Review: 2020 Toyota Vios GR-Sport - The ride and handling champ in class

Shaun · Mar 7, 2021 08:55 PM

BMW has M Sport, Mercedes-Benz has AMG Line, Volkswagen has R-Line, and I guess you can see where this is going - Toyota has GR-Sport (GR-S). The first Toyota in the Malaysian market to get that treatment is the 2020 Toyota Vios GR-S.

Just to recap, the Toyota Vios GR-S sits at the top of the model lineup. It gets sporty looking bits inside and out, with aggressive looking bumpers and larger wheels. More interestingly, the suspension has been retuned and the CVT features 10 virtual ratios.

Also read: 4 variants of the 2021 Toyota Vios in Malaysia, but which is the better buy?

Are these items worth forking out nearly RM 8k more than the fully-equipped 1.5 G variant? Well, that would depend on how much you like the looks.

Exterior – Looks fast even when stationary

This is where it makes or break your decision to pick the Vios GR-S over the standard G variant. If the aggressive exterior kit tickles your fancy, it’ll likely get your vote. If not, there’s only one more saving grace, which we’ll get into in the driving department.

The front bumper looks similar to the much-talked-about Toyota GR Yaris, and so does the headlamps with its L-shaped DRL and triple-chamber LEDs. However, I’ve come to learn that the front fascia splits opinion. Some admire it, some find it too aggressive, some even said it looks odd. Personally, I quite like it and would prefer this over the pre-facelift model anytime.

From the side, my biggest gripe would be the wheel gap. Now, normally I don’t pay much attention to wheel gaps because to me, ground clearance and suspension travel are more important than looks considering our road conditions. But with the larger 17-inch wheels and low-profile tyres, the gap appears to be enhanced and becomes more of an eyesore.

Over to the rear, this is arguably the least polarizing aspect of the exterior. It’s generally favoured by people, myself included. The contrasting spoiler and diffuser add to the drama.

Onto more objective matter, paint thickness consistency is commendable, averaging in the 100s of micrometers without any outliers. Panel gap consistency is borderline average with several panels of the opposite sides deviating by 1.0 mm.

Interior – GR bits add spice

The interior is nigh on identical compared to the 2019 facelift, which means the pros and cons of it remains.

The biggest gripe I have for the Toyota Vios is the lack of telescopic adjustment on the steering wheel. Come on Toyota, it’s a B-segment car in 2021. The Vios is the only one in its segment without reach adjustment.

Individuals with a smaller build or those who are used to driving with their arms stretched may not find this an issue, but taller individuals will find the driving position compromised. Either the backrest has to be very upright or the seat needs to be closer to the steering wheel.

Another gripe would be the armrest, which is positioned too far towards the rear of the cabin and doesn’t really serve as an armrest, merely a cover for the storage compartment.

The lack of telescopic adjustment exacerbates this because I’m unable to be seated further away from the dashboard. Well, I can, but my arms would be fully stretched and my colleague Jason, who’s an advanced driving instructor, will cringe at the driving position.

At the rear, legroom is decent and the floor is completely flat, which is a plus point for those forced to sit in the middle. Headroom however, may be a little tight. Myself with a 177 cm stature is brushing against the headliner. Those over 6 feet will have to slouch.

That’s about all the gripes I have for the interior of the Vios. Some aren’t the biggest fan of the interior design and perceived quality, but I have no such complaints. Build and material quality is par for the course, mostly. I say mostly because the leather on the steering wheel feels a little rough, unlike the softer leather in the Honda City.

The GR bits in the cabin like the carpets, red dials, red stitching and GR logo on the start/stop button spice things up a little.

No changes on the practicality front. Storage spaces are as before, with a decently-sized boot at 506 litres.

Driving Experience – The benchmark for suspension tuning

Before we get to the good stuff, which is the sports-tuned suspension, I’d like to start with the powertrain. It’s the same 1.5-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine (2NR-FE) as before, paired to a CVT that is programmed with 10 virtual ratios.

In normal mode, the recalibrated transmission feels almost identical to the regular variants. Sport mode allows the engine to work at a noticeably higher rpm and simulates gear shifts, which is a rather strange sensation.

Obviously, this is to enhance driving engagement, but it just doesn’t feel natural. The engine groans away while the simulated shifts feel like it’s having a hiccup. Ironically, sport mode actually slows down the acceleration from all that hiccups (yes, we've timed it).

