From the November 2022 issue of car and driver.
Toyota has long worn the stink of appliance-grade transportation with pride. Reliability isn’t sexy or fun—unless you’re interested in actuarial science. In that case, are you reading the right sheet? But the past decade has been different for Toyota. It introduced two co-developed rear-wheel drive sports cars – the GR86 with Subaru and the Supra with BMW, both 10Best winners – as well as a rally-inspired GR Yaris for overseas markets. Now we get the Yaris’ bigger brother, the GR Corolla. Are we crazy or is Toyota the leading enthusiast brand of the day?
The GR Corolla is an absolute beauty. It is able to reach such high speeds that everyone should be comfortable on public roads. The 143-mph governor is within street reach, but if you’re going that fast on dual carriageways, you probably belong in a cage.
We tested the mid-range Circuit trim, which starts at $43,995. A Core base model is $7000 cheaper, and a $7000 more expensive two-seat Morizo edition will arrive later in 2023.
At the heart of the GR Corolla is a 1.6-liter inline three, a spunky little grinder that also powers the GR Yaris. With a compression ratio of 10.5:1 and a tiny turbo producing up to 25.2psi of boost in the Core and Circuit models, it’s not without lag – the GR Corolla’s 5-60 mph time is 6.4 seconds – but that’s not even a bit insulting. A balancer shaft eliminates the triple’s inherent imbalance, and the passenger-side drivetrain mount is fluid-filled to further quell shake.
Anyone hoping for the wild three-cylinder howl of a Yamaha motorcycle or snowmobile will be disappointed. Despite the presence of a two-stage intake and exhaust and the occasional hiss of the blow-off valve, the engine sounds completely normal. It’s more like a four than other automotive threes of late – BMW i8, Mitsubishi Mirage or Smart ForTwo. When Toyota developed this engine for the Yaris, three engineering teams in the United States, Germany and Japan worked together and used computer-aided engineering to produce a working prototype in six months, about half the time of a typical development. In the Corolla Core and Circuit models, it makes 300 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 pound-feet at 3000 rpm. The torque curve stays flat through 5500 rpm. The Morizo edition gets a midrange increase to 295 pound-feet thanks to a little more boost.
The very robust powertrain is seemingly impervious to the engine’s best efforts to destroy it. The four-wheel drive system and gearbox were borrowed from the homologation special GR Yaris and developed specifically for private rally teams. We followed Toyota R&D best practice advice and launched the GR like a rally car with lots of clutch slip. The GR Corolla swallowed all the abuse we could throw at it, and we didn’t even smell the dreaded stink of vaporized clutch material.
For the best start, keep the revs near the limiter and make sure the engine doesn’t drop below 4000 rpm. But the powertrain wasn’t designed to hit 100 km/h in second gear. Therefore, the 4.9-second 60-mph time doesn’t fully represent the car’s quickness off the line. Eliminate one shift and the GR would outrun the manual hot-hatch leader Volkswagen Golf R with its 4.7-second sprint. The GR makes up some time on the quarter-mile and ties the VW with a 13.3 -second run. The prototype we tested came straight off the media launch, and both the second- and third-gear synchros were easy to beat. We’re confident that our next attempt at a GR will result in even more impressive test results.
And it would be better, because 300 horses are the starting bid in this segment. The Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R manage this, albeit with larger displacement engines. The Corolla makes up for the lack of a knockout punch by maintaining mass trim. The Circuit’s standard forged carbon fiber roof helps Toyota deliver all-wheel drive with a curb weight of 3269 pounds. The front-wheel drive Type R, which is being replaced any day (coming back next month), is about 100 pounds lighter.
The Circuit’s standard front and rear Torsen differentials maximize grip. Drivers can choose from three torque splits for the mid-clutch pack clutch, with 70, 50 or 40 percent of the available torque driving the rear axle. According to Toyota, the best performance comes from 50:50 track mode.
