sport involvement together and it was no real surprise to find Serge has lost little – if any – of his rally and race driving skills despite the passing years. The look of concentration on his face while doing the evaluation work was matched by the beaming smile afterwards. “It’s a very impressive car,” said Serge after the gravel and tar runs. “The engine is brilliant as is the four-wheel drive system. The handling is neutral and predictable. On the gravel with road tyres it was a bit hairy at times, but not difficult to control. The brakes are excellent, too.”

The GR Yaris looks set to become an instant icon. SA specifications and pricing will be revealed closer to the launch.