Toyota GR Yaris
Ever wondered what a Toyota Yaris might be like with over 250 braked horses beneath the bonnet? No, we hadn't either. But Toyota has made one anyway, this wild GR Yaris. It's a rather unique confection....
This, the second Toyota GR Motorsport-influenced product, is quite differently orientated to the first. Whereas the GR Supra is a sports car developed through track racing, the GR Yaris is a model engineered through participation in rallying. A car very much in the mould performance classics of the past like Subaru's Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Evo. Those cars used 2.0-litre engines but units of that size wouldn't fit in the Yaris - and anyway would be too heavy. Even the 1.6-litre powerplant that is used here has just three cylinders - but it packs quite a turbo punch; 257bhp, 360Nm and 62mph from rest in just 5.5s. The old Yaris GRMN, for reference, put out 209bhp.
This GR Yaris's powertrain is mated to a 6-speed 'IMT' 'Intelligent Manual Transmission' stick shift gearbox with permanent four-wheel drive provided by the brand's latest GR-Four system. This features a multi-plate clutch delivering power to all four wheels via three pre-set torque distribution levels; 'Normal' has a 60:40-split front-to-rear; 'Sport' pushes nearly all the power to the back 30:70; and 'Track' has an equal 50:50-split. There are big brakes too - 356mm grooved front brake discs featuring 4-pot calipers. And a set of sticky tyres too - either Dunlop Sport Maxx or Michelin Pilot Sport rubber. Plus the regular Yaris model's basic torsion beam rear suspension is replaced by a more sophisticated double wishbone set-up.
Engineer Naohiko Saito was put under pressure here to retain the regular Yaris model's 5-door body shell, but he wasn't having it, holding out for the stiffer, bespoke 3-door body that no other Yaris model in the range can have. Rally homologation rules required this body shell to closely follow that of the ordinary production Yaris but within that brief, the design team were still able to make a few other changes. The roofline for example, could be substantially lower and the rear could feature a much wider track, with beefier rear wheel arches.
Weight saving was a massive consideration, which is why some of the body parts (intentionally) flex to the touch. The panels make extensive use of carbon fibre and aluminium, which is why the car weighs in at only 1,280kg. Underneath it all, the platform this car sits on shares only the front end from the ordinary Yaris model's GA-B chassis; the rear end uses the bigger GA-C underpinnings from the larger Corolla hatch.
There's nothing remotely sensible about this car - and that's probably why its small band of loyal buyers will like it. There are lots of supermini hot hatches that on paper seem a no-brainer choice over a pricey GR Yaris. But on the road, none of them will feel as raw or perhaps as exciting.
This is as close as Toyota Gazoo Racing can get to bringing you a Yaris World Championship Rally car fettled for road use. More power to them.Click here to find out more about our Toyota GR Yaris range
Suzuki Swift Sport Hybrid
The Suzuki Swift Sport has long been a car embraced by serious drivers who know a great handling hot hatch when they see it and remains so in this improved third generation form. Though not especially powerful, it's agile, chuckable and brilliant fun for not a lot of money. Now, its 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo engine has gained mild hybrid assistance, which has enhanced torque, efficiency and in-gear acceleration. This car will still be a well-kept secret in this segment, but one loyal buyers will enjoy hugely.
The Swift Sport has never been about pure power. Suzuki could easily shoehorn a 200bhp engine into the thing if it pleased, but that would just make it uninsurable for younger drivers. Instead, and rather sensibly, the engine power output of this model has always been modest. For years, this Swift Sport campaigned with a normnally aspirated 1.6 with 134bhp, replaced at this third generation model's launch in 2017 by a 1.4 Boosterjet turbo unit offering 138bhp. This Hybrid model uses an updated 'K14D'-series version of the same Boosterjet engine with 127bhp and that (plus a bit of extra weight) explains why the rest to 62mph sprint time has fallen by a second to 9.1s, though the top speed remains at 130mph.
The eagerness of the original MK3 model remains though, partly because the mild hybrid unit has the ability to 'torque-fill' under acceleration to compensate for turbo lag. And partly because pulling power has actually risen slightly - up from 230 to 235Nm.
Otherwise, the appealing recipe that charmed us with this car back in 2017 remains much as before. Suzuki's emphasis on chassis dynamics for this third generation car serves up impressive levels of poise and control, aided by a bespoke suspension design that
offers driving stability, optimized roll rigidity and a surprisingly high degree of dynamic response. It's all bolted to the same particularly stiff, light 'HEARTECT' platform that underpins the ordinary Swift model. There's a total kerb weight of 1,025kgs, which is 55kgs heavier than the pre-Hybrid model but that still undercuts most warm hatch rivals. Which is why this Suzuki can match the real world performance of its direct competitors, despite offering considerably less power. Have cake; eat it. Simple.
This look of this third generation Swift Sport hasn't changed with its switch into the hybrid era. The front grille and bumper project the nose beyond that of the standard Swift, conveying what the brand hopes is a sense of tautness and imminent action. Muscular shoulders, blacked-out A-pillars and vertically arranged front and rear lamps are brought into vivid relief in this top variant, with black aerodynamic under spoilers spanning the front, sides and rear, and a roof-end spoiler at the back.
