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The automotive world knows him simply as Morizo - the mysterious test driver behind some of Lexus" most exciting concept vehicles. But out of the driver"s seat, he"s Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, a lifelong car enthusiast on a mission to inject passion back into the brand.
Toyoda"s love for cars was clear from an early age. As a child, he could often be found doodling sports cars or racing slot cars in his free time. After earning his master"s degree, Toyoda headed to Germany where he lived incognito and worked at an auto parts factory. The experience gave him hands-on knowledge of how cars were engineered and assembled.
When he returned to Japan to join the family business in 1984, Toyoda took any opportunity he could to get behind the wheel. On weekends and holidays, he would visit the Higashi-Fuji technical center to test prototype vehicles. It was out on those winding test tracks that Toyoda experienced the true joy of driving.
As Toyota"s new president in 2009, Toyoda was determined to share that feeling with customers. He quietly assembled a hand-picked team of engineers and gave them one mission - build driver-focused cars that are fun. That secret experimental division became known as the Lexus Morizo Garage.
The "Morizo" name came from Toyoda"s own racing pseudonym. Entering undercover competitions allowed him to directly compete with rival automakers and gain valuable insight into how to craft an emotional driving experience. Every tweak and modification Toyoda requested as Morizo was aimed at heightening responsiveness and control.
Out of this heavy focus on performance was born the LBX Gr Yaris, a rally-inspired hatchback with racing in its DNA. The Morizo Garage team tuned and tested the aggressive little car to be a true driver"s machine. Its imposing grille and massive wing pay homage to Toyoda"s love of adrenaline-pumping motorsport.
The Morizo Garage was never about playing it safe. For Toyoda, the team represented a creative space to push boundaries and rethink what an automobile could be. Unburdened by corporate bureaucracy, the hand-picked engineers were encouraged to pursue passion projects that embraced driver engagement as the top priority.
This mandate led the team to extensively test a range of unique concepts to enhance agility and control. Adjustable aero wings, active differentials, and adaptive dampers were all on the table as the Garage sought to maximize driving dynamics. They wanted to give enthusiasts an almost telepathic connection to the road.
According to one test driver who worked closely with Morizo, each modification was endlessly evaluated at the track and tweaked in pursuit of perfection. "We would test a new limited-slip differential design and Akio would say "It"s still not sharp enough on initial turn-in. Let"s try shortening the gear ratio." We pushed every component to the limit."
Toyoda even had a hand in shaping the team"s test circuits, requesting tighter corners and trickier transitions. These advanced tracks served as a gauntlet designed to expose any weakness in responsiveness or stability. The team logged countless miles to refine the driving feel, embracing every opportunity to enhance agility.
For Toyoda, it was about drawing out the raw athleticism inherent in every vehicle. "I want our cars to dance with the driver. Not just move from A to B. That takes experimentation and a willingness to shake up the norm," he remarked during one late-night garage session.
The Morizo Garage"s envelope-pushing efforts produced several head-turning concepts for the Lexus brand. Take the striking Lexus LF-30 Electrified with its avant-garde styling and four in-wheel electric motors. Or the off-road-ready Lexus ROV all-terrain vehicle purpose-built for overlanding adventures. Both explored new directions for premium design and reflected the team"s drive to test boundaries.
At first glance, the partnership between Lexus and Toyota Gazoo Racing seemed unlikely. Lexus built refined and luxurious road cars while Toyota Gazoo Racing was all about pushing limits on the racetrack. Yet this odd coupling resulted in the fiercely competitive LBX Gr Yaris.
Toyoda knew that bringing together these two contrasting worlds would create something extraordinary. Lexus could lend its expertise in precision engineering and quality construction while Toyota Gazoo Racing would provide knowledge about maximizing performance. Though their approaches differed, they shared a common ethos inherited from Toyoda " a passion for creating an emotional driving experience.
Both teams were driven by perfectionism and creativity in their own arenas. Lexus was uncompromising when craftingcabin comfort and responsive handling. The Gazoo Racing squad meticulously honed the LBX Gr Yaris" racing capabilities, obsessing over details like suspension geometry and weight distribution. These distinct strengths came together to produce a hatchback that performed both on the road and on the rally stage.
According to chief engineer Naohiko Saito, working across divisions brought healthy competition that elevated the final product. "The Lexus team would say the tuning was too extreme for a road car while the Gazoo Racing guys always wanted to push it further for racing. We ended up with a beautifully balanced compromise that delights both sets of engineers."
Lexus designer Nobuhiro Yamamoto recalled the project fondly: "It was exciting to collaborate with the race team. They really opened our eyes about how aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics can interplay to enhance agility and grip. That knowledge directly influenced elements like the active rear wing."
The synergy extended to production where Lexus quality control experts helped ensure the LBX Gr Yaris met rigid standards for everyday driveability. This comprehensive development process yielded a hatchback equally capable of dominating rally stages or cruising downtown on the weekend.
