8.0/10Score

8.0/10Score

Toyota president Akio Toyoda made his famous “No more boring cars” proclamation more than five years ago – and the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is perhaps the starkest instance yet of the Japanese company leaning into performance on a traditionally conservative, conventional nameplate.

Yes, we’ve seen edgier exterior designs and more aggressive performance versions of mainstream Toyota models across the automaker’s line-up. And, yes, we’ve seen performance versions of the Corolla in the distant past, but nothing like this 224kW, all-wheel-drive, manual-shift-only, sub-5.0-second zero-to-100 meteor the company just unleashed.

Toyota says the GR Corolla is a response to customers pleading for a Toyota hot-hatch for the North American market. And between the recently released GR86 and GR Supra, which is now available with a manual transmission, Toyota is clearly responding to enthusiast desires.

Unexpectedly, the fast Corolla isn’t going to either the UK or Europe. But it is coming to Australia – sometime in the first quarter of 2023.

For those wondering, GR stands for “Gazoo Racing” and comes from Toyota’s global motorsports division. While it’s an official term associated with Toyota’s modern racing efforts, Gazoo Racing started as a small, almost “underground” endeavor in 2007, and included then Toyota Vice President Akio Toyoda as one of its team drivers.

Mr. Toyoda was given the nickname “Morizo” as part of that early racing effort, and now that name represents the top performance trim for the new GR Corolla that borrows a significant amount of hardware from the GR Yaris.

And, at last, we’ve had the chance to experience the GR Corolla’s performance capabilities – at Utah Motorsports Campus, near Salt Lake City in the United States. Here in the States, three variants are offered, so that’s what we’ll concentrate on, to help you get an idea of what spec and equipment the Australian product planners have to work with.

Australia will get just one model at launch, although we understand the more focussed Morizo Edition is likely. We’ll update this info when local spec and pricing details become available.

GR Corolla’s G16E-GTS engine produces 220kW and 370Nm from just three cylinders and 1.6-liters of displacement. Credit the high-flow turbo, capable of 25.2psi of boost pressure in the Core Grade and Circuit Edition models. This is bumped to 26.3psi in the Morizo Edition, boosting torque to 400Nm.

For the GR’s triple exhaust system, where the centre pipe is open from idle to 35km/h to enhance the car’s audible presence, and again above 4500rpm for maximum flow. A six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching transfers power to an all-wheel-drive system with three selectable front-to-rear torque split modes (60:40, 30:70, 50:50).

All GR Corollas ride on an upgraded chassis, featuring 349 additional weld points and three metres of additional bonding adhesive (seven additional metres on the Morizo edition) compared to the standard Corolla. The MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear suspensions have been tuned to work with the car’s higher power, lighter weight, and all-wheel drive system.

All models feature an aluminium bonnet, while the Morizo has no rear window regulators or rear wiper, to save a few more grams. Upgraded brake components include 355mm front rotors squeezed by four-piston calipers and 297mm rear rotors clamped by twin piston calipers. A traditional, centre-mounted handbrake is there to further alter the GR Corolla’s rate of rotation, when needed.

At the track, the GR Corolla’s high-speed stability, slick six-speed transmission, and powerful brake package made it easy – and exceedingly fun – to wring out every last bit of the considerable performance on offer. In the Core and Circuit models the engine is tuned to provide its 370Nm of peak torque between 3000rpm and 5000rpm, with its 220kW peak power arriving at 6500rpm.

The result is surprisingly consistent power delivery throughout the top half of the rev range, meaning far fewer shifts were required when lapping UMC than one would expect from a small displacement, three-cylinder turbocharged engine.

That’s almost a shame, because the rev-matching six-speed is a delight, allowing the driver rapid upshifts and seamless downshifts. And while leaving the GR Corolla in third gear was an option for much of the road course, we found ourselves working the aluminium pedals just to experience its crisp shift gates while enjoying the engine’s exhaust note.

At the track, the GR Corolla’s stability, slick six-speed manual, and powerful brake package made it easy to wring out every last bit of the considerable performance on offer

The Morizo Edition, with increased turbo boost and higher peak torque (400Nm) delivers its top torque number in a tighter RPM range, between 3250 and 4600rpm.

This doesn’t substantially change driving tactics in the Morizo, but between its increased torque across a narrower rev range, along with wider, stickier tires, we were inspired to shift more often and push even harder through turns.

And when it’s time to turn, the GR Corolla’s adjustable driving modes added yet another degree of entertainment. Switching from its default 60:40 front-to-rear torque split to track mode (with 50:50 distribution) kept the car very stable and predictable while accelerating out of corners, aided by the stiffened chassis and track-focussed suspension tuning.