Acceleration alone doesn’t make this car wonderful. Even better is its compliance on the carpeted streets of Michigan. Fixed-rate dampers provide a balanced ride reminiscent of a ’90s BMW. There are no electronic crutches to switch the suspension from soft to hard, but the jump is never so abrupt that it violently tosses your head. The spring and bushing choices appear to be perfectly matched to the reinforced Econocar unibody.
To upgrade a Corolla body to GR status, Toyota adds nine feet of structural adhesive and a whopping 349 additional spot welds, not to mention additional underbody bracing. The result is a strong but not too stiff structure. In contrast, an Audi RS3 feels like granite. There’s a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of chassis flex – not nearly as much as in a Mazda Miata – that’s a real blessing. Throw the GR into a corner and you can practically feel the load moving up from the tire’s contact patch.
Michelin Pilot Sport 4 – not 4S – tires offer 0.94g of grip and healthy understeer on the skidpad, although they feel a lot stickier on the road and the car is more neutral. Other manufacturers should be measured by this brake pedal: it’s resolutely underfoot and perfectly responsive to small changes in pressure. Stopping 70 mph in 167 feet isn’t great for this segment, but at least it’s fade-free.
One of our few gripes is the pedal placement. With a center pedal this firm, the throttle is almost out of reach for an easy heel-to-toe downshift. Luckily, a modified pedal is the easiest change an owner can make. Hidden behind the wheel is the iMT button that activates rev matching, but why mess this car with computer assistance?
Other complaints are more aesthetic. The interior is that of a car that starts at $22,645. There is no center armrest. The infotainment screen is barely larger than some smartphones, and its user interface appears to be inspired by PalmPilot. But it has wireless Apple CarPlay and an inductive phone charger. And how many rally cars have heated steering wheels?
Possibly the worst news for potential buyers is that Toyota plans to build just 6600 GRs for the US market this first year. The car has already achieved cult status and hasn’t even rolled off the exhibition floor yet. You might not get one in the first year, but you will eventually be able to. It’s worth the wait.
At one point I wanted a 1988-89 Mazda 323 GTX, something wild. This car was a rally-inspired special based on the lowly Mazda 323 but costing twice as much as a regular 323 hatch. It had a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, a five-speed manual gearbox and an all-wheel-drive system with a lockable center differential that gave a 50/50 torque split. The GR Corolla follows a similar design but with much more performance and refinement. Riding Gazoo is a blast and I am determined not to miss it again. – Dan Edmunds
I always thought the latest Corolla had a decent chassis. What made it uncompetitive against the world’s Civics and Mazda 3s was, well, pretty much everything else – but mostly its powertrain and interior. Now that the folks at Gazoo Racing have installed this high-tension turbo threesome, I don’t care as much about the grit of the plastic. The GR is pure fun thanks to its lively throttle response, eagerness to change direction and amazing grip. It’s great that such a single-minded machine even exists, let alone that it was born from such humble beginnings. – Joey Capparella
2023 Toyota GR Corolla racetrack
Vehicle Type: Front engine, 4WD, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
Base/as tested: $43,995/$44,420
Options: Heavy Metal Paint, $425
Turbocharged and intercooled inline-3, aluminum block and head, port and direct injection
Displacement: 99 inches31618cm3
Power: 300 hp at 6500 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft at 3000 rpm
6-speed manual transmission
Suspension, F/R: Struts/Multilink
Brakes, F/R: 14.0-inch vented grooved disc / 11.7-inch vented grooved disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 173.6 inches
Width: 72.8 inches
Height: 57.2 inches
Passenger volume: 85 ft3
Cargo volume: 18 ft3
Empty weight: 3269 lbs
CD TEST RESULTS
1/4 mile: 13.3 sec at 105 mph
The above results leave out a 0.3 second 1 foot rollout.
Rolling Start, 5-60 mph: 6.4 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 8.5 sec
Top gear, 80-110 km/h: 7.1 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 143mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 167 ft
Braking, 100-0 mph: 329 ft
Road holding, 300 ft skidpad: 0.94 g
CD FUEL SAVING
Observed: 20 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (mfr’s est)
Combined/City/Highway: 24/21/28 mpg
CD EXAMINATION EXPLAINED
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