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Toyota GR Yaris vs Audi R8 Performance

Tyler Heatley

07 Jan 2021

It’s David vs Goliath as two very different tribes go to war. Can the plucky hot hatchback defeat a proper supercar? We find out.

There is something endearing about a tale of the little guy getting one over on the ‘big bad’ of any story, but in this instance, David might have chosen the wrong Goliath. Supercars don’t get that adjective in their terminology by accident, and the Audi R8 is a well established member of the club wielding a naturally aspirated V10 engine. As impressive as the Toyota GR Yaris homologation special is, can it really muster the fizzy excitement typically reserved for the performance car elite?

Strike a pose

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of th… Yeah, it’s the R8. The fact that the GR Yaris only shares its lights and a body panel with the regular Yaris makes it pretty exotic, but as purposeful as its short and stout stance is, it is still a hatchback. Park it next to the sleek mid-engined profile of the R8 Performance and you can see which of these two looks fast standing still. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of ‘go-faster’ in the GR design with that raked roofline and swollen wheel arches, but it can’t compete with naked carbon fibre, chiselled lines and a V10 engine on display via the rear window.

Take a seat

It’s a similar story for the interior where the R8 is a triumph of sumptuous leathers and strong ergonomics. You sit low in the chassis, hunkered to the road in an environment that features a smattering of carbon and great tech like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. The Yaris is more utilitarian with big functional door bins and two seats in the rear – although, said posts are compromised by the aggressive roof. There’s a lot of hard plastic that forms the cabin, although its bolstered leather and Alcantara sports seats are a great asset.

So, the car costing £144k has clearly been wrapped in higher quality materials with much more time spent on making it look flash – in other news, water still wet. You can nearly buy five GR Yaris for the cost of an R8 Performance, though, making the hot hatch a relative bargain. In fact, it’s a bit of a bargain in any arena given the extensive engineering that’s gone on beneath its skin, but we’ll get onto that.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

The Audi R8 is certainly one of the most sanitised supercars money can buy. There’s no outrageous gullwing doors, an absence of overt design, and lacks the exotic pedigree of a McLaren or the Lamborghini that shares its engine. However, it’s this understated nature that makes this car alluring, with people wanting the supercar experience without today’s ‘YouTuber’ connotations. It’s smart suit cloaks a very special 5.2-litre naturally aspirated engine – a rare thing in 2021 – and an advanced Quattro all-wheel drive system that can send up to 30% of the car’s fury to the front wheels. Having Quattro to tame 611bhp and 580Nm of torque is actually a big selling point for the R8.

The Yaris also has all-wheel drive, but its mission statement comes straight from the WRC. You see, this car was actually developed to homologate a series of notable advantages for the rally car. That aforementioned roof channels air directly into a huge wing on the motorsport machine, its bulbous rear shrouds a widened track, and there’s even additional cubby spaces under the bonnet should the WRC team need to mount beefier suspension. This car’s all-wheel drive system features a pair of Torsen differentials (on Circuit Pack cars) to maximise traction at all times. Don’t scoff at the Toyota’s three-cylinder 1.6-litre engine, as 254bhp and 395Nm is enough to get this little car to 62mph from a standstill in just 5.5 seconds.

On the road

Let me paint you a picture. It’s a traditionally cold and wet British winter day, the light is dim and our imperfect country roads are lacquered with a layer of grime. Conditions aren’t what you’d call ‘supercar worthy’, but while the likes of McLaren’s are taking shelter in their heated garage, the R8 Performance is on the road earning its keep.

This car’s engine is glorious! Not only is its performance delivered in an unadulterated fashion, but the soundtrack brings the drama. Howling to a distinctive V10 crescendo at 8,500rpm, the Audi delivers an experience that’s dominated by the engine that lives behind your right ear. That said, the star of the show would be nothing without a prominent supporting cast,

It is the the all-wheel drive stability afforded to the driver that truly allows you to exploit this cars performance in all weathers.

