TOYOTA GR YARIS, VW GOLF GTI & HONDA CIVIC TYPE R
evo India|January 2021
A vintage year for hot hatches sees these three very different examples vying for places in the final. John Barker reveals which make it through
John Barker
UNSURPRISINGLY, THE YARIS ATTRACTS THE MOST attention among the hatchbacks. Yes, that’s the latest FK8 Civic Type R in Racing Blue and a German-registered, all-new Golf GTI, but will you just look at this little Toyota?! We’re lucky it’s here at all. Strings have been pulled, and on day two it rolled into the Anglesey pitlane wearing show plates because there hadn’t been time to register it.

Subaru and Mitsubishi seemed to be delivering rally specials every couple of months when evo was born 22 years ago, but it’s been years since we’ve seen a car like the GR Yaris. Arguably, this is more special than any Impreza or Evo because there wasn’t a three-door, four-wheel-drive Yaris until Toyota gave Gazoo Racing the go-ahead to make one.

They haven’t held back. Take the engine, on paper a modest sounding 1.6-litre in-line triple, but it produces 257bhp, 15bhp more than the Golf’s 2-litre four-cylinder. Then there’s four-wheel drive with selectable torque distribution. The default gives 60:40 front-to-rear, but you can have 50:50 and even 30:70. There’s more. The ‘standard’ ₹30 lakh (in the UK) GR Yaris has open diffs across front and rear, but the ₹34 lakh Circuit Pack model we have here comes with Torsen locking diffs on both axles. It also gets a thicker front anti-roll bar and stiffer front springs to sharpen up frontend response, and the final tweak is forged rims shod with dinky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres.

That’s a lot of kit packed into a teeny car, and it looks crammed with those wide arches, while up front the vast ‘mouth’ makes it look like it’s swallowed a range cooker.

The Civic Type R continues to justify its controversial Touring Car looks with its driving experience, while at the other end of the styling scale is the Golf. It’s neat, reassuringly consistent, an almost classless car that wouldn’t look out of place on the driveway of a posh hotel or in a muddy Sunday football car park. The downside is that not everyone will recognise that it’s all-new. It’s easy to imagine its designers taking the previous model, nudging the lines around here and there and pressing send. And yet, proving what a thankless task updating an icon is, I find myself mildly offended by the biggest changes, namely the central GTI tailgate lettering (a bit needy) and the gaping black intakes at the front (too much plastic).

They are, however, nothing compared with the eighth-gen Golf’s infuriating HMI (human-machine irritation) that makes everything more awkward, more distracting and less intuitive than it should be. Happily, in other respects the cabin of the Golf is a good place to be. There’s a subtle homage to previous generations in the golf ball-like dimpling of the gearknob, as well as a less subtle homage with the plaid cloth for the fine seats.

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