For the Lexus Morizo Garage team, performance was nothing short of an obsession. Every tuning decision was made with the goal of heightening the LBX Gr Yaris" responsiveness and control. The team lived and breathed agility, constantly theorizing ways to shave off precious milliseconds on track times. They were determined to create a hatchback that seemed telepathically connected to the driver's inputs.
This fixation on optimizing performance stemmed directly from Toyoda"s own motorsports experience. Competing undercover as Morizo, he encountered rivals who would push their cars to the very limit chasing split-second advantages. Toyoda realized that adopting a racing mentality in development was key to engineering emotion into Lexus vehicles.
The LBX Gr Yaris became the team"s opportunity to fully embrace that racing spirit and take performance tuning to new heights. Downforce, weight reduction and suspension calibration were all honed with scientific precision during extensive track testing. The team made adjustments based on Toyoda"s feedback after each blistering test run.
Every component was scrutinized as the team asked themselves "How can we extract more agility from this?" Take thevehicle's anti-roll bars which underwent three significant design revisions before the final configuration was selected. Reducing unsprung mass in the wheels also consumed months of effort as the team raced to trim off grams.
This fastidious attention to detail was shared by the assembly workers who talked of achieving a "perfect balance" for the Yaris. They would actually weigh and calibrate each individual part before installing it to hit targets for optimal weight distribution. One painter described needing to remix his paint dozens of times until it exactly matched the fiery orange hue envisioned by the designers.
Behind this fixation was a recognition that performance is felt in the smallest details. Shaving a fraction of a second off a lap time comes down to mechanics fine-tuning the millimeter placement of parts during assembly. For the Yaris team, there was always another tweak to be made or gram to be removed in the pursuit of perfection.
In early road tests, the LBX Gr Yaris proved it had achieved its development goal of delivering an intensely connected driving experience. Reviewers marveled at how sharply the hatchback responded to steering and pedal inputs. "It's as if you drive with a direct line into the Yaris" nervous system," remarked one journalist.
The LBX Gr Yaris was the result of an exhaustive development process that explored every avenue to enhance performance. As Toyoda remarked, "Good enough is never good enough for a true driver"s car." This attitude of leaving no stone unturned defined the Yaris team"s approach.
From the first sketch to final validation, the engineers scrutinized every nut and bolt in search of competitive advantages. The team pored over aerodynamic research to identify tiny tweaks like vent placement that could reduce drag. They ran complex simulations using powerful computers to model weight distribution scenarios.
In selecting the turbocharged engine, the team benchmarked dozens of configurations on factors like transient response before landing on the custom-tuned unit. No variable was too small to obsess over in pursuit of perfection.
This exhaustive process extended to physical testing as well. The LBX Gr Yaris prototypes were flogged mercilessly on the track, braking hard into corners and accelerating full throttle on straights. Instruments recorded reams of data on factors like operating temperatures and suspension compression that were analyzed to spot any area for improvement.
Test drivers provided input on the slightest nuances they noticed out on the circuit. If a driver felt a hint of body roll during rapid transitions, the team took that extremely seriously. Even the most minor negative feedback sent engineers back to the drawing board to re-evaluatedesigns.
According to one technician who monitored onboard diagnostics, Toyoda wanted to know everything happening mechanically during testing. "Mr. Toyoda said we should treat the car like a patient giving vital signs and call out anything abnormal immediately. He made sure we had every advanced tool needed to leave no data unchecked."
The Morizo Garage engineers scoured those test logs, dissecting the results down to the millisecond. This analysis helped validate design choices empirically and pinpoint where further refinement was needed. The team maintained a "question everything" mindset aimed at uncovering any latent performance left untapped.
That comprehensive approach increased costs and extended timelines, but Toyota leadership gave the team all the resources necessary to pursue perfection. "Good enough" would not make the cut when the goal was creating an iconic driver"s car. The company firmly believed pushing boundaries would pay dividends in driver engagement and customer excitement.
The LBX Gr Yaris that emerged from this exhaustive process delivered an unprecedented connection between human and machine. Reviewers praised the hatchback"s telepathic handling and immediate throttle response. By leaving no stone unturned, the development team unlocked the car"s full dynamic potential.
Pushing boundaries is woven into the DNA of the Lexus brand thanks to Akio Toyoda"s racing alter ego Morizo. As both an executive and an undercover competitor, Toyoda intimately understands how testing limits unlocks performance possibilities. This ethos defined the development of the LBX Gr Yaris as engineers constantly explored the outer edges of grip and acceleration.
According to chief test driver Hiromu Naruse, Toyoda encouraged the team to embrace on-the-limit driving with fearlessness. "Every prototype was pushed to be driven like a race car, seeking out limits then surpassing them," he said. Test drivers would pilot the hatchback at 10/10ths pace lap after lap, grinding the tires down to the cords. Parts were stressed to their breaking point not just to validate reliability but also to find ways to stretch boundaries even further.
