The Toyota GR Corolla has been making headlines since its introduction last year. Markets in Europe and Asia get the rally-bred GR Yaris, a true homologation special. The real deal. Unfortunately, we don’t, and that’s simply because the Yaris on which the GR version is based, is no longer sold here.
If the GR Yaris did come here, it would have sold out instantly and probably for an insane markup. But bringing it here would have been prohibitively expensive. Car makers don’t like losing large sums of money, so instead we get the GR Corolla. It’s slightly bigger and heavier but it makes more power to offset the extra pounds. Is the GR Corolla just a consolation prize for North Americans or does it have the same magic that made its smaller sibling an instant hit?
It has all the stuff driving enthusiasts want: a heavily boosted and fizzy three-cylinder with 300 hp, and 273 lb-ft of torque, a rally-bred all-wheel drive system, front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials, big brakes, and a mandatory 6-speed manual transmission. And Toyota now has a legitimate competitor to the Honda Civic Type R
, which is great news for us because this is the type of thing that gets us up in the morning.
But there are more differences between them than similarities. The Type R feels like a mid-size sedan, the GR Corolla is at least a full-size smaller. The Civic Type R only drives the front wheels and the GR Corolla drives all four. One is rally-focused, tested on dirt and snow as well as racetracks, the other is a street/track tool of the highest caliber. In the real world, though, these are
going to be cross-shopped.
Inside the GR Corolla looks like, well, any other Corolla. With the exception of the digital gauge cluster, and a few GR logos, there’s nothing that implies you’re in something different, something special. It also doesn’t feel like the interior of a $50,000 car. Sure the controls feel good and are easy to use and ergonomically positioned, but the Type R with its honeycomb vents, jewel-like knobs, and bright red racing-inspired seats feels vastly superior.
It’s a different story when it comes to the exterior. The wide body kit, aggressive bumpers, hood scoops, and triple stainless mufflers are the opposite of covert. It’s compact and muscular, like a bulldog. Not really pretty, but still endearing. This truly isn’t your uncle’s Corolla.
In Canada we get three trims starting with the Core model ($48,604) you see here, the Circuit ($57,104), which adds a carbon-fibre roof, nicer interior trim, rear spoiler, and a more aggressive hood. Then there’s the hardcore and very limited Morizo edition that bins the rear seats for additional structural bracing and gets more torque, wider tires, shorter gearing, and special monotube shocks.
Firing up the feisty three-cylinder brings a throaty growl that reverberates into the cabin. The GR Corolla sounds like it looks. The 6-speed manual feels great to row, slotting into gears with a healthy shove with a pleasingly firm and easy-to-modulate clutch pedal.
Infusing 300hp into a car with the footprint of a Corolla hatchback is already going to be a good time but it would be wasted if the chassis wasn’t capable of managing the extra power. With stiffer springs and shocks, a double wishbone multi-link rear suspension, significantly more welds, and structural adhesives, the GR is a much, much stiffer car
With its trick all-wheel drive system, you get the confidence to mash the throttle pedal at will, provided you have enough space in front. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, or if you’re on a dirt road. It’s not a scary amount of power so you can push it harder than something like a Supra, but it will still rocket out of a corner in a way no Corolla ever has.
The default torque split for the GR Four all-wheel drive system is 60:40 front to rear but with a twist of a small dial on the centre console, you can send up to 70 per cent of the engine torque to the rear wheels, or have it split 50:50 for max grip. Think of it as a way to instantly change the character of the car but you need to be driving quickly or on a loose surface to really feel it.
To truly enjoy the GR, point it towards the nearest winding road and let loose. The gearing is short and rowing the 6-speed is a lot of fun. There’s little in the way of body roll but it comes at the expense of a jarringly stiff ride that can’t be softened.
The handling character does tend to lean towards understeer and that feeling doesn’t really go away even when in rear-biased 30:70 mode. It can easily be tamed, however, with a dab of the brakes or lifting off the throttle.
As different as they are, you have to compare the GR Corolla to the Civic Type R. The Corolla feels like a reincarnation of the discontinued Impreza WRX STi. It’s a gritty all-weather smile machine that you can confidently wring out every opportunity you get. The Type R is a precision tool that you drive with your fingertips. It comes down to a matter of preference.
So is the GR Corolla, Toyota’s way of appeasing us because they couldn’t give us the GR Yaris we all wanted? Nope. It’s a really, really good hot hatch. It’s got a lot of character and its all-wheel drive system gives it a competitive edge over the Civic Type R. Where you should spend your money is up to you but either choice will land you with one of the best hot hatches you can buy today.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core
- 5 passenger, 5 door compact hatchback
-engine, all-wheel drive
1.6-L turbocharged inline-3; Power: 300 hp @6500 rpm; 273 lb-ft @3000-5500 rpm
: 6-speed manual
: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km):11.1 city; 8.3 highway; 9.8 combined
: 504 litres
$ 45,490 (base); $47,378 as-tested including freight and PDI
WEBSITE: Toyota Canada