Toyota is attempting to morph itself into an edgier, bolder, and sexier brand — to varying degrees of success. However, much of the company’s makeover has been purely cosmetic. The exception is Gazoo Racing, the automaker’s motorsport division and new in-house performance arm behind Toyota’s GR-series passenger cars.
Interestingly, Gazoo literally means “image” in Japanese and some of the upgraded models have been about little else. Still, some of the limited edition cars look like hoonable maniacs when compared to the base unit. The supercharged Yaris GRMN (Gazoo Racing Masters of Nürburgring) with over 200 horsepower is a prime example.
Aiming to go more mainstream, Toyota has decided to unfurl a range of GR and GR Sport models that won’t be handicapped by limited production numbers. Among them is the bewildering Prius Prime GR Sport, a hot hatch variant of the economy-minded hybrid. Toyota has officially lost its mind.
President Akio Toyoda seemed to take personal offense at the notion that his company was renowned for producing quality machines without offering much in the way of zest. He’s made it his mission to spice things up, but a performance variant of the Prius is not something anyone could have anticipated.
However, “performance” is a relative term when discussing the Prius GR Sport because it offers no additional power output. Instead, Toyota has outfitted it with new bodywork, a sports-tuned suspension, additional structural bracing, a smaller steering wheel, sport pedals, and an analog tachometer.
The same goes for the the other GR and GR Sport models, which includes everything from the smaller Aqua (our Prius C) to the more sporting 86. Toyota doesn’t bolster power on anything but the top-tier GRMN units. That’s a shame because it would be nice to see a well-balanced model with a few extra ponies.
Our guess is that Toyota wants to make good on its promise to keep what’s best about Toyota and throw in some cheap thrills. Tuning an engine doesn’t usually help its longevity, which is a hallmark of the brand. But not even the 86 GR sees an uptick in output. Unveiled Tuesday, the 2+2 gains Sachs shock absorbers, a Torsen limited-slip differential, upgraded calipers, Rays aluminum wheels, and Recaro seats — but no engine upgrades to speak of.
Toyota says the GR sub-brand will be launched in Japan first and come only in white, with the 86 GR arriving within a couple of months. Other markets will follow, but North America is still a huge question mark. The company would not explicitly say which markets have the green light, but Europe is practically assured since the Yaris GRMN is already sold there.
We’re betting GR will make it to the Americas in some capacity, though. It would be another opportunity for Toyota redefine itself and there remains a strong enthusiast market in the west. At the very least, we’d expect to see some of the aftermarket parts show up here eventually.
The dolled-up Prius can stay in Japan, though. We won’t be needing it and are content to wait for the Supra.