Mark Sainsbury puts the new Toyota Yaris through its paces
Travel Advice

Mark Sainsbury puts the new Toyota Yaris through its paces

Mark Sainsbury standing in front of Toyota Yaris with thought bubble of red Lamborghini


On a mission to check out the Toyota Yaris, Mark Sainsbury enters the dangerously delicious world of the motoring writer.

Those of us who spent our reporting lives covering politics and disaster (often indistinguishable) always harboured deep resentment and, not to put too fine a point on it, jealousy, towards our colleagues on the motoring and travel desks.

My dear sadly departed friend Dave Moore amassed squillions of airpoints as a motoring journo. Car companies would whisk him off, usually business class, to some flash do near Lake Como in Italy to launch the latest Ferrari. So imagine my raw excitement to finally make the cut. Toyota had been doing unimaginable things with the Yaris and I was on the invite list.

Finally, I was on the invite list.

Now a Yaris is a far cry from a Ferrari California or a Range Rover Sport, and Toyota were a bit more grounded. This is the company that has cut haggling out of the new car equation in New Zealand. A new Toyota will be the same price whatever dealer you go to. They believe this means every buyer gets the best deal. How that sits with us deal-obsessed Kiwis remains to be seen.

The Yaris experience was divided into two groups. There was the traditional car-reviewing contingent, dominated by the lads, and this involved track testing at Hampton Downs. Or I could join the leisure and lifestyle crowd (this sounded much more my scene) and, surprise, surprise, that was exclusively female. Or was, until I rocked up for the breakfast and briefing.

There were acres of food: bespoke granola, lemon cakes, savoury pastries, and a barista on hand. Only problem – I seemed to be the only one eating! And there was more to come… We were to actually drive the Yarises (or is it Yari?) to the fabulous Bracu restaurant in the Bombay Hills, south of Auckland. I was warming to my task.

Mark Sainsbury standing in front of Toyota Yaris with thought bubble of red Lamborghini


I was partnered with my old mate Sido Kitchin (editor of our sister publication Woman) to put the cars through their paces. The Yaris started here as the Toyota Echo but, like all small cars, has several versions. Even the current base model hatch ($25,900) has a hybrid version and then there’s now the obligatory SUV option. We are obsessed with SUVs – being higher than normal seems to be the principle qualification for the description.

The high ride height did make a difference and the Yaris Cross felt weighty and solid. We started with the hybrid luxury version ($38,990). Sido and I were impressed, and I’m certain that’s what caused us to lose the convoy several times, not the constant chat. But somehow our unerring nose for a free lunch lead us to Bracu and the rest of the crew, where we were royally fed.

They’re pretty proud of their cars at Toyota, and as well as creating useful, reliable, everyday transport they are also heavily involved in motorsport. So they had one more trick up their sleeves. We would head to Hampton Downs (the “serious” motoring writers were well gone) to do a hot lap in a Yaris hatch. A hot lap in a Yaris seems a contradiction in terms. But no, they were serious. The last reveal was the Yaris GR. It turns out, if they want to race a production car, it must be available to the public and a qualifying number built.

So Toyota gave the Yaris the Gazoo Racing (GR) treatment – 257 brake horsepower, low, fast and oozing carbon fibre. You could spend $55,000 on the GR. But you can’t! Not now. New Zealand was allocated 30 and they’ve all gone.

So our final event was a hot lap in a hot hatch. It wasn’t Lake Como in a Ferrari, or the Algarve in a Bentley, but it was damn good fun.

And that’s the point. If you want a fun, comparatively affordable “toy”, the GR is madness on wheels. But if you want to hit the highway in something more appropriate for a roadie, the Cross ticks all the boxes and, in hybrid mode, you can save money as well as the planet. Then again, how about a Yaris Cross GR?

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