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2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Driven: Toyota GR Corolla Grabs a Fistful of Hot Hatch Heck Yeah

Those hips don't lie: The GR is the real deal

  • Rally-inspired performance model based on the Corolla hatchback
  • Standard all-wheel drive, manual transmission and 300 hp
  • Available as a base Core model or Circuit Edition, plus 200-unit Morizo Edition
  • Part of the 12th Corolla generation introduced in 2020

What is the GR Corolla?

Is it appropriate to rejoice over a car? If you ask hot hatch enthusiasts, they will point to the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla and proclaim "Hallelujah!" This is a beefed-up and performance-focused version of the standard Corolla hatchback that boasts a turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive and wide-body fenders that all tie into the rally pedigree of Toyota's Gazoo Racing motorsport sub-brand. When the GR Corolla goes on sale later in 2022, it will also include performance driving instruction and a one-year membership to the National Auto Sport Association. In short, the GR Corolla is Toyota's real-deal answer to the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Elantra N, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen Golf R.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

What's under the GR Corolla's hood?

Something small but mighty. The most powerful engine you can get in a regular Corolla is a 169-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The GR Corolla downsizes to a 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine — yep, only three — but they are full of turbocharged fury. At max attack this mill pumps out a stout 300 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. That's right up there with the Civic Type R (315 hp) and Golf R (also 315 hp). The GR Corolla's engine, which isn't used in any other U.S.-bound vehicle, comes connected to a standard six-speed manual transmission. There's also a track-oriented version of the hatchback called the Morizo Edition that bumps torque up to 295 lb-ft and shaves nearly 100 pounds off the curb weight of the Circuit Edition to get the car down to a lightweight 3,186 pounds.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

What else is special about the GR Corolla?

A lot. For starters, the GR Corolla comes standard with an all-wheel-drive system to best help putting those 300 ponies to work. Plus, it's adjustable. The driver can adjust the AWD system to send 40%, 50% or 70% of its power to the rear wheels. The short-throw manual transmission comes with automatic rev matching to facilitate supersmooth downshifts. Front and rear limited-slip differentials are also available, and they enhance the GR Corolla's traction when powering out of corners even further. This hot hatch is a rally driver's dream.

To stiffen up the Corolla's body structure for GR duty, Toyota added underfloor bracing, additional weld points and more structural adhesive in key areas. The stiffer structure allowed Toyota's engineers to further dial in the car's suspension for responsive and accurate handling. (The Morizo Edition gets even more bracing and structural adhesive compared to the Core and Circuit Edition.)

But wait, there's more. The Circuit Edition and Morizo Edition get a roof made of forged carbon fiber to shave weight and reduce the car's center of gravity. Typically, a carbon-fiber roof is something reserved for a performance coupe like a BMW M4, not a workaday Toyota.

Incidentally, the Morizo Edition name has a bit of a backstory. Back in 2007, Akio Toyoda (then vice president of Toyota, now the president) wanted to branch out into more racing and to use the endeavor to hone the development of the automaker's cars. The effort wasn't officially approved by the company at the time, so a number of employees, including Akio Toyoda himself, went racing at the famous 24 Hours of Nürburgring endurance race.

Toyoda had received some criticism for the move, with some believing it was too dangerous for someone in his position. He decided to race under the name Morizo, kicking off an interesting era in which his true identity was neither confirmed nor denied by Toyota's media relations team.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

How does the GR Corolla drive?

Pushing the start button of the GR Corolla produces a rumble that belies its tiny three-pot engine. Put your foot to the floor and you're treated to respectably quick straight-line acceleration. Toyota says the hatch can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and we have no reason to doubt that. But you'll get more drag-strip fun out of the Volkswagen Golf R (0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds in our testing).

Instead, the Corolla is a car that shines in the twisties. Our initial drive of the GR Corolla took place at Utah Motorsports Campus, a sinuous racetrack that exploits the handling characteristics of the GR to a T. We first drove a GR Corolla Circuit Edition and found that its front and rear limited-slip differentials definitely help in maximizing traction in high-speed cornering maneuvers. We set the AWD system's torque split to send equal amounts of power to the front and rear for this track test and found the car responds beautifully. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires provide plenty of grip, too.

The Corolla begs to be driven at full-tilt as much as possible. The old motorsports adage of "It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow" definitely applies here. A talented driver will be able to exploit all available power on every straightaway but will never get to any crazy high speeds that require massive braking power. Still, the Corolla slows confidently thanks to the upgraded brakes (four-piston calipers up front with 14-inch disc brakes and two-piston calipers with 11.7-inch discs in the rear). Downshift and the computer will do a nice rev match for you; pleasingly, drivers who want to downshift the old-school way — the heel-toe shift — can turn the feature off.

The Morizo trim is a whole different animal thanks to its extra torque, lighter weight and stiffer chassis. It will carry a bit more speed in the corner thanks to the grip from the upgraded Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, and acceleration in the straights is much quicker. It's a shame only 200 of these will be sold.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

How comfortable is the GR Corolla?

Overall the ride seems to be pretty comfortable, but our day was spent primarily on the track with nary a pothole to be seen. So stay tuned once we can spend some time with this car on city streets for a real evaluation. The seats are not overly bolstered but they keep your rear planted well enough. Our first take is that the GR Corolla is comfortable enough that you could drive it daily.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

How's the GR Corolla's interior?

There are two primary GR Corolla trims: the base Core and the more premium Circuit Edition, which will only be sold for the vehicle's launch year. Both include push-button start, aluminum pedals and a six-way-adjustable driver's seat. There is also a 12.3-inch digital information display and an 8-inch center touchscreen run by the latest Toyota operating system. Standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot, adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot warning system prove that the GR Corolla has the tech to back up its performance credentials.

Core models offer a fabric interior, while the Circuit Edition has striking red accents and leather trim. Circuit Editions also have additional comfort features, some of which are available on the Core as options. On the whole, the GR Corolla interior is an upgraded and highly stylized version of the standard Corolla cabin.

The Morizo Edition is on a whole different level of interior. The GR engineers removed nearly 100 pounds versus the already focused Circuit Edition, for a curb weight of 3,186 pounds. How did they drop that much weight? Well, for starters they removed the rear seat. And the rear door speakers. And rear window regulators. Toyota notes that the rear seat removal does have a side benefit: There's plenty of room to store a set of tires in the back of the GR Corolla when you're attending a track day. The Morizo Edition also gets unique red and black Ultrasuede seats, which have holes for a racing harness.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Edmunds says

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for driving enthusiasts. Toyota has done its homework and truly made something special; such affordable, smile-inducing unicorns rarely make it to U.S. shores. This time, though, the hot hatch and rally car gods smile on us.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla