Four-wheel-drive performance cars are common today, but four-wheel-drive performance cars homologated for motorsport are much less frequent – making next year’s Toyota GR Yaris something rather special indeed.
That’s because the hot hatchback, due to be unveiled in full at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, is a homologation special, just like the Subaru Impreza WRXs and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions of old, and will inform Toyota’s next WRC Yaris.
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While the car itself is under wraps, evo has been able to drive a prototype of the GR Yaris, as well as quizzing the car’s engineers. While Toyota is being coy on exact specifications for the car, we’ve still been able to glean plenty of information about it, and it looks like being one of the most exciting performance cars of 2020.
Body and chassis
It makes sense to cover the GR Yaris’s structure first, as it’s one of the areas most important to the car’s status as a homologation special. Gazoo Racing set several goals for the car, including aerodynamics, weight, stiffness and weight distribution, and many of these were decided upon based on requests by Tommi Mäkinen, who for the last few years has served as team boss of the Toyota world rally team.
To this end, the three-door shell is almost completely different from that of the new five-door Yaris we’ve already seen. For one, it uses a carbonfibre structure, while individual elements including the roof, tailgate, bonnet, doors and front wings are aluminium, for further weight savings. In all, the body in white weighs 263kg, 38kg lighter than on a regular Yaris. If that seems insignificant, consider also that the carbon does wonders for structural stiffness, important for a car designed for the stages.
The shape itself is also significantly different. The roofline is 95mm lower than a regular Yaris’s (apparently, Mäkinen wanted it even lower, to benefit the rally car’s aero further) while the three-door shell is stiffer, lighter, and allows greater aero freedom than a five-door equivalent. There’s also further structural stiffening with side members under the car, while the engine is mounted 21mm further back, improving weight distribution.
Rear suspension has changed from a torsion beam to double wishbones (in part, allowing space for the driven rear axle), springs and dampers are passive rather than active, while the front and rear tracks are wider, by as-yet unspecified amounts. Extended bodywork covers this wider track front and rear.
While the car hasn’t yet been officially unveiled, some aspects of its design are still clear through the camouflage: a large lower front grille directs air to an intercooler, while a grille above the number plate supplies the radiator, and large vents to either side direct air to the front brakes. The rear window is so small it doesn’t even get a wash/wipe (on the prototype at least).
Engine and drivetrain
First, the bare figures. Toyota hasn’t yet revealed exact numbers, but states the GR Yaris will make more than 247bhp, and more than 258lb ft of torque.
We suspect these numbers are somewhat understated. Why? Well, Toyota claims the car’s 1.6-litre engine is the most powerful of its capacity, and given Peugeot has previously offered a 266bhp 1.6-litre in its 308 GTi 270 and RCZ R, it’s fair to assume the Toyota will be capable of a little more than this.
What might come as more of a surprise is that the Toyota 1.6 is a three-cylinder unit, rather than a four. This makes it comfortably the most powerful three-pot on the market (the Mini-derived 1.5-litre three in the BMW i8 makes ‘just’ 228bhp), but the motivation behind using a three-cylinder engine is once again homologation, this time for the R5 class. From 2020, R5 cars will be powered by three-cylinder engines, and now Toyota has the perfect unit handy.
As well as being powerful, it’s lightweight – again, Gazoo claims the world’s lightest 1.6. The drivetrain it’s attached to is light too. The GR Yaris uses permanent four-wheel drive, but instead of using a heavy centre diff arrangement, it features a clutch pack diff at each end, capable of delivering up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque to either axle.
In practice, it won’t actually do this, as Toyota splits the drive among three settings – Normal, aimed at road driving with a 60:40 front-rear split, Sport, which shifts drive to 30:70 for a rear-biased feel, and Track, which is a pure 50:50 split aimed at, Toyota says, ‘circuit and dirt’. A circuit pack, with limited-slip diffs at both ends, will be optionally available. Oh, and there’s no ‘drift mode’, because as chief engineer Naohiko Saito explains, if you really wanted to do that, ‘front-engined, rear drive is better’.
And if you’re now expecting a ‘motorsport-inspired’ paddleshift gearbox, then we’ve got either good or bad news depending on your inclination: the GR Yaris will be six-speed manual only. We apparently have the Japanese market to thank for this, as enthusiasts there still predominantly opt for manual transmissions, even if the rest of the market is heavily auto-biased.
A few caveats first. Our drive of the GR Yaris was of a disguised prototype car, with several changes still to be made before it reaches production. In addition, neither the Portuguese road route nor our laps around the Estoril race circuit were what we’d call ideal – the former was a little too heavily trafficked and short on truly testing sections, while the latter was just too fast and open for a car designed for much tighter tarmac.
