Toyota is developing a performance 8-speed automatic

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First a manual for the Toyota Supra, now there's word of a potential eight-speed automatic for the GR Yaris. In the GR Yaris' home market of Japan, the base RS trim comes with a CVT, that transmission hooked up to a 1.5-liter engine instead of the 1.6-liter demon the rest of the world associates with the three-door hatchback. A month ago, Motor1 caught wind of Japanese outlet Car Watch visiting (translated) the first round of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Rally Challenge and got up close with a GR Yaris development car with an eight-speed automatic. This was a traditional lock-up slushbox with planetary gears, no fancy twin clutches. Changes to the tester car appeared limited to a larger grille feeding air to the transmission cooler.

The automaker sounds committed to making a self-shifting gearbox worthy of the GR brand. Shift paddles are being trialed during development, but engineers want the 'box to run fastest when left in Drive. For drivers who prefer to grab the handle, company President Akio Toyoda is said to have suggested reversing the typical shift technique in Japan. Over there, pushing the lever forward upshifts, pulling the lever downshifts. Performance automatics in the U.S. and other parts of the world typically work like sequential shifters, where pulling the lever upshifts.

The rally runs on public roads mixed with special stages, a good range of environments for testing. Toyota put Vice Chairman Shigeru Hayakawa on development driving duty during the rally because he would interact differently with the transmission than one of the company's pro drivers, providing feedback more relevant to GR Yaris buyers. Hayakawa's not a novice, however, having run a GR 86 in the same series last year.

Shift logic is also being programmed for smooth changes and fuel efficiency, because this is Toyota, after all. If it ever comes to production, we want to see how Toyota manages to satisfy all of these demands in "D."

Don't expect to see this eight-speed auto in showrooms soon. When Car Watch visited (translated) the development car at round 2 of the rally series, engineers said the transmission they're using now is new gears stuffed into a parts bin casing that's cut to fit the three-cylinder engine. And being so early in the practical program, Hayakawa revealed he'd suffered a glitch and broken one unit, and Toyota brought a reinforced grille to the second rally round because the first round claimed the previous grille.

So it's way early to be asking the question, but folks are already wondering what are the chances of seeing this eight-speed in the GR Corolla that shares a powertrain with the GR Yaris. The Toyota 86 would make an even more sensible beneficiary, and the appeals to put a manual in the Supra might not have been so riotous if the coupe had enjoyed a properly shifty automatic.

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