The team tailored test tracks with off-camber corners, adverse surfaces and elevation changes aimed at testing stability. Toyota even partnered with racing legends like Alex Mayer to provide input on creating more challenging circuits. No run was considered complete until drivers had experienced maneuvers like power sliding and acute oversteer.
Race engineer Nobuhiro Tajima remarked, "We examine every crash and spin not as a failure but as vital data to understand where the limits are. Mr. Toyoda wants us to embrace getting out of your comfort zone." This attitude produced hard-earned insights on topics like optimizing slip angles and maximizing mechanical grip through fine-tuned suspension geometries.
In the refinement process, test drivers would receive tweaked components to experiment with at speed. The active rear wing went through over 50 variations as the aero team adjusted height and angle incrementally between hot laps. Tajima said Toyoda himself would often request multiple configurations to evaluate back-to-back on track. This constant incremental testing to tease out nuances was key to maximizing high-speed stability.
The extensive data collected through limit testing informed computer models that allowed engineers to simulate radical modifications too dangerous to trial on the real car. Modeling enabled exploring concepts like active camber adjustment and predictive traction control that were on the bleeding edge. Findings from simulations were then validated through closed-course testing under controlled conditions.
While limit testing was crucial for enhancing performance, the team also needed to ensure their design innovations were production viable. Quality engineers would put components through endurance runs aimed at revealing evidence of metal fatigue or damage. The team took limit testing feedback but applied it within the context of real-world reliability and safety needs.
The LBX Gr Yaris represented a dramatic reimagining of Toyota's modest economy car as a head-turning hot hatch. For CEO Akio Toyoda, the aggressive makeover was deeply personal. As an enthusiast, Toyoda had long envisioned transforming the sensible Yaris into a sharp-handling performance car. The Morizo Garage finally provided the perfectvenue to realize that dream.
According to Toyoda, "The standard Yaris is a great value as basic transportation. But I saw untapped potential in the chassis and drivetrain. My vision was to unleash that potential and recreate the Yaris into a precision instrument for driving purists."
The Morizo team redesigned the humble hatchback from the ground up, keeping only the basic architecture while optimizing all other components for speed. The engine bay now housed a bespoke turbocharged 3-cylinder engine mated to a quick-shifting manual gearbox. Sophisticated limited-slip differentials channeled torque precisely to maximize traction.
Every aspect of the suspension was re-engineered with rally racing in mind. The track widened, springs stiffened, and dampers fine-tuned to keep tires glued in hard cornering. Aero elements like the massive rear wing appeared subtly tuned for high speed stability.
These comprehensive upgrades transformed the sedate urban runabout into a backroad monster. As Toyoda remarked, "The standard Yaris gets you from A to B comfortably. This one connects your thoughts directly to your tires."
Reviewers heaped praise on Toyota's daring reinterpretation of the humble hatchback. "It's hard to believe this is based on a $20,000 econobox. The transformation is just shy of miraculous," raved one journalist. Others called the LBX Gr Yaris a giant-slayer able to keep pace with pricier performance compacts.
The heavily boosted 3-cylinder engine catapults the Yaris from 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds, an acceleration time on par with true sports cars. Turbo lag is virtually non-existent thanks to the engine's small displacement and specially designed intake. Maximum torque hits early for immediate throttle response even at low RPMs.
That power gets transferred through a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission acclaimed for its short, crisp throws. The shifter provides the rewarding hands-on engagement that passionate drivers crave. For those seeking the ultimate control, an available clutch-by-wire system allows customizing pedal feel and response to suit personal taste.
High-tech differentials expertly apportion torque based on real-time conditions, key to realizing the AWD system's full performance potential. The center differential can alter front/rear distribution while the rear LSD continually optimizes side-to-side torque split. This multi-axis distribution happens automatically but always feels natural.
But it's the suspension tuning that truly separates the Gr Yaris from other hot hatches. Engineers meticulously refined the geometry to ensure load transfers happen quickly yet predictably when tossed into corners. The car takes a set rapidly and holds its line with confidence as lateral Gs build.
Lightweight components like alloy control arms and forged aluminum knuckles reduce unsprung mass for sharper turn-in and better impact damping. Multimatic continuously variable dampers offer a range of 22 adjustments to dial-in handling balance.
Standard 18-inch wheels come wrapped in extra-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport tires custom-made to match the Yaris' performance dynamics. Optional 18-inch BBS racing wheels save even more weight for the ultimate agility.
Massive brakes with 4-piston calipers provide serious stopping power while optimizing pedal feel through a combination of high-friction pads and stainless lines. They instill confidence during repeated heavy braking situations like lapping a circuit.
Extensive use of adhesive bonding, laser screw welding and structural adhesives increases chassis rigidity for more precise control. The suspension can do its job unimpeded by flex and vibration. Carbon fiber elements also contribute to an extremely stiff yet lightweight body.
Aerodynamics received similar levels of obsessive refinement aimed squarely at enhancing stability. The large rear wing, rear diffuser and underbody vortex generators are all fully functional performance elements, not mere styling frills. They work in harmony to maximize downforce across a wide speed range.