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We Need the Toyota GR Yaris in North America

We have a taste for forbidden fruit

As a young boy in the 1980s, I dreamed of owning a bonkers homologation special like the Lancia 037 Stradale, Ford RS200, Peugeot 205 T16, or Audi Sport Quattro. Toyota recently revealed a small hatchback that's in the spirit of those manic Group B rally-cars-for-the-road the Toyota GR Yaris. Sadly, Americans are once again denied the pleasure. How dare you, Toyota?

Just have a look at the details. Toyota launched the new rest-of-the world (RoW) 'XP210' Yaris in 2019, with sales starting February 2020. But the GR Yaris actually shares little with that RoW 5-door hatchback. The rally-bred Yaris is a 3-door hatchback designed from scratch by Toyota Gazoo Racing (where the 'GR' in the GR Yaris comes from). Take a gander at the bespoke, widebody design, especially from the rear. It's wicked cool. Four-time world rally champion Tommi Mäkinen assisted in the development and he just happens to serve as the team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing. Remember the Tommi Mäkinen Edition Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI? I do. Vividly. It's insanely cool. We didn't get that lunatic automobile in the USA either. You see a theme here?

The GR Yaris may be just as wicked as that special Evo VI. Its roof sits nearly four inches lower than the standard RoW Yaris and is made of carbon fiber polymer. Aluminum is used on the doors, hood, and rear hatch. Out goes the basic torsion beam rear suspension, replaced with a double wishbone configuration due to the rally Yaris carrying all-wheel drive (AWD). But it's not the typical on-demand AWD system that's usually found with a transversely mounted engine. Toyota's setup carries a driver-adjustable, multi-plate clutch center differential, allowing up to 100% of power to go to either axle. It's lightweight and, as an option, outfitted with Torsen limited-slip differentials front and rear. Very trick.

Fourteen-inch brake rotors and four-piston calipers sit behind 18-inch wheels. As a bonus, an intercooler sprayer system, different suspension tuning, forged BBS wheels, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (versus Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050) all come along with those Torsen diffs as part of the Circuit Pack.

The engine, of course, gets a turbo—a given with most rally cars. But the powertrain choice isn't typical. The engine is positioned farther back in the chassis compared to the standard Yaris. Relocating the battery to the cargo area also helps weight distribution but the key move is Toyota's fitment of a rather small engine with a limited number of pistons—a 1.6-liter 3 cylinder. Yes, that's right. Only three cylinders. Output is 268 hp (257 for European models) and 273 lb-ft of torque (266 in Europe), making it the most powerful triple you'll find in a road car.

But the best news of all? The sole transmission choice is a six-speed manual. It seems Japan, like America, prefers a proper clutch pedal and row-it-yourself gearbox in an enthusiast-focused automobile. Thank the automotive gods for that. Even without the lightning-fast shifts of a flappy-paddle gearbox, there's a quoted 0-62 mph time of under 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 143 mph (electronically limited). I'm hopeful for a 0-60 mph time that falls below 5 seconds. Curb weight is said to be a very impressive 2,822 lbs. Remember that the larger Ford Focus RS weighs nearly 3,500 lbs.

Interestingly, Toyota needs to sell 25,000 road-legal examples of this rally Yaris over a 12-month period to meet the regulations for the FIA WRC competition version. That's a shedload of cars. So why not sell it in the USA, to help reach those ambitious numbers? Well, looking at pricing and thinking about Toyota's bean counters in North America, the small but fast hatchback would be a tricky sell in our hatchback-shunning market. Plus, it doesn't really fit in with our Mazda-derived Yaris.

Running the Japanese pricing for the GR Yaris against Toyota 86 numbers in both Japan and the USA, the base car would come in around $36,000 if sold in the States. The higher spec version (Circuit Pack, etc. ) would be the equivalent of around $41,000. Remember, that's for a car roughly the size of a Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, or Mini Cooper. I can't see a ton of quantity-over-quality Americans understanding those financials even if the specialness of the GR Yaris looks to fully justify the cost. That's unfortunate.

Speaking of the Mini Cooper, the only car offered in the USA that's close to a true GR Yaris competitor is the new John Cooper Works GP. But that Brit costs a somewhat insane $45,750, it's not particularly attractive, and Mini foolishly only offers the tweaked 3-door hatch with an eight-speed automatic. I can't understand that transmission decision. Yes, the quoted performance figures for the Mini make it roughly as quick as the Toyota (and significantly faster—top speed is 165 mph) but it's not in the same league as far as custom bits and trick technology, at least on paper. I'm far more excited about the GR Yaris than the go-fast Mini despite being quite the fan of the Works-tweaked versions of the original modern Mini Cooper S, the R50.

So why not just offer the GR Yaris in the USA, Toyota? I wouldn't be surprised if Toyota's losing money on each one already, and it needs to sell a rather large number of cars to keep the FIA happy. Plus, it really needs to grow its relationship with the American enthusiast. Toyota did the right thing by killing Scion—gasp!—but now it's time to get car geeks to reconnect with the marque.

Remember what the WRX did for Subaru in its heyday? Plus, Ford is basically out of the car world in the U.S. outside of the Mustang. There are no more ST or RS models at Ford except, frustratingly, the silly ST-badged SUVs. GM is pretty much in the same boat. Yes, Toyota has the aging 86, a joint venture along with Subaru. And there's the GR Supra, but that car is BMW-based and starts at $50,000. The GR Yaris is the first fully Toyota-developed performance car in ages and we deserve it. It slots in nicely between the 86 and Supra. So, pretty please can you gift us the GR Yaris, Toyota? If you do, I promise to stop the Prius jokes. Well, at least cut them back at bit.