Inside, the Japanese designers have tried to create an immersive, interactive sports driving environment, starting with red interior accents and a driver-oriented instrument panel. The main gauges feature contrasting colours, while evocative boost and oil temperature gauges aim to enhance the sports driving experience. Cabin quality can't hope to match that of pricier supermini hot hatch rivals, but it's a big improvement on the previous generation model and the semi-bucket-shaped front seats look good, while the D-shaped steering wheel with dimpled leather gives a secure grip. The chrome-finished shift knob and sports alloy pedals add a final classy touch.
And in summary? Well in this mild hybrid form, the Swift Sport remains as much fun as ever and is still one of the best-kept secrets in Gti motoring. It's modestly powered perhaps but still modestly weighted too, which means it can routinely put the wind up far more exalted machinery. Previous versions are almost all owned by people who wouldn't give any thanks at all for an offer of trading their car against a pricier, pokier warmed-up Fiesta or any other shopping rocket. Sure, other fast superminis offer greater levels of straight line performance for not a lot more, but they're mostly not as safe or as well equipped, they'll be less frugal to run and in most cases they'll be less pleasant to use over poorer surfaces.
Of course, none of these things will be compelling reasons for Swift Sport purchase - and they shouldn't be. What really matters here is that you get old-school Gti fun without old-school crudeness. True, you probably won't be moved to buy this Suzuki after looking at the specs in the brochure, but take a test drive down your favourite back road and we reckon you'll see this car a whole lot differently. Need convincing that power isn't everything in a performance car? If so, you need to drive this one. We guarantee it'll surprise you.Click here to find out more about our Suzuki Swift Sport Hybrid range
Ford Fiesta ST
Want to know just how much fun it's possible to have in a ferociously fast small supermini? Then try one of these - Ford's Fiesta ST. It's been developed like a proper performance car - and drives like one, ready to paint a smile upon your face corner after corner. This time round, a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine replaces the old 1.6-litre 'four', but power's up to 200PS as standard and we're told the handling's sharper too. Of course, for not much more than the affordable prices Ford asks, you can buy more power. But after a drive in one of these, you probably won't want to.
The previous Fiesta ST suffered a little on paper against obvious rivals by not being able to claim a 200PS output - at least in its standard form anyway. An ST200 version was later launched to rectify that oversight. This third generation car has 200PS in its ordinary form from the start, courtesy of a lighter, more efficient 1.5-litre EcoBoost three cylinder powerplant which replaces the previous 182PS 1.6-litre four cylinder unit. 62mph from rest takes just 6.5s on the way to 144mph.
Also new this time round are selectable Drive Modes - enabling engine, steering and stability controls to be configured to Normal, Sport and Track settings. The Drive Modes will also adjust this Fiesta's Electronic Sound Enhancement technology and active exhaust noise control valve, which amplifies the sound of the engine note. But power of course is nothing without control - which is exactly where this Fiesta should really shine. With this MK3 model, the track is wider, the steering is quicker, the brakes are beefier and torsional stiffness is up by 8%. Pay a little extra and you can get a 'Performance Pack', which includes a Quaife limited slip differential, launch control and performance shift lights.
It's easy to go overboard and get all Max Power when it comes to a car of this kind, a temptation Ford has thankfully resisted here. This isn't the prettiest junior shopping rocket you can buy but the ST bodykit makes it playfully purposeful in demeanour. There's a choice of three of five-door body styles and gorgeous angular-spoked 18-inch alloys are fitted to the top 'ST-3' version.
Things aren't quite so overt once you take a seat inside. Go for a base-trimmed version and you get two of the things that most set the cabin apart - blue seatbelts and the larger 8-inch centre-dash SYNC3 infotainment touchscreen.
And rear seat space? Well, it's better than the claustrophobically rising beltline of the three-door body shape might lead you to expect. True, the heavily bolstered Recaros do slightly hinder your access into the back, but once you're there, the Fiesta surprises with headroom manageable even for a six-footer - though his or her legs will be crushed pretty snugly against the seat in front. There's also a 292-litre boot, extendable to 1,093-litres by flattening the 60:40 split-folding rear bench.
Ford retains market leadership in the junior hot hatch segment with this car. That's the headline news with this third generation Fiesta ST. It'll be a best seller on merit. This really is a special little car, usable every day but as focused as you could want when your favourite road opens up and you can flex your right foot, sink into the grippy Recaros and dial up a responsible amount of red mist. We'd also honestly say that it's pretty much the only car in its segment that's ultimately rewarding enough to consider taking on a trackday. Which, we think, says everything, the difference, if you like, between a supermini with skirts, spoilers and a more powerful engine - and a properly developed performance car.
Which is what this is, as much a go-to choice in its market sector as a Porsche 911 would be if you were looking for a performance sportscar or a Lotus Elise might be for those in search of a Roadster. In all honesty, you'd have more fun in this little Ford on a public road than you ever could in something pricier and more powerful. Think of it as one-up for the common man, small perhaps in price and performance but big in smiles per mile. Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what a hot hatch should really be all about.Click here to find out more about our Ford Fiesta ST range