I recently drove two Toyota sports cars and they were so good, it got me thinking about the GR range as a whole and what it means for Toyota and driving enthusiasts.
The automotive industry is changing faster than it has ever done before. The transition to a more sustainable way of moving in the world is affecting every decision an automaker must make and, besides all the normal product planning and positioning, constructors have to decide when, how and where to phase out their internal combustion models to make way for new battery-powered vehicles.
I have not seen one piece of objective evidence that this is the right way forward, as having a car with zero emissions when it’s moving in no way means it is a better solution for the environment.
The production stage of an EV still has very big, and very serious, problems. But, somehow, we are living in a world where political correctness is a must and those who have a contrary opinion to the majority may as well shut up and go home.
Anyway, this text is not about that. It’s about Toyota. Because if we drown out all the noise, Toyota have been on a transformation process that is simply astonishing and that has nothing to do with the way their cars are powered.
With the plethora of electric cars on the market today and all the nonsense surrounding the path to sustainability (simply not possible as there are too many people for such a small planet), you may have forgotten that Toyota were the first to offer a car that had real environmental concerns, back in 1997. Yes, 1997, 36 years ago.
When it went on sale in Japan, the Prius became the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle on the planet, but it was only with the worldwide success of the third generation, the first one sold in Europe, that the market began looking at alternative powertrains as an answer to a problem that was – still is – getting bigger and bigger.
I have to say that, at the time, for a car nut like myself, Toyota was the most boring car maker in the world. As the 20th century became the 21st, there was not one car Toyota built that interested me.
These were cars that, for all their positive image of absolute reliability, were seen as bought by either older people or those who could not care less about driving.
And then, in 2021, I bought my Toyota GR Yaris. I still have it. In fact, I am writing this text in a coffee house looking at my Yaris parked just outside. I am in love with this car. Smitten by it still, two years later.
The GR Yaris was the first model in Toyota’s eureka moment of having a dedicated motorsport-derived range of products that built on the success the Japanese are enjoying in rallying, the World Endurance Championship and the Dakar – three categories where Toyota has been crushing the opposition for years now.
This Gazoo Racing department is to Toyota what M is for BMW or AMG for Mercedes (although, as I wrote on these pages before, the GR Yaris is the closest car anyone can buy from a dealership to an actual racing car, so something more special than anything those Germans are making at the moment).
The brainchild of visionary chairman Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder Kiichiro Toyoda, and a racer at heart, the GR division did more for the image of Toyota in four years than any marketing campaign in the last quarter of a century.
I just drove the Toyota GR86 and the GR Supra and knowing the GR Yaris like I do, I recognise a shared DNA in these cars that is truly special and that is usually only found in the rarefied world of supercars. Words used to describe them are often used to describe why a Ferrari or a Porsche are such special machines – but almost never such a mainstream name like Toyota.
GR cars are, therefore, for true enthusiasts. They are not for showing off, for achieving the fastest lap times or for making your friends jealous. They are for driving for driving’s sake – not even necessarily to go somewhere. They are unique in their ways and most definitely not a cynical marketing exercise. Gazoo Racing is the real deal.
The range is expanding to the GR Corolla – not sold in Europe – and it seems even the new Prius will have a sporting version. Imagine that: a Prius, once the world’s most boring automobile, with a GR badge! I definitely want to drive that.
As the combustion engine enters its twilight years, the GR division deserves high praise for what it has achieved in such a short amount of time. These cars are a dying breed and those who love to sit behind the wheel should consider joining the GR team. I promise it will be worth it.