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Toyota Reveals the Yaris WRC; Hot Hatch Lovers Dream of What Could Be

Toyota Yaris Gazoo WRC

As it prepares to return to the World Rally Championship after a 17-year absence, Toyota and its Gazoo racing division just revealed a piece of brain candy for hot hatch lovers.

Making sky-high horsepower from its diminutive four-cylinder, the Toyota Yaris WRC hits the pavement — and dirt and snow — in Monte Carlo next month, but the vehicle itself could spell a less buttoned-down future for the brand.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC has tapped a team of Japanese, German and Finnish drivers to pilot the unit’s new rally monster. Microsoft is on board as a technology partner. Developed in accordance with Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) guidelines, the four-wheel-drive Yaris WRC can’t reveal its acceleration figures, but its power output isn’t a secret.

The WRC’s turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6-liter four makes over 375 horsepower and 314 lb-ft of torque, coupled to a six-speed hydraulic shift transmission. That tops the Ford Focus RS by at least 25 hp.

“The new [FIA] regulations allow for much greater freedom in terms of development,” said Tommi Mäkinen, Team Principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing, in a statement. “Although we have yet to explore all the possibilities, we can say that the car is reliable and quick. I really can’t wait to see the results in racing conditions.â€�

Having a high-performing race car is great fodder for an automaker’s PR and engineering teams, but what does it do for your average car buyer? For Toyota customers, the answer is: whatever the automaker feels brave enough to do.

Long associated with staid but reliable transportation, Toyota could use a hot hatch. Okay, perhaps 375 hp driving all four wheels is too much to ask out of a production subcompact, especially one from Toyota. Still, the automaker’s return to the rally circuit could bear showroom fruit.

Toyota Gazoo Racing chief Koei Saga has said he’d like to use Gazoo as a performance brand for Toyota vehicles, claiming “I am very much working on that so we can have a brand like the [BMW] M brand.” No one would argue that the Yaris or Corolla iM couldn’t be improved by herding a few extra ponies under the hood.

With the passenger car market shrinking, giving buyers something to get excited about isn’t a bad thing. Toyota should let its hair down.

[Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing]

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