Still, there’s plenty of promise. There’s not much we can say on the cabin, given most of it was under sheets, but aside from a relatively high driving position, everything else seemed about right – seat comfort, control spacing and weights, instrument clarity.
The engine is certainly interesting. It sounds like a triple at start-up and when ambling around, but the gruff noise elsewhere is quite unlike any other three-cylinder we’ve tried. There seems to be a complete absence of artificially enhanced sound or even any real exhaust tuning. Instead, the sound is mechanical and purposeful – not unlike that of old Evos and Celica GT-Fours, which were more businesslike than they were tuneful.
There’s no doubting its performance, certainly. Exposure to modern performance cars means it’s not as startling as those earlier homologation cars were in context, but in the lower gears it really moves, and only really runs out of steam 500rpm or so from the 7k red line. Response is good too – at anything over around 2000rpm it picks up cleanly and has relatively little lag, while slotting through the six-speed feels not unlike the short, notchy shifts of a GT86.
Throttle and clutch are light, and the brakes are a treat – there’s certainly motorsport influence in the firm and progressive pedal, and there was no sign of fade on track despite hopping into the car after other journos had been round in five-lap stints.
As previously mentioned, road conditions made it difficult to determine some of the car’s characteristics, but on track it seemed to be nicely balanced, turning in positively and resisting understeer even around longer corners, though a slippery surface meant it wasn’t beyond washing wide if you used too much power too soon. We drove cars with and without the circuit pack, which brings forged wheels and Pilot Sport 4S tyres as well as a pair of LSDs, and both grip and steering feel seemed improved with the pack equipped.
What the road route did illustrate is a car with surprising maturity to its ride. The stiff structure means even a relatively firm set-up seems less punishing, as bumps don’t result in those subtle but perceptible creaks and noises that make a car seem stiffer than it is. Its ability to handle bumps feels closer to a Golf R than a Focus RS, in this respect.
Saito tells us the project began at the end of 2016, so it’s come together in a relatively short space of time. They’ve worked with the WRC team since the start though, and more recently drivers including 2019 champion Ott Tänak, Jari-Matti Latvala, and Kris Meeke have all taken turns behind the wheel.
Interestingly, Saito says the engineers all dived into Toyota’s archives at the start of the project, as none had experience working on all-wheel drive in this application, and the most obvious point of reference was to dig through old Celica GT-Four documents.
The team also pulled apart Focus RSs, Audi S1s and Lancer Evos, and drove examples of each too – though ultimately, Toyota went its own way with both the engineering and the driving feel. ‘It was fun, though!’ mentions Saito. The S1 was apparently of particular interest, not because of how it drives (though it’s a great car in its own right), but because Toyota was amazed at how Audi had managed to package its drivetrain into such a compact car – there’s clearly inspiration in that respect in the GR Yaris.
I ask him whether like those old rally cars, Toyota would develop the car over time, perhaps releasing ‘Evolutions’ as the rally team demanded changes to improve the competition car. It’s a possibility, he says, though there are no concrete plans. Gazoo Racing was apparently already able to meet 90 per cent of the requests made by the rally team, so perhaps there’s room for more in the future…
Finally, pricing. This we don’t know just yet, and Toyota won’t even give us a ballpark, not least because such things usually change significantly in the UK based on exchange rates and the like.
It should be ‘competitive’ though, as the GR Yaris is an actual, volume road car and not a skunkworks project like the Yaris GRMN. It has to meet minimum homologation numbers for that body style for a start, and needs to justify the engineering Toyota has put into it, not least all that carbon and aluminium.
As for when we can expect to see it, the production model will be revealed officially in January, but deliveries will begin later – currently around autumn 2020.
China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021
As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches toward consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. And 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.
Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidar to detect the cars’ surroundings, while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.
The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.
Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?
We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, whose valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.
We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.
Motul Goes Retro With Classic Line Of Engine Oil For Older Cars
Without engine oil your car wouldn’t run for seven minutes, never mind seven decades. Furthermore, ask any car enthusiast about oil and odds are each person will vehemently support one brand over another. Now Motul seeks to win the hearts of classic car owners with a new series of oils that tug on retro heartstrings while also offering better blends for specific eras of motoring.
Motul simply calls its new lubricants the Classic Line, but it’s not just new synthetic oil packaged into cool containers. In a press release, the company says all Classic Line oils include an additive package with high-zinc and molybdenum and start with a base synthetic oil. From there, the individual formulas have various detergent levels and other tweaks that are designed to work better with engines from specific eras going back to pre-1950 vehicles.
