The Toyota GR Yaris is often lauded as one of the best enthusiast-focused car on sale today, thanks to its incredibly fun chassis, the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine in production, and of course, the fact that it only comes with a six-speed manual gearbox.
While we car-nuts love it, the fact is many people still don’t know how to drive a stick shift – at least, not properly. So in an effort to appease the wider fan base of the new cult favourite, Toyota is now reportedly developing a “sporty” eight-speed automatic gearbox for the pocket rocket.
That is, at least, according to Japanese publication Car Watch. The publication writes that a prototype of the automatic-equipped GR Yaris is already now in testing, as part of a factory-fielded team running in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Rally Challenge in Japan. In fact, the main development driver is none other than Toyota vice chairman, Shigeru Hayakawa.
The prototype, which has been photographed by the publication, shows an automatic gear lever seemingly plucked out from a regular road-going Toyota, and slapped on to the centre stack somewhat haphazardly.
Interestingly though, the manual shifting direction on the makeshift gear lever has been reversed (as noted by the yellow sticker labels) from the typical Toyota automatic style (forward for upshift, back for downshift), to the preferred layout of most sequential race car gearboxes, where you pull the lever towards you for an upshift, and away for a downshift.
It’s a contentious topic among car enthusiasts online as to which direction is the more “correct” one, but it’s nothing a set of gearshift paddles on the steering wheel can’t solve.
CarWatch says that the prototype is currently working through some shift pattern calibration to ensure it behaves appropriately for a sporty hot hatch like the GR Yaris.
During development, Hayakawa reportedly discovered several issues with the automatic slushbox’s performance, particularly struggling to re-accelerate after downshifting from third to second. A fix has supposedly been applied via a software tune on the gearbox, but further testing is required in the next rounds of the Rally Challenge to validate its effectiveness.
While an automatic gearbox will certainly dilute the GR Yaris’ status as the ultimate enthusiast machine, it’ll without a doubt open up the same incredible experience – just like the one we had in Sepang last year – to a much wider audience. And well, if you want to keep the burning love for cars alive among the general public, it’s never a bad thing to let more people have fun.
Would you be open to the idea of an automatic Toyota GR Yaris? Let us know in the comments below!