Opinion: Some hard truths on the Toyota GR Yaris

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Richard Porter tees off on the highly-enjoyable-to-drive but not faultless GR Yaris.

In 1928, after more than a decade of experimentation and perseverance, American inventor Otto Rohwedder finally built and sold his first power-driven, multi-bladed cutting machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company of Missouri. They put it straight to work on their products to give the world something new: sliced bread. And that was pretty much it until the Toyota GR Yaris was launched.

Oh God, the GR Yaris, that pugnacious 1280-kilo frotting pole for the nation’s car media. You must be sick of hearing about the GR Yaris by now, especially since everything you read is so damn gushing. Well, let me tell you a few home truths about the bloody GR bloody Yaris. I mean, it’s not really a looker, is it? There’s something a little off about its stretched and contorted appearance, like someone who’s had too much cheap plastic surgery, and the whole thing has a curious stance which I think can be blamed on the drooping line that carves down its sides. Plus, it’s also only available with black alloys, and black alloys make even the most handsome car look like it’s wearing supermarket own-brand trainers.

The interior is hardly going to arouse an Audi engineer either, though some of its Tic Tac-packet plastics pale into insignificance next to the much greater crime of a driver’s seat that’s set far too high. It’s so high, in fact, that if you’re tall you will feel as if you’re being shoved towards the ceiling, peering out from under the peak of the roof like you’re cowering in a bin shelter, and the less-than-ideal view out is further spoilt by the thickness and rake of the pillars, the lowness of the massive rear-view mirror and the highness of the central dashboard screen, all of these things conspiring to give you an absurdly small letterbox through which to squint at the outside as it rushes briskly by.

It’s quite expensive for a small car too, and don’t get the idea that it’s some limited-run special that will be worth more than dinosaur diamonds in ten years’ time because it’s not: Toyota has said it’ll keep making the car for an indefinite amount of time, not just until the rallying regulations have been met.

That’s what’s wrong with the bloody GR bloody Yaris. Bloody. And let me also tell you that these gripes will fade away as soon as you drive it because it is fan-frigging-tastic. There’s a tendency among room-temperature thinkers on the internet to assume that if a car gets universally rave reviews then all of those reviews are wrong. In fact, you see this kind of leaden thinking applied to all sorts of things. Apple can’t make acceptable mobile phones because too many people have one. Succession can’t be a good TV show because it got too many favourable reviews. Another Porsche won car of the year because, oh I don’t know, someone in Stuttgart has compromising photos of the editor doing mucky stuff with a goat. It’s a remarkably warped logic and it ignores a very simple fact: sometimes when lots of people say something is good, it’s because it is.

This is the case with the very good Toyota GR Yaris. There are some technical reasons why it’s a tremendous car, not least the way it grips, the way it revs, the delightful quality of its gearchange. But it’s more than that. It’s about the way it flatters you with its absurd ability to carry speed into corners without giving the fun-sapping sense that it’s doing all the hard work. Like many great cars, it feels as if it’s meeting you halfway. Put in the effort, my friend, and I will too. It’s not the most responsive or the most sensitive car, far from it, but by moving around a bit and by flowing with the road it feels alive and human, rather than simply like a machine designed to cover ground as efficiently as possible.

I can’t deny that there’s an additional piece of appeal in the whole rally backstory too. It’s impossible not to enjoy the sense that this car was created with a higher purpose in mind, and this can’t be detached from the thing itself. It certainly doesn’t hurt. But the bigger point about the GR Yaris is that it reminds us that the cars we love are greater than the sum of their talents, or indeed their failings. They have a vibe to them that is greater than precise technicalities. It reminds me of a story I heard about John Lennon going to see Bob Dylan and playing him a new song. ‘It’s great, John,’ Dylan mumbled. ‘But what are the words about?’ Lennon replied: ‘Don’t worry about the words, Bob, listen to the sound.’ And when it comes to the GR Yaris, I agree with John Lennon. The overall feel of the thing is more important than the finer details. It’s not the greatest car in this history of everything, but right now it’s as close as we’ve got to the day Otto Rohwedder went to see his friend Frank Bench at the Chillicothe Baking Company and said, have I got a machine for you…

Richard Porter

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