As sporty cars seem to be going extinct, it seems like Toyota, of all brands, is fighting the good fight. It’s brought back the Supra, the Corolla finally has some fire to its look, there’s a second-gen GT86/FR-S, and even the Camry and Avalon have legit TRD variants. But, the crown jewel of Cool Toyotas in 2021, the thing that’s got all of the internets frothing, is the Toyota Yaris GR. Sadly, Americans will have to be content to admire this car from afar.
The Yaris GR is a new hot hatch harking back to the rally car days of the 1990s. Toyota took the latest Yaris hatchback, gave it a bespoke two-door, widebody shell, and stuck a frantic turbo three-pot under the hood. Power goes to all four wheels and it’s manual-shift only. It’s a type of car we haven’t seen from Toyota for a long, long time.
European and Asian outlets have raved about the damn thing. Toyota’s sold out of all of them all over. The Yaris GR seems like everything that every enthusiast has asked for, for years. But, we can’t have it here in the USA. And to be honest, I don’t think we’d know what to do with it, either.
The U.S., or at least U.S.-based car enthusiasts, love to hate the fact that we got cut out of some good international vehicles. The Renault Clio V6? Never got it. The Peugeot 205 GTi? Nope, it stayed in France. All sorts of fast MGs and Rovers? Yeah, they stayed in the British Isles, unfortunately. Or, actually, given how y’all act, probably, fortunately.
See, in the mid to late 2000s, a cultural shift happened. Partially caused by the recession of 2008, people wanted to buy small compacts and subcompacts. Responding to the burgeoning new market, automakers responded by importing their popular smaller models from Europe and Asia. Once forbidden fruit, now we started to have some of the choices that Europeans had for decades like the Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, and Honda Fit. All of these small, cheap, fun runabouts – finally for the purchase by Americans!
Many sold decently well, at least before everyone globally started switching to crossovers and SUVs in the late 2010s. Ford and Fiat had brought over versions of much-loved hot hatches over to the US. It seemed like all was right with the world; we’d finally gotten a taste of what everyone in Europe had been raving about for a long time. No more did we have to watch Top Gear or read EVO, and writhe in jealousy, because we didn’t have anything remotely similar to the cars Euro reviewers raved about.
And yet, when they came here, we kind of dumped on them.
The Fit was “too noisy.” The Fiat 500 Abarth was “too small and not as fast as people thought it should be.” The Subaru WRX has been accused of being a boring car. Yadda yadda yadda. Repeat ad nauseam.
Listen, I know I’m new to this whole industry. I understand that an instrumented test’s goals are to empirically map out performance data. I also know cars like the Fiat 500 Abarth certainly are flawed – the driving position isn’t for everyone, and some of the interior pieces are kind of suspect. I’m pretty sure I’d largely agree with most criticisms of a lot of the forbidden fruit cars that finally reached our shores.
I just wonder, does any of that really matter? If the 500 Abarth is a second slower than a Mini Cooper S, does that make the 500 Abarth a bad car? If the Fiesta ST’s steering is a bit lighter than a Miata’s, does that make the Fiesta a bad car? If you read some of the comments of reviewers or online comments sections of that era, it seems like those flaws make those cars complete crap. The cars that Europeans raved over for years, the ones we whined and wrote letters about, finally came here and were dumped on like a Christmas fruitcake getting regifted across a family.
And that brings me to the Yaris GR. Every review I’ve seen about this car has been overwhelmingly positive about its driving experience. The skeptic in me tells me that Americans would be less kind to it, and somehow it would get skewered in the press and enthusiast crowd. The four-wheel drive and overactive turbo would get dumped on, and Toyota’s last-ditch at creating a rally car for the street would get regarded as a shitbucket horrible effort on par with a 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport.
Maybe I’m doing the most. Toyota’s mulled a GR Corolla with the same tech and powertrain as the GR Yaris, but its seem to be slow about confirming if it’ll happen or not. I wonder if Toyota’s bigwigs have the same thoughts I do, that no matter how good the effort, it’ll get ripped to shreds here in the U.S. If that’s the case, why would they bother with the effort at all?
I want the Yaris GR or something like it to come to the U.S., even if we don’t deserve it.