How could the GR Corolla not be great? It’s a widebody hatchback housing a 300-hp inline-three that's paired to an advanced all-wheel-drive system. It's the sort of raucous car we’ve yearned for since the WRX STI hatch went out of production. More hot hatches are always good, and one like this — backed by heavy investment from Toyota — is truly wonderful.
There’s just one problem: this isn’t the Toyota hot hatch we’ve been lusting after. The rest of the world gets the GR Yaris, a supermini homologation special designed to allow Toyota to run a tiny three-door hatch in the World Rally Championship. The homologation Yaris shares essentially nothing but badging with the five-door Yaris, one of the best-selling small cars in the world.
The initial outpouring of desire for the GR Yaris from the US community was huge. When the car was announced, petitions immediately popped up to tell Toyota there was a market for the GR Yaris in America. Granted, petitions like this are largely meaningless. Wanting something is one thing, actually writing a check for it when it arrives is another. Toyota could’ve ignored it and been just fine. Yet the company took it seriously, announcing that it would indeed bring a GR-branded hot hatch to the US. Just not the Yaris.
Of course, B-segment vehicles – the class of small cars that the Yaris is a part of – aren’t all that popular in the United States. The last Yaris we got stateside was a rebadged Mazda2, a car totally different from the Yaris available in the rest of the world. Most other cars in that segment, like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic, and the Mazda2 itself, have all long departed our market for a lack of sales. That means we don’t get the wonderful Fiesta ST anymore, and it also means the GR Yaris was never a lock to come to the US.
Yet, in an interview with R&T, Jack Hollis, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America said “When you say ‘Did we consider [the GR Yaris]?’ we consider anything. It was just that we knew that GR Corolla fit our market... Doesn’t mean the GR Yaris couldn’t come here either, it's just that GR Corolla is what we made a commitment to."
Emphasis mine. While the Yaris was never a lock to come to America, Toyota could have brought the car all of us small hatch nutjobs petitioned for. But Toyota committed to the Corolla instead. We’re missing out on something.
The GR Corolla’s version of the G16E-GTE inline-three has 32 more horsepower than the Yaris to make up for its extra girth and weight. The Corolla’s body has been reworked to look more aggressive. It uses the same advanced drivetrain, since the GR Yaris also rides on the Corolla platform, which gives the Yaris that squat, aggressive stance. The GR Corolla is even built in the Motomachi plant, like the GR Yaris. Motomachi is where Toyota’s most ambitious products are made, like the hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai, the electric bZ4x, the Crown luxury car, the miniscule C+pod city car, the Noah and Voxy vans, and the two GR hatchbacks.
Toyota, as one of the world’s largest and most profitable automakers, can build cars like the LC, GR Yaris, and Mirai as exhibitions for its technology, design, and engineering. While they won’t necessarily be the biggest money makers, they show the might of Toyota, bragging rights it holds over others in the industry. Building the GR Corolla at Motomachi shows just how serious the company is, that this isn’t a Corolla hatch with a warmed over drivetrain and badges it doesn’t deserve.
Yet there’s something about the Yaris that the Corolla lacks. First, the size. The last fast car we had from this segment was the front-wheel-drive Fiesta ST. The Yaris has a full 70 horsepower more and all-wheel drive. Second, and most importantly, the GR Yaris is a true homologation special, an essentially new car that shares a Yaris badge just so Toyota can legally run a three-door hatch in the World Rally Championship. Homologation specials used to be fairly common, with manufacturers building road cars just so they could race a unique race car. Now, manufacturers modify road cars to compete. No other team in the world rally championship had to build an entirely new version of a car to compete. Look at the GR next to a normal Yaris. The essence is there, but this is lower, wider, and more focused.
On the other hand, while the Corolla’s engine and drivetrain are innovative, wonderful, and bred from motorsports, the idea isn’t really new. There have been similarly sized hatches and sedans with small turbocharged engines, manual gearboxes, and all-wheel-drive in our market for more than two decades. The GR Yaris feels fresh and exciting, a new idea and a model with a unique story among cars for sale today. The GR Corolla has things we love, but just knowing that it’s not the car hurts.
None of this is to say that the Corolla is bad. Toyota didn’t owe us anything and had no real reason to make the GR Corolla other than wanting to. But Akio Toyoda himself dubbed the GR Yaris a true Toyota sports car and broke all his company’s own rules to build it. It has a unique story that doesn’t share parts or engineering with BMW or Subaru. It’s a shame that Toyota’s best example of homologation engineering and Akio Toyoda’s pet project won’t get a shot on American roads.
You Might Also Like