With series of performance GR cars, a sexy new Prius, and the oh-so-clever hydrogen-powered Mirai, Toyota is now the automaker that has something for everyone
Back in 2017, Akio Toyoda - the former CEO and president of Toyota - decreed to his 370,000 employees across the world that the Japanese carmaker would build “no more boring cars”. And let’s face it, whilst reliable and worthy, the bulk of Toyotas made from 1999 - the year in which it phased out the Celica GT-Four - to 2020 didn’t exactly put the ‘fun’ in functional.
Yet four years ago when the Mk1 GR Yaris rocked up, everything changed for Toyota. Read on, and you’ll discover why this little turbocharged hot hatch was such a landmark car for the world’s biggest carmaker.
For this part of the story, though, let’s enjoy the fact that what was supposed to be a limited production run of 25,000 cars for homologation purposes has got a second series for 2024. In short, the Mk2 GR Yaris is here, and it’s scheduled for release this spring.
The tweaked chassis of the Mk2 GR Yaris is 13% more rigid than its predecessor, and Toyota has squeezed almost 20 more brake horsepower from its 1.6 litre, turbocharged three-cylinder motor to produce 267 bhp. Best of all, Toyota has said nothing about it being a limited production car this time around.
However, the new interior (pictured above) and Toyota’s decision to offer the GR Yaris with an eight-speed automatic gearbox in the name of achieving the fastest possible up-and-downshifts has proven, erm, controversial. Don’t believe me? There are plenty of red-faced GRRRRRR Yaristi furiously hammering at their keyboards online.
Whatever you may think of these last two changes, the fact remains that within four years, the GR Yaris - an Akio Toyoda passion project - has taken Toyota from a manufacturer of dull-yet-reliable white goods, to a producer of some of the most exciting, desirable cars on sale today.
What’s more, Toyota isn’t just focused on making performance cars: the hydrogen-powered Mirai signifies the brand’s openness to explore other green energy sources rather than putting all of its ajitama* in one basket with electrification. Meanwhile, the 4Runner and 2024 Land Cruiser are proof that there is still life in the tried-and-tested ladder frame chassis yet.
Whilst Akio Toyoda resigned from his position in autumn 2023, what you’re about to read is a celebration of “no more boring cars.”
*Ramen eggs, sorry…
Toyota GR Yaris
Upon launch in 2020, the Mk1 Toyota GR Yaris caused a stir for all the right reasons. Not since the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or the Subaru Impreza WRX STi in the 1990s had a car manufacturer gone out of its way to make a car simply because it wanted to go rallying. And go rallying it did - between 2019 and 2023, a GR Yaris has won the teams’ and drivers’ titles in the WRC for Toyota. Sure, it’s a bit bare bones inside, unless you’re Rishi Sunak you’ll struggle to fit in the rear seats, and it’ll definitely not be winning any beauty contests in the foreseeable, but the Mk1 GR Yaris was - and still is - all about having fun… and with a 257bhp three-cylinder turbocharged 1.6 engine mated to Toyota’s GR-Four four-wheel drive system, it’s unbelievable amounts of the f-word. After we spent some time with a GR Yaris a handful of years back, we quickly fell in love with it and decided that it’s a dead-cert to become a future classic. If there’s any car that deserves every award it wins, then it’s this joyous little hot hatch.
Toyota GR Corolla
The big brother to the GR Yaris, the Toyota GR Corolla is based on the rather handsome E210 Corolla, and it’s only available in North America, Brazil, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. That’s good news for heritage hot hatch makers in Europe, as we’re certain that were the GR Corolla sold this side of the Atlantic, then it’d snuff out the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI overnight. Whilst fitted with the same 1.6 three-pot turbo and GR-Four four-wheel drive system as the GR Yaris, the Corolla is quicker thanks to a power output of between 296 and 300 bhp. Like the Yaris, it’s also built by a team of Gazoo Racing specialists in Toyota’s dedicated “GR Factory” in Motomachi, Japan. There’s even a more hardcore version called the “Morizo Edition” which is 45 kilograms lighter courtesy of a forged carbon fibre roof and Toyota’s decision to throw the rear seats and soundproofing in the bin. FYI, “Morizo” is the synonym Akio Toyoda uses to race under. Be honest with yourself, you never thought you’d be hankering after a Corolla until now, did you?
Since the mid-80s, Toyota has been doing the front-engined, rear-wheel drive coupé thing courtesy of the AE86; a car that earned iconic status after taking the leading role in the Initial D animé series. Fast-forward to 2024, and this, the AE86’s grandchild - the GR86 - is set to be the last hurrah for the Toyota FE/RW coupé. Like its predecessor, the GT86, the GR86 is built around a chassis and 2.0L flat-four engine co-developed with Subaru. Yet unlike its predecessor - a car praised for its handling, yet criticised for its low power and low rent cabin - Toyota has upped the horses to 231 bhp and fitted it with an updated, solid interior that you’d come to expect from the brand. The chassis was also tightened up to be even more engaging than ever. Yet the story of this happy little car is one tinged with tragedy, because the life of the GR86 was a life short-lived: it launched in spring 2022, and will be phased out by the end of 2024 due to safety regulations introduced by a bunch of besuited European bureaucrats - you know, the sort of people whose lives are bereft of any joy whatsoever. For the car enthusiast, that’s a crying shame, because cars like the GR86 are a dying breed. It’s not right that the curtain should fall like this on a car dubbed “a Porsche Cayman with two extra seats for £20k less.” Goodnight, Sweet Prince.
