There’s something to be said for having a true gearhead at the helm of a car company. Without master driver Akio Toyoda at the helm, there’s a solid chance this weapons-grade hot hatch would never have seen the light of day – let alone the production line.
It’s called the GR Corolla, a funky-looking hatch with 300 horsepower and all-wheel drive. Under its hood is a 1.6L three-cylinder engine, hitting its power peak at 6,500 rpm and capable of belting out 273 lb-ft of torque at just 3,000 rpm. And yes – those are triple exhaust pipes out back, said to be designed to reduce backpressure for strong power delivery characteristics. It is not disingenuous to say this is the same turbocharged G16E-GTS powerplant in the GR Yaris cranked to eleven. Motorsport tech like multi-oil jet piston cooling and large diameter exhaust ports are part of the deal, aided by a single-scroll ball-bearing turbo integrated into the exhaust manifold.
This powerhouse is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, as nature and Akio intended. Rev-matching will make you look like Senna to your friends, while all-wheel drive puts the power to the ground. Billed as Toyota’s first sports four-wheel drive system in two decades, it’s called the GR-FOUR (nostalgists rejoice) and is designed for shenanigans on a variety of surfaces. With the twist of a dial, drivers can select from an everyday 60/40 front-rear torque split, 50/50 for maximum stability, or an entertaining 30/70 distribution for those occasions you wish to hang the tail out on circuits. Some GR Corollas will be equipped with front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires are standard from the factory.
Curb weight is listed as 1,473 kg (3,240 lbs) which is in the ballpark of all-wheel drive competitors like the VW Golf R. Toyota offset the all-wheel drive weight penalty by using aluminium for the hood and front door panels, high-tensile steel in critical structure areas, plus the forged (not woven) carbon fibre roof for the Circuit trim. To add stiffness, there are more weld points in the frame compared to a garden variety Corolla hatch plus an extensive use of structural adhesives. Compared to the VW, this car is 4.5 inches longer and 2.5 inches wider. Both trims get the widebody treatment with angry front and rear fender flares. The rear lower bumper cover has functional vents on both trims.
Which brings us to an important point. Like other hot hatches in this arena, the GR Corolla isn’t just a trim package layered onto an existing model. Instead, there will eventually be two trims of the thing: Core and Circuit. Core is first out of the gate, identifiable by its colour-keyed roof. Sometime in the 2023 calendar year, a Circuit Edition will pop up with that forged carbon-fibre lid and vented (read: functional) bulging hood shown in these photos. No matter the model, front suspension is a MacPherson-type strut paired with a double wishbone type multilink system outback
Inside, look for the typical modern conveniences, such as heated seats/wheel and a 12.3-inch screen in the place of sweeping gauges which can display a myriad of vehicle information. The shift lever is said to have a shortened stroke of a quick throw and, praise the pharaohs, there’s an old-school pull type mechanical parking brake. Core models get a black and silver atmosphere while the Circuit swaps silver for natty red. GR badges abound in both, but Core customers get fabric sport seats while Circuit buyers will find themselves sitting on a synthetic leather. Automatic climate control keeps all hands happy, there are ample places in which to charge a smartphone, and aluminum sport pedals. Infotainment is limited to an 8-inch screen but let’s be real – you’ll probably be having too much fun driving the GR Corolla to miss the jumbotrons found in some other cars.
The company has been making lots of noise about its Toyota Safety Sense suite of active driver aids, showing up here with a ‘3.0’ designation which denotes the latest and greatest in driving nannies. There’s a pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and hill start assist which can be a lifesaver when trying to light the fires on a steep hill.
Toyota’s mum on price for now but the existing Corolla hatchback tops out at less than $30,000. A six-speed Golf R is priced in the mid-40’s and the front-wheel drive Civic Type R was about a thousand bucks more. Meanwhile, a Veloster N is just a good steak dinner south of forty grand. In other words, don’t be surprised if the GR Corolla’s sticker price starts with a ‘4’ when it goes on sale in Canada later this year.
See? It’s great to have a gearhead at the helm of a car company.