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The Toyota GR Corolla Gets Even Better in the Snow

Learning how to drift the day away will make you a better driver

2023 Toyota GR Corolla front
  • The rally-inspired Toyota GR Corolla shined at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.
  • Bridgestone Blizzaks had traction where our boots did not.
  • Driving though a snowy turn at 60 mph was one of the best things I'll do all year.

I don't really know how to drive on snow. Being born and raised in Southern California means that most of my winter driving was confined to twisty mountain roads in a vehicle shod with mandatory tire chains. These restrictions, coupled with the fact that it just doesn't snow that much out here, means there's just no real good time or place to mess around in and learn how to drive in the slick stuff.

Some of my more winter-experienced colleagues find that both sad and adorable, so they set me up with a trip to the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. It has plenty of programs catering to relative newcomers to the snow, like me, to courses designed for experienced winter warriors all the way to the professional racer. Not only does it never hurt to work on your driving skills, no matter the conditions, but you'll get a chance to spend a few days in lovely Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as a bonus. Too bad I don't snowboard; winter is wasted on me. 

Getting to grips

It's worth noting that at no point was I driving anything that wasn't equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. Underneath a few inches of freshly fallen snow was a compacted and rutted icy surface so slippery that walking more than 50 feet was generally a bad idea. To get a feel for the grip, or lack thereof, I started out in an all-wheel-drive Toyota Camry. While living in a place like Southern California can make you question the efficacy of the Camry's very-part-time all-wheel-drive system, two laps around the school's undulating frozen skidpad proved the sedan's worth in a winter environment. 

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2023 Toyota Camry

Even though my speeds were well under 25 mph, I soon learned that all major inputs (throttle, steering and braking) had to be made separately and much farther in advance than what you can typically do in dry conditions. While the Camry isn't the most dynamically accomplished vehicle, with Bridgestone Blizzaks and its aforementioned all-wheel-drive system, the Camry could carry more speed than I expected and was easy to control with a good deal of precision and predictability. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm now a Camry convert, but it was pretty fun.

Hopping out of the Camry, and failing to successfully walk without falling, I crawled into a RAV4. Again shod with Blizzaks, these were fairly standard RAV4s with the exception of a little toggle switch on the right of the center console. That switch could deactivate the antilock braking system and gave me a chance to experience the near total lack of control that comes with locked wheels on snow. It also provided yet another opportunity to experiment with clearly separating inputs; the vehicle won't turn when the brakes are locked and it won't slow down too well when the wheels are turned. 

2023 Toyota RAV4

I started off with stops from 25 mph and worked up to 35 mph, with the ABS both on and off. To me, 35 mph on snow felt more like 65 mph due in large part to the lack of grip and longer distances required to both slow down and effectively change direction. I felt like I was starting over the whole concept of driving; everything was new and I wasn't particularly good at anything.

The GR difference

We love the GR Corolla at Edmunds, and it's no secret around our office that I prefer it to the absolutely excellent Honda Civic Type R. But as many miles as I've covered in the Corolla, all of them on dry roads, I've always felt that I wasn't getting the full picture of the GR's capabilities. It needed less grip to really shine, and that's exactly what I got in Colorado.

The school had all three versions of the GR: Core, Circuit and the limited-production Morizo. Even without the optional limited-slip differential, the Core is a hoot on a good back road, but on the snow and ice it felt less heroic and not particularly dynamic. The drills focused on quick directional changes followed by acceleration and the Core, in my clumsy, frozen hands, felt somewhat reluctant to manifest the GR's rally lineage. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Stepping into the Circuit, after nearly falling, again, opened my eyes and confirmed my suspicions as to how important limited-slip differentials are in low-traction situations. Where the Core would be stubborn to change direction on the throttle, the Circuit was responsive and eager. Need to adjust your line a little? Goose the throttle and pivot around the front axle. Want to quell some understeer on the exit? Lean on the accelerator and get the back end to step out. For the first time all day, I was starting to do two things at once, accelerating and altering my trajectory.

The Morizo was next up, and that was my favorite of the lineup. Lighter, stiffer, with a touch more power and shorter gearing, the Morizo was just that much more responsive and engaging. I just wanted to hang the back end and drift away the day, but I knew I'd still stuff it into a snowbank and I hadn't yet exhausted the near endless patience of my instructors.

It's like bowling

You line things up and make your approach. Maybe you put a little English on it, a little spin to get it to drift across the lane. Get the release just right and what seems like a loss of control winds up being a shrewd prediction based on skill and experience. But now, driving on ice, you're the ball. You're the one trusting physics, and your previous inputs, to put you on an arcing trajectory that's going to get you into and out of the fast-approaching corner cleanly. The only difference is that a strike out here is a perfectly clipped apex, not an impact. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

The hardest thing to get my head around was that you really only get to make one major input at a time and that you have to do everything much sooner than you would on dry pavement. Even with the impressive traction of the Blizzaks, you're still not going to change directions now or slow down now. In musical terms, you're always coming in one beat early.

But the drills were designed to help me harness the power of inertia. The school showed me how to get the GR Corolla to turn without having to rely solely on the steering wheel. Where and how you brake can induce a little rotation, setting you up not just for the turn-in, but for the exit too. And if you need a little bit more rotation, calling on the GR's limited-slip differential pushes the rear end sideways, helping you alter your trajectory even further. And with the front wheels pointed straight ahead on exit, you're able to tap into more of the GR Corolla's acceleration sooner. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Higher-speed directional changes are really where it's at. This is where I felt most like World Rally Champion Kalle Rovanperӓ, even if I was going way slower, and not racing, and not remotely in the same league as he is. Approaching a quick kink, a quick lift of the throttle begins an important weight transfer to the front tires. When synced with an equally quick crank of the steering wheel, the GR Corolla's nose would turn to address the upcoming corner and allow me to get right back on the throttle and carry what I felt was a pretty cool-looking drift at 60 mph. 

When you're doing everything right, you're essentially at or just beyond the limit of the tires at all times. You're looking really far ahead and constantly using slides to set the car up, slow the car down or both. There's a lot of planning, faith and skill that goes into driving quickly and confidently over ice and snow. It's not unlike what you need to do on dry tarmac, but it's still completely different — and so much more fun. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Edmunds says

Even if you're already fairly confident in your ability to make the most of a snowy road or a parking lot, a trip to a snow driving school is absolutely worth it. While I might not get to put my newfound skills to the test until next season, the practice and tuition I got will pay dividends no matter what surface I'm driving on. The fact that I got to huck around a GR Corolla and walked away liking it even more than I already did was just a total bonus.