In the same way that Toyota as a whole has undergone a transition, so has its Prius. Once the preserve of the terrible driver and those simply disinterested in motoring, this fifth iteration of Toyota’s plug-in hybrid has become something unexpectedly cool. Based on the fresh Toyota GA-C platform, this once-dowdy vehicle is now truly desirable courtesy of an all-new futuristic design language that puts us in mind of those polycarbonate MacBooks of the mid-to-late 2000s. If you’re over 30, you’ll know what we mean. The latest Prius doesn’t just look rad, either - it’s stiffer and lighter with a lower centre of gravity than its predecessor. What’s more, the clever people at Toyota have increased the power of the 4-cyl 2.0L internal combustion engine by an impressive 99bhp to 220bhp. When mated to a new 13.6kW battery, the Prius’ emissions are undeniably impressive courtesy of a WLTP cycle of 564.9 miles-per-gallon, and a CO2 output of 11g per kilometre.
Toyota Mirai Mk2
James May owns a Mk2 Toyota Mirai, which is all the proof you need as to why this car is interesting and worthy of your attention. Toyota has long claimed that it doesn’t feel full electrification is the future of motoring, and this is precisely the reason it has gone down the hydrogen fuel cell with its Mirais (Mirae?) Mk1 and Mk2. This latest version is based on the Toyota New Global Architecture, shared with the Lexus LC and LS. Both Lexi are attractive pieces of work, and it should come as no surprise that the Mirai is, too. It’s also clever. Very clever. Here’s why: the electricity powering the car is produced by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell stack paired with a hybrid battery. This, in turn, affords the Mirai 180bhp and 400 miles of range. The car’s clever onboard air purification system then purges any nasties from the wastewater produced by the hydrogen fuel stack… and here’s the biggest USP - at the push of a blue button marked ‘H20’ in the well made, futuristic cabin, the Mirai will rinse its hydrogen kidneys through its rear tailpipe to make it a ‘minus emissions’ vehicle. You understood that right - the Mirai is a wazzing Toyota, and that’s something truly celebratory. The only downside might be finding a hydrogen refuelling station - there are just 254 across Europe, and 814 globally.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The 2024 version of the iconic go anywhere, do anything Toyota off roader goes “back to its origins”, and is presented in a retro body inspired by Land Cruiser models of yore. The look of the new Land Cruiser is - refreshingly - very much the opposite of the modern SUV: it’s no-nonsense, it’s purposefully proportioned, and there is a pleasing absence of jewellery and gimmicks inside and out. The 2024 Land Cruiser is built on an entirely new body-on frame platform, which ensures that it retains its traditional strengths of quality, durability, and highly-regarded off-road capabilities. The interior is all rather logical with actual buttons, and can be configured with either five or seven seats. Western European-spec Land Cruisers will be powered by the 201bhp 2.8L diesel Toyota uses in its Hilux truck. In early 2025, a 48-volt mild hybrid version of the same engine is set to join the fold, making it the first ever electrified Land Cruiser. In addition to this latest tech, the 2024 Land Cruiser will also be the first Land Cruiser to adopt electric power steering and a newly-developed disconnecting anti-roll bar system.
Make no mistake, this latest fifth-gen Toyota 4Runner is old in car terms. It was released in 2009, and has been incrementally updated to keep it relevant. If you want a modern, refined, economical SUV, then go and look elsewhere, because the 4Runner is only available with one engine and transmission choice - a 4.0L V6 paired with a dated five-speed automatic ‘box. It’s also built on the Hilux pick-up truck’s frame-on chassis, which makes it extremely capable off-road at the expense of weight and fuel economy. Nonetheless, everything about the 4Runner inside-and-out has a Tonka toy lovability to it, and a character that’s been lost in recent years as SUVs have become ever-more luxurious. The flagship 4Runner TRD models are also available in a series of lairy colours including a metallic light green, a bright blue, and orange. Unfortunately, the 4Runner isn’t available in Europe, but it still remains a popular choice in the Americas. In 2025, Toyota is poised to release an all-new 4Runner with a new platform, revised looks, and a hybrid drivetrain.
Both of the cars you see below are concept vehicles. We would, however, love Toyota to put them into production…
Toyota FT-Se MR-2 Concept
Showcased at the 2023 Tokyo Auto Salon, there isn’t much information surrounding the Toyota FT-Se concept. However, we do know from the Japanese carmaker that - should it make it into production - this two-seater sports car will be “small, low, light, and fun” with “handling, stability, and aerodynamic performance” at the forefront of things. In short, the FT-Se is an all-electric interpretation of the much-loved MR2 Toyota produced from 1984 to 2007. Should it make see production, the FT-Se would be underpinned by Toyota’s new-era modular architecture and energy-dense battery technologies, which allow for smaller, lighter components, a lower centre of gravity, and more interior space.
We’re big fans of the Toyota Camry. It gets on with its job quietly and reliably, which is why it’s the top selling car in the United States. In short, it’s a worthy thing, and it’s also deeply good looking in all forms. Whilst there’s a warm TRD Camry on-sale in various markets, there’s no such thing as a full-blown hot GR version. Whilst Toyota USA boss, Bob Carter, has hinted at it in the future, nothing is confirmed. However, that hasn’t stopped Drive.com.au’s self-described “virtual tuner,” Theottle, imagining how GR Camry COULD end up. The front grille, vented bonnet, side skirts, and rear-wheel arches are all inspired by the GR Corolla. Meanwhile, the supercharged 3.5L Toyota V6 Lotus uses in its Emira flagship would serve as the power source, which would give the GR Camry around 400bhp. Paired with the GR-Four system, this would place the hottest Camry ever firmly in Audi S4/BMW M340i/Mercedes territory. If anyone from Toyota is actually reading this, please make the GR Camry happen. And build a wagon version whilst you’re at it. Wagons are the raddest of the cars, remember.