The platform’s sheer composure is truly remarkable, hitting puddles of standing water without quivering, shuffling power around each corner for optimum traction. It’s not twitchy, or intimidating in the slightest. The steering might be devoid of any real feel, but it is accurate and the front-end grip supplied in abundance is mighty reassuring.

It’s a fair argument to state that the R8’s driving engagement is a bit muted and not as exciting or involving as some rivals. However, you can’t argue with the way it tackles challenging road conditions at pace, and 0-62mph in just 3.1 seconds isn’t exactly dull, is it?

The Toyota GR Yaris is a car that has been hyped to the high heavens, and I’ll freely admit I was skeptical when I first got behind the wheel. Initial impressions were that its strong torque delivery and all-wheel drive made it feel brisk and stable over greasy undulating Tarmac, but I was worried that these would be the car’s only party trick. I was wrong to think that.

As you charge through the delightfully slick six-speed manual ‘box, and make the most of the car’s turbocharged race to the redline, you really get a sense that the car is flowing with the road. By that I mean instead of the GR hugging the Tarmac tight and thumping into potholes, it has a sense of fluidity as it synchronises with the road’s nuances. This allows you to get a good feel for what’s going on beneath you and adds to a solid man-machine connection.

Like many modern cars, the Yaris could do with a tad more feedback coming to the driver through its steering wheel, but I loved its heft that allows you to be very surgical about where you place this hot hatch. A series of drive modes dictates how it behaves, each delivering a different outcome and serving as far more than just another page in the brochure. Select ‘Normal’ and torque is split 60:40 in favour of the front, delivering a balanced drive with a touch of understeer. Turn things up to ‘Sport’ and 70% of torque is sent rearward, sharpening turn-in and allowing for more movement when scything through a sequence of bends. However, ‘Track’ gives a perfectly even split and this is where the true rally car comes out to play.

Charging towards a sequence of tightening bends, the GR initially endures a whiff of understeer, but it quickly pulls the nose in tightly with a touch of oversteer on corner exit possible in these conditions. The car’s short wheelbase is also blessed with impressive agility to go with its general demeanour of surefootedness. It is a joyous thing to play with, being rewarding and involving in equal measure.


Both of these cars have acquitted themselves remarkably well in conditions that would have many of their respective rivals parked in a hedge, or the driver lacking the confidence to deploy the performance on offer. As these two cars tick themselves cool, now wearing a fresh layer of road muck, which one makes me want to go for another drive?

The Audi R8 remains one of the safest pairs of hands you could put yourself in when it comes to supercars. Its threshold for breaking traction is very high and Quattro all-wheel drive does an amazing job of dialling out the danger. In a darkening winter day, it is one of the only supercars that won’t leave you regretting you decision to daily drive it in the UK. However, and rather incredibly, it’s the Toyota GR Yaris that I find myself yearning for.

Forget about all of the rally pedigree for a moment, as a machine to simply put a smile on you face, the GR does this more consistently than the R8. The supercar might host one of the greatest engines on sale today, yet piloting the car is rarely a challenge. That’s frequently a good thing, but in this instance it limits driver engagement.

The Toyota almost feels like it was built for this kind of dragon slaying test. Perfectly compact for British B-roads, and making good use of a nimble chassis, its all-wheel drive grip contributes towards the driving experience as opposed to totally defining it. Keen drivers will relish the way this Yaris devours snaking ribbons of countryside trail at a quicker pace than any supercar due to its size, agility and eager engine. The car’s brakes are another highlight and actually easier to modulate than the R8’s carbon stoppers.

Turn the clock back a few years and the notion of a Toyota hatchback being more of a thrill than a V10 supercar would have been laughable. The GR Yaris isn’t just something of a high watermark for modern-day Toyota, but performance cars in general.

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Tyler Heatley

07 Jan 2021