The Toyota Vios GR-S takes 12.9 seconds to complete the 0-100 km/h sprint, which is the slowest in its segment. It’s actually 0.2 of a second slower than the pre-facelift model. One possible explanation is the larger wheels and grippier tyres, blunting acceleration.

Steering feels a little more connected than I recall as it responds to minute steering inputs off centre. But steering ratio remains the same, which is on the slower side and doesn’t steer sharply into corners.

Now let's talk about the suspension. Upon setting off, there is an immediate suggestion of sporty intent. Springs are firmer and does transmit more road imperfection to the cabin, but it’s complemented by perfectly-tuned dampers that just rounds off the sharp edges.

Ride quality wise, the Vios GR-S sacrifices a small degree of comfort, but still very much composed is more than acceptable for daily driving. In return, body roll is noticeably lesser. It leans to a certain degree and sits there confidently going through the bends.

Push it harder into corners and it resists understeer more impressively than most B-segment sedans. The front end just claws its way through while the rear obediently follows without any surprises or stability control intervention. This marks a well-sorted chassis.

Another thing I'd like to note is the Blind Spot Monitor no longer beeps annoyingly, which was a deal-breaker for the pre-facelift model. It's also gained AEB and LDA. A big plus for the Vios.

Ride Comfort - Minimal trade-off in comfort

In the regular Vios, it does what I’d like to call “the waft” as it gently oscillates over bumps, giving that comfortable floaty sensation. Conversely in the Vios GR-S, there’s no waft to be had as it settles quickly over any lumps and bumps with superb composure.

Sharp edges are rounded off nicely, which is quite impressive considering it rides on larger, 17-inch wheels with thinner profile tyres.

If I were to put things into perspective, the suspension has a European-like character, or as we say "Conti car". There's a hint of firmness albeit controlled, giving that nuggety ride.

The GR-S seats are great, they are a tad more supportive than the regular seats without being overly squeezy. The suede-like material feels good the touch and isn’t as slippery as leather. In the rear, the cushion feels more comfortable than before from the softer cushions.

Cabin insulation has been one of the plus points of the Vios and it’s retained here. However, due to the larger and more performance-biased tyres, road noise is higher compared to regular variants.

We recorded the cabin noise level to be 1 dB higher at speeds of 60 kmh/h, 90 km/h, and 110 km/h. At 110 km/h, the Vios GR-S averaged 70 dB.

Fuel Consumption - Not as efficient as rivals

Based on the calculation between distance travelled and amount of fuel filled up, the Vios GR-S returned 6.8 litre/100 km on journey broken down to around 60% highway and 40% city driving. The onboard trip computer indicated an average of 7.3-litre/100 km.

Interestingly, we tested the regular G variant and it averaged 6.55-litre/100 km over 2 tests. While the increased rolling resistance do play a role in the GR-S' higher fuel consumption, we reckon the driving conditions can easily offset the difference.

Also read: Ratings: 2021 Toyota Vios 1.5L G - The best value for money B-segment sedan?

Conclusion

The Toyota Vios GR-S is actually a bit of an oddball. The powertrain and steering prefer to be driven in a more relaxed manner, but the chassis just scoffs at the measly pace. The solution might just be one manual transmission away.

Also read: Missed opportunity: Where's the manual transmission 2020 Toyota Vios GR Sport?

Then again, everyone knows only a handful of buyers at most will actually buy a manual, while the rest clicks away at their keyboards. But I digress.

Back to the question again - is the Toyota Vios GR-S worth the extra over than the standard G variant? As mentioned earlier, it would depend on whether the exterior entices your eyeballs. If it’s a resounding yes, then you have your answer.

If it’s no, then even the spot-on suspension tuning is unlikely to be enough to justify the premium, never mind the gimmicky “10-speed” CVT. Let’s face it, the majority of buyers aren’t particular about nuanced calibration exercise and that means the excellent suspension will likely go unappreciated.

I know this because I’ve asked some of my family members and friends (non-car-enthusiasts) to take the Vios GR-S for a spin. Not once was the suspension highlighted. Only like-minded petrol head friends took notice of it.

That’s the sad reality, boiling down the decision to mere superficial qualities. But the silver lining here is that Toyota has walked the talk of “no more boring cars”. The Vios GR-S is a car you can drive flat-out everywhere without getting into trouble too quickly. And if that’s not entertaining, I don’t know what is.

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