It starts with straight-weight, low-detergent Classic Oil SAE 30 and SAE 50 for those old cars, back when engine tolerances weren’t as tight as they are today. Classic Oil 20W-50 is designed for muscle cars, hot rods, and collector cars after 1950 where muscular engines with high-lift cams are common. Classic Oil 15W-50 is a revised version of Motul’s 2100 oil designed for both naturally aspirated and forced induction engines with a focus on 1970s engine technology.
Similarly, Motul’s Modern Classic Eighties 10W-40 and Modern Classic Nineties 10W-30 are also aimed at both naturally aspirated and forced-induction mills. The Nineties oil is further tweaked for better protection in high-revving, DOHC engines.
As for the containers, Motul uses its historical logo for the Classic Oils, while the Modern Classics get their own cool containers with retro appeal. In addition to the actual oil, we suspect there are more than a few car-crazy folks out there keen on simply collecting the neat cans.
The new oil lineup from Motul is available now.
Ford Power-Up Launches To Give Models Over-The-Air Software Updates
Ford Power-Up is the brand’s newly announced name for its over-the-air software updates. One major implementation of this tech is the introduction of voice-controlled Amazon Alexa that can even control your smart home devices from the vehicle.
The Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E with the Sync 4 infotainment system already support Power-Up. The Bronco is the next to get the tech, and the Escape and Super Duty receive the functionality this fall. Ford will make 33 million vehicles with Power-Up capability by 2028.
Upcoming over-the-air updates for the F-150 and Mach-E will include improvements to the navigation system to add destination suggestions and conversational voice command recognition. Plus, the Apple CarPlay system will be able to show turn-by-turn navigation on the instrument cluster.
Soon, the Mach-E gets an app called Sketch (example above) for its infotainment system. It lets owners draw pictures with their fingers on the screen. It could be a fun way to spend the time while waiting for the EV to charge.
The improved Amazon Alexa capability lets simply speak commands for controlling both the vehicle and other Alexa-enabled devices. Users get three years of free functionality. Afterward, owners have to purchase a subscription to retain the features. Ford isn’t yet disclosing the cost after the initial period.
Power-Up goes far beyond just improving the infotainment software because the Blue Oval can send upgrades to over 110 vehicle modules. The company says it can tweak any of them as long as the change doesn’t require hardware changes. When there’s an upgrade, the installation is generally seamless. In cases where the installation takes longer, owners can schedule a time, like overnight when they aren’t using the vehicle.
As an example, Ford used connected vehicle data to identify an issue with the F-150’s zone lighting. The engineers are also working on an update to fix a problem with the Android Auto connectivity in the F-150 and Mach-E.
If you want to know more about Power-Up, listen to Motor1.com’s podcast Rambling About Cars tomorrow where we interview Ford Director of Retail Operations Kate Pearce about the tech.
Tesla’s Heavy Trucking executive sells $6M+ in stocks
Tesla’s President of Heavy Trucking Jerome M. Guillen sold over $6 million worth of TSLA stock earlier this week, according to a SEC Form 4 filing. Based on Guillen’s recent Form 4 submission, transactions occurred under transaction code M and code S.
Code M means to exercise or the conversion of derivative security receives from the company, like an option. Transaction code S means the sale of securities on an exchange or to another person.
Based on the Form 4 filing, the Tesla executive acquired 10,000 stock for the price of $55.32, exercising his options under transaction code M. Under transaction code S, Tesla’s President of Heavy Trucking also disposed of 10,000 stocks at market value, ranging from $628.46 to $664.77. Guillen recently sold TSLA shares totaling $6,440,627.
Looking at Guillen’s activity throughout 2021 thus far, a trend emerges over the past few months. In April, he also sold 10,000 TSLA shares for an average price of $697.87 for a total amount of $6,978,659. Guillen executed similar transactions between January and March.
Compared to Guillen’s transactions, Tesla’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zachary Kirkhorn sold less shares this year. In April 2021, Kirkhorn sold 1,250 shares for an average price of $718, totaling $897,500. While in March, the CFO sold 4,068 TSLA shares for an average of $655.81-$595.08 with a total amount of over $2 million.
Jerome Guillen’s role in Tesla changed from president of Automotive to president of Heavy Trucking, according to a regulatory filing dated March 11, 2021. The shift in his role suggests that Guillen will have fewer overall responsibilities at Tesla in terms of overseeing the company’s entire automotive business. Instead, his new role suggests that Guillen will be concentrating more on the production of the Tesla Semi, the company’s much-anticipated all-electric Class-8 truck.
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