Dear God, Toyota is Building a Souped-up Prius

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • RHD RHD on Sep 22, 2017

    Hopefully Toyota puts some stickier tires on the Prius before taking it around the 'Ring. The standard-issue low rolling resistance tires aren't designed for enthusiastic cornering. A sportier Prius is like a turbocharged Geo Metro - not for everyone, but a way of investing some engineering into giving the consumer more choices. Nothing wrong with that! (Now, how about a slick 6-speed manual to go with that tachometer?)

  • Walter_Raymond Walter_Raymond on Oct 03, 2017

    You cant fault Toyota for striking the iron while it's hot. I'm all for it, as I think brands change identities all the time. In fact I just did it with my New Orleans towing company.

  • Kosmo Love it. Can I get one with something other than Subaru's flat four?
  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.