New vs used: Toyota GR Yaris vs Audi R8

A new Toyota GR Yaris matches a used Audi R8 from 2007 on price. Which should you pick?

I know. There are two cars here that, on the face of it, don’t have a huge amount in common, bar the fact they’re designed for drivers. One, a new Toyota GR Yaris, is a hot supermini; the other, a 2007 Audi R8, is a supercar.

One seats four people, the other just two. One has its engine in the front, the other in its middle. Conceptually, practically and from a packaging point of view, they’re as diverse as the market gets. City-sized hatchback to supercar is as broad as they come. But there’s more that links them than just that: at 14 years apart, they now meet on price.

One, for example, came from the unlikeliest of sources. It’s a four-wheel-drive rocket ship that just so happens to be one of the best-handling cars of its generation. With an extraordinary blend of dynamism, suppleness, visibility and usability, it draws on a bespoke architecture and advanced materials to shake up its class at a relatively bargain price. And the other? Well, read that back.

I don’t know how likely it is that you would be considering one or the other today. Anecdotally, our inbox and the “should I get x or y…” emails it receives suggests that it’s a real possibility. Say there’s already a practical car on your drive and now, perhaps more than ever, it feels like the time to buy something analogue and old-school to sit alongside it. Something that feels special, manual and involving but is still secure, can be used all year round and comes with the sort of integrity that you expect from a big manufacturer.

The list is actually quite broad and would bear no resemblance to most magazine group tests: a new Alpine A110 or an old Porsche 911, a new Porsche 718 Cayman or an old Aston Martin Vantage, or, ahem, a brand-new GR Yaris or a Mk1 R8. Anything, really, that makes popping out for milk and the papers on a Sunday morning a lengthier drive than it strictly needs to be.

This story is part of a wider feature that sees new cars go up against used alternatives. You can read the rest here

And so to these two. This GR Yaris arrives in pearlescent red and with the Circuit Pack that seems to be a go-to box tick, so it’s as expensive as you can make it, at £34,400 (£34,425 if you add a warning triangle and first aid kit). I don’t imagine many people transfer the whole amount to a dealer in one lump: a long waiting list and strong residual values mean you can get one on pretty low monthly finance payments.

The same mid-30s amount gets you into an early R8, a car we loved so much when it was new that it won our Best Driver’s Car shootout in 2007.

Search the classifieds and you will see a handful of these manual 4.2-litre V8 models from around £33,000, typically with 60,000 miles on them.

When new, the R8 was a £76,000 car. It made 415bhp, 70% of which went to its rear wheels, and weighed 1565kg. Standard kit included leather seats, xenon headlights and 19in alloys. An adaptive ‘magnetic ride’ damping system was optional and is fitted to the car we’ve borrowed.

R8s are generally dependable. Their interiors don’t wear their age brilliantly (this one is getting shiny in places and the infotainment system now looks dated), but the mechanicals are strong.

If you’re buying or running one, listen for bad noises from the bottom end of the engine, and check oil hoses, which can perish, while the radiators can leak at the seams. That so much of the R8 is aluminium means anything steel attached to that will corrode more quickly. Suspension fixings can rust and seize. And if the magnetic ride systems fail, you might as well replace them with decent passive coilovers instead. R8s are also sensitive to worn tyres, bushes and bad alignment. But by most supercar standards, they’re reliable and easy to run, and you can still pick up servicing and warranty packages from specialists for extra peace of mind.

They’re also still cracking to drive, if this one is anything to go by. The engine starts on the turn of the key, and if you’re used to the histrionics of new cars and their start-up blam, this has more of the McLaren F1 about it, just softly starting to a sensible idle. And that’s not the only F1-esque thing about it. It has a precise gearshift, with the added value of a clacky open gate, plus a decently supple ride. Visibility is good, the steering is light-medium weighted and quick, with plenty of self-centring, and, although the car is just over 1900mm wide, it doesn’t feel too big on narrow roads (maybe because you can see out of it so well).

The V8 is lovely. It never yells at you; it just builds power linearly and smoothly until it gets to 8000rpm, when it sounds great, which equates to above 60mph in second gear. It only makes 317lb ft and that doesn’t arrive until 4500rpm, but the unit is so smooth and unshouty that you can hang on to a lower gear easily between bends or when lining up an overtake. There’s a nice amount of oomph to work with – the right amount for a car of the R8’s demeanour.

It’s a very cool thing and, although it doesn’t bear the badge of one of the exotic supercar brands, it still feels like it was made with engineering integrity.

It’s too early for GR Yarises to show if they have any dark sides to living with them, beyond the fact that they want servicing every 6000 miles and a fluid and brake check at half that, which for most owners will probably equate to a six-month brief look-over and an annual service.

It’s a mark of how the car business has moved on in the past decade and a half that this hot hatch, even though it’s a special one, feels as quick and capable as a supercar that cost twice the price new. This is probably more capable, in truth.

The GR Yaris rides well enough. This Circuit Pack car isn’t dissimilar to the R8 with its dampers in their firmer setting (a non-Circuit Pack car is more like the R8 in standard mode), and it too has a precise gearshift (albeit a less satisfying one than the Audi’s) and accurate steering.

Its three-cylinder 1.6-litre engine is nowhere near as special as a V8 but is just as effective. The Audi gets more excitable as it gets up the rev range and the Toyota’s power and torque numbers are smaller. But because so too is the weight, at 1280kg, and the fact that it’s turbocharged, it gets going early and keeps going gamely. And if you’re really on it, it’s terrific. The Audi feels more special more often, certainly at low speeds, but the GR Yaris is one of those peculiarly satisfying cars that’s a pleasure to drive all the time.

It’s also, rather obviously, quite a lot more practical, in case that matters to you. Leg room is very limited behind the driver, but it’s effectively a three-and-a-bit seater with a regular Yaris boot and rear seats that fold.

The R8 has a small boot in the nose and that’s it, thanks to a shape that’s more glamorous but which leaves the GR Yaris more usable and probably a less conspicuous profile to arrive at a client meeting where you would think twice about arriving in a supercar, no matter how practical or affordable it is.

How do we pick a winner? It depends how much you want to use your fun car. If you will use it a lot, the GR Yaris is likely to be the choice and will quickly relegate the estate on your driveway to trips to the tip, to leave at the railway station and for walking the dog. The R8, usable and approachable supercar though it may be, still feels more special. Which figures: for all that unites them (and there’s a lot), one is a hot hatch, the other is a supercar.

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Value Judgements: new cars vs used alternatives 2021​