The rear-biased 30:70 driving mode gave it a more tail-happy demeanour that wasn’t great for lap times, but certainly added to the grin factor. After a relatively short acclimation period we began braking later and applying the throttle sooner, letting the steering input and the AWD system guide the car’s path through high-speed sweepers with 50:50 torque distribution.

However, for maximum fun through UMC’s low-speed, tighter turns, we often switched to the 30:70 setting before stabbing the throttle to elicit giggle-inducing oversteer. It was under these conditions we actually wished for a tad quicker throttle response.

The maximum boost numbers offered by this engine aren’t lacking, but the rate at which that boost materialises feels like it could come faster. That’s not to say the GR Corolla is laggy or feels slow.

Toyota says the GR Corolla will hit 100km/h in under 5 seconds, and we believe them. But in a market segment focused on driver enjoyment, even a subtle lag in power delivery can disappoint enthusiasts.

While all three versions of the GR Corolla deliver similar overall driving traits, there are important differences to consider. The base trim is called Core Grade, and includes the aforementioned 220kW engine, six-speed rev-matching transmission, enhanced brake calipers (painted black) and the adjustable all-wheel-drive system.

The front and rear differentials are open on Core models, while the seats are cloth and the audio system features six speakers and one USB-C port.

The base price is US$35,900 (AU$53,300), plus a US$1095 dealer handling charge, while an US$1180 Performance package adds Torsen limited slip differentials and red brake calipers. Core Grade colour options include Ice Cap (white), Black, and Supersonic Red.

Stepping up to the mid-grade GR Corolla Circuit Edition adds Torsen limited slip front and rear differentials, along with a forged carbonfibre roof, leather interior, heated front seats and steering wheel, an upgraded eight-speaker, 800-watt JBL audio system with navigation, and a Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging pad.

The top trim Morizo Edition of the GR Corolla includes all the Circuit Edition equipment, except the upgraded audio system, while bumping peak turbo boost to 26.3psi and peak torque to 400Nm.

The Morizo also benefits from wider front and rear guards housing wider 18-inch forged alloy wheels with 245 series Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (Core and Circuit models use cast alloy wheels with 235 series Pilot Sport 4 tyres). The Cup 2 undeniably elevated the GR Corolla’s level of grip while providing more progressive breakaway when its lateral traction threshold was exceeded.

To emphasise its performance focus, Morizo Editions lose the 60/40 split-folding rear seat in the Core and Circuit versions, while gaining a 30kg to 40kg advantage over the other trims. Curb weight is 3186 pounds for the Morizo Edition, 3285 for Circuit Edition, and 3252 for a base Core Grade with no options.

Pricing for the Morizo edition starts at US$49,900 (AU$74,100), and colours include Smoke (a very cool matte gray) and Wind Chill Pearl (white)

The performance theme continues inside, with aggressively-bolstered front seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob with contrasting stitching, and aluminium sport pedals.

There’s also a standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster/information display that features GR start-up animation and specific indicators for AWD torque distribution, turbo boost and drive mode settings.

The Morizo edition swaps the leather steering wheel and shifter material for ultra-suede. All models provide wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and all come standard with Toyota’s latest Safety Sense 3.0 collection of driver-assist technology.

We found the front seats comfortable without being overly stiff or tight, but that perspective might change depending on individual body shape (and width…). And while our public-road seat time was limited, we’re confident a GR Corolla can serve daily driving duty, at least for its intended buyers profile.

Perhaps the most telling feature included with every GR Corolla is a complimentary one-year membership in the Nation Auto Sport Association, a motorsports club offering high-performance driver training and track events throughout the year in the USA.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla: VERDICT

While the GR Corolla makes a capable daily driver – as long as you don’t have more than one passenger to carry in a Morizo Edition – everything from its torque-rich engine, adjustable all-wheel-drive system, and firm suspension requires a track environment to properly experience the car’s capabilities.

The current-generation Corolla is easily the most driver-friendly version in the nameplate’s history, but the GR aggressively builds on this solid foundation, creating an entirely new, and better, driving experience.

We’re thrilled to see Toyota jumping into this market segment with such vigor. But now comes the biggest hurdle — going up against established players like the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru WRX, and Volkswagen Golf R, along with newer combatants like the Hyundai Elantra N.

Does the GR Corolla deliver emotional and engaging thrills at the level established by these competitors? That’s a tough call without driving them back-to-back, though we suspect the GR might feel slightly muted in its power delivery, even as its suspension tuning, precise shifter, and confident brakes allow it keep pace with them on public roads and closed course tracks.

One thing we do know — this is a question we look forward to answering ASAP.

The current-generation Corolla is easily the most driver-friendly version in the nameplate’s history, but the GR aggressively builds on this solid foundation, creating an entirely new, and better, driving experience.

COMMENTS

Keyword: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla review: International first drive

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