Toyota used to make badass cars: Has the automaker rekindled its legendary spirit with the fiery 1.8-litre Yaris GRMN hot hatch?

AE86 aka 'Hachi Roku, Celica, MR2, RSi, Sprinter, Supra and TRD  - just the mention of these iconic models will leave Toyota enthusiasts feeling nostalgic.

Sadly, Toyota hasn't made truly exciting car for ages. No vehicle has come close to evoking the passion of the aforementioned godfathers of Toyota-powered nirvana. 

When the Japanese automaker launched its 86 sports car, many thought: 'Well, here's the chance to redeem themselves for leaving such a gaping void for loyal Toyota enthusiasts.' 

GALLERY: 2018 Toyota Yaris GRMN

The 86 was launched in 2012 in South Africa and while it looked amazing it didn't quite tug at my petrolhead soul like it should have. Why? Because the 2.0-litre Boxer engine - which still remains unchanged -  only delivered 147kW and 205Nm. But I'll have to share my thoughts on the new 'GT86' in another article.

South Africans have been yearning to see, or even feel, the engine codes such as 4AGE, 3SGTE and 2JZ in something new. And while you can still find imported Supra models roaming local streets they are a rarity. 

Fast forward to August 2018 and Toyota South Africa has brought not one, but three 1.8-litre supercharged 156kW Yaris GRMN, as part of the brand's global sporty car renaissance. There are only 400 of these little pocket rockets which were specifically built for the European market. 

GRMN stands for Gazoo Racing Meister of the Nurburgring. Toyota says it's introducing the new GRMN nomenclature as a performance brand. In other words, what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz and M is to BMW. 

So why did Toyota SA bring these three Yaris hot hatches to SA if they're not planning on selling them locally? I can't really answer that; perhaps the automaker wanted to gauge local interest, perhaps one or more or destined for a local museum. Ultimately, the purpose of the Yaris GRMN is to re-ignite the flame Toyota once was.

And let's be realistic here, the car retails for more than £23 000 in the UK, the equivalent of more than R450 000.  It sounds expensive on paper but considering Renault's Clio 1.6 RS sells for R449 900, powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine producing 162kW/280Nm, I think Toyota SA should have taken the risk.

While there have been a plethora of really good cars from Toyota, its models haven't been the same. The last good example of its fun-car era would be the Corolla RSI 20V (Blacktop) of the late 1990s; I know this because I managed to purchase one 10 years ago and it's still my daily drive - and the reason I met my husband.  

So what's it like to drive?

I was fortunate to drive Toyota's supercharged Yaris. It looks assertive with motorsport-inspired trim but its real selling point is its 1.8-litre unit. It evokes a sense of euphoria that many millennials can't begin to imagine. 

The engine sparked my hopes that this could be it, finally, a sporty Toyota. I got behind the wheel, pushed the engine start button and off I went. I could already tell that this little car was channelling the spirit of Hachi Roku. It wants to get going and keep driving. I know this sounds bizarre but I was picturing a choir of angels singing the Toyota slogan - 'Everything keeps going right'. Not that my faith in the brand ever really faded but it most certainly was re-affirmed with the GRMN.

                                                                                   Image: Newspress

Toyota is at long last on the right track; if this fiery city car is what the future holds then I am more than excited than ever.

The moment I had a chance to stick my right foot in the corner, it felt like the very first time I was racing my 20V RSI. Pure and unadulterated fun. The Yaris GRMN is incredibly quick and ridiculously fun to drive. Its gear ratios are short and it feels like it has a short-shifter built in mated to a snappy competition clutch. It's WRC DNA is extremely evident.

It rockets from 0 to 100km/h in 6 seconds and has a power to weight ratio of 7.28kW per kilogram. The car weighs 1135kg. 

Other than a poor turning circle, at least for its size, I can't fault this car as a fun hot hatch.
The sporty white body exterior matches its feisty character with a black contrasting roof and red inserts, a prominent exhaust, 17" black BBS wheels and large brake callipers. Inside there's subtle aluminium trim detailing to enhance the minimalistic black sports theme. The seats are wrapped in ultra-premium suede with red stitching, GRMN badging and a sporty small diameter steering wheel.     

                                                                          Image: Newspress

If this little pocket rocket can survive a proper thrashing from SA's Dakar driver golden boy, Gniel de Villiers, then it must be something really special. The petite beast was asking for more despite everything de Villiers could throw at it along the Dezzi Raceway. Chucking it into corners and taking the flat foot racing like it was born for it. 

It's almost heartbreaking that these ferocious little monsters won't be on sale here but I am genuinely excited about what's to come from Toyota in the future.

In the meantime... Dearest Toyota South Africa, perhaps you should ask the mother ship to build 400 more for SA? 

Toyota unleashes its new Yaris GRNM. Sadly, the ne

                                                                             Image: Newspress

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