The latest Toyota Corolla has developed a serious gym habit.
The regular line-up was already better looking (and better to drive) than its demure predecessors, but the petrol and hybrid powertrains on offer since launch don’t really pack enough of a punch to get your pulse racing. Clearly, someone at Gazoo Racing agreed.
The GR Corolla is a different beast; just one look should tell you that. From the swollen arches to the triple exhaust, to that angry bulging bonnet, there’s nothing modest about it.
As for the turbocharged three-cylinder engine? It also does service in the smaller GR Yaris, pumping out the sort of numbers that would be impressive from a four-cylinder. Don’t be fooled by its 1.6-litre displacement, it’s an angry little bastard of an engine.
Hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission and a rally-inspired four-wheel drive system, it’s the sort of recipe that would have been unthinkable from Toyota a few years ago. And damn, it’s a tasty one.
We’ve already sampled the GR Corolla on a short launch drive and on a track in the USA, but we haven’t actually tried living with the hottest hatch in the Toyota stable. Here’s how it stacks up in the real world.
Even the least expensive GR Corolla, the GTS on test here, has a sticker price of $62,300 before on-road costs. That’s around the $70k mark drive-away, which aligns it neatly with the Honda Civic Type R.
Opting for the stripped-out Morizo Edition gets you two fewer seats, even more torque, and a $77,800 before on-roads price tag.
Just 700 examples of the GTS are coming to Australia during its first year on sale, while just 25 – that’s right, twenty-five – examples of the Morizo are headed our way.
The GR feels like a regular Corolla, but slightly better in a few ways… and worse in a few others.
The key touch points have been looked after nicely. The steering wheel is a chubby, leather-lined unit, the seats are generously bolstered and trimmed with a combination of leather and suede, and the gear knob feels good in your hand.
There’s plenty of GR branding, from the steering wheel to the floor mats, and the digital instrument binnacle has racy graphics of its own relative to the wider range.
The driving position is solid, with a seat that drops nice and low, and vision out is good. Those big bolsters don’t make it too tricky to get in or out, and you still get a pair of cupholders on the transmission tunnel. There’s also a wireless phone charger under the dash, along with a USB-C charge port.
Beyond that though? Very little has been done to hide the car’s econobox roots.
You don’t get a central armrest, the plastics are utilitarian, and the screen is smaller than that of the related Corolla Cross. It doesn’t look or feel particularly special alongside the less powerful, significantly less expensive Corolla ZR with its orange trim bits.
While it’s not as flashy as what you get in a Volkswagen Golf R, the digital cluster in the GR Corolla does a good job putting the information you actually need in front of you. You can have your revs, gear position, and speed all prominently on show, and the trio of temperature gauges on offer make it really clear when you’re free to chase the redline.
Rear seat space has never been a strong suit with this generation of Corolla, and the GR does nothing to change that.
It’s tight back there for adults, with very little room for heads, shoulders, knees and toes, and the small door opening (and swollen side skirts) make loading small people more challenging than it otherwise might be. The loss of air vents also undermines the car’s child-carrying ability, although you do get two USB ports back there.
ISOFIX points feature on the outboard rear seats, and there’s a trio of top-tether points. Unlike the Civic Type R, this is a five seater – although the narrow bench means you’d only want to load in five people in a pinch.
You get bottle holders, cupholders in the fold-down central armrest, and map pockets for both seats.
Boot space is poor. You get 213 litres of space back there, which is down even on regular Corolla variants. There’s no spare wheel, with the space under the floor used to house the all-wheel drive hardware and the battery.
Power in the GR Corolla comes from the same three-cylinder engine used in the smaller GR Yaris, with the same tiny 1.6-litre displacement.
It’s not been stunted by its lack of cubic capacity, though. Peak power is 221kW at 6500rpm, and peak torque is 370Nm on tap between 3000 and 5550rpm.
That means it’s up 21kW on its little brother, the GR Yaris, but down 14kW and 50Nm on the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the new Honda Civic Type R.
Although it’s down on grunt, the GR Corolla does pack an extra driven axle relative to its biggest rival. The GR Four all-wheel drive system features limited-slip differentials at both axles, and can vary its front-rear torque distribution based on drive mode.
The 100km/h sprint takes a claimed 5.3 seconds (5.29 to be precise).
The only transmission on offer is a six-speed manual, although there’s talk of an automatic in the works.
As for fuel? The GR Corolla drinks 98 RON premium unleaded, and has a 50L fuel tank. Claimed fuel economy is 8.4 litres per 100km, we saw 7.6L/100km on a highway run and matched the official claim over our week with the car.
It’s an angry little bastard, the GR Corolla.
Prod the start button and it fires into a gruff, hurried idle that speaks to the fury hiding within. Unlike some brands, which use variable redlines to protect the engine while it warms up, Toyota just gives you a warning on the screen to tread lightly while the three-pot is cold.
You’ll need to exercise some self control, then, because the engine is a firecracker you’ll want to light all the time.
It doesn’t have the anywhere, anytime shove we’ve come to expect from the Volkswagen range of turbo terrors, instead packing just a hint of lag as the boost builds and the rev needle creeps towards 3000rpm. The car inhales, almost as if to check you’re sure, but once you’re in the torque band it rips hard through to the redline.
This is a turbocharged engine that rewards you for wringing its neck, revealing more character the further you push it, which is a refreshing contrast to the slightly one-dimensional performance you get from some modern cars and their dead flat torque “curves”.
And if you do find yourself outside the meat of the engine’s torque, there’s (almost) always a lower gear just a flick of the wrist away. The six-speed manual is still orders of magnitude more engaging than an automatic, but it isn’t quite as honed as the rest of the powertrain.
The shift is short but not nearly as slick as you get in a Civic Type R, and the pedal placement meant I never felt fully confident rev matching at full speed. It’s not an impediment to enjoying the GR, but it doesn’t contribute to the fun in the way it really should.
There’s an auto rev-matching system on hand to cover for the fact heel-toeing isn’t as intuitive as it might be, and the clutch is nicely weighted for the daily grind. It’s quite an intuitive car to drive in traffic, which isn’t often the case with highly-strung, three-pedal performance cars.
It’s even got a full suite of driver assists. Unlike the Subaru-derived GR86, this hot hatch has adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking; which go some way to making it friendly on long drives. The tyre noise and busy ride have the opposite effect, of course.
The ride is also decent in town, given the Corolla’s overt focus on going around corners quickly. It’s taut, but actually keeps pitted city streets at bay pretty damn well when you consider the fact it’s a small car running a performance suspension setup, 18-inch alloy wheels, and 40-profile Yokohama rubber.
And it pays off when the road gets interesting. The GR Corolla has a sticky front end and light steering that, while not brimming with feedback, makes this an easy car to take by the scruff of the neck.
You can ride the brakes hard into a corner and trail off to get the car rotating, and then play with the all-wheel drive system to choose your exit.
In the most conservative 60:40 front-rear torque split, you can really feel the front end dragging you out when you get the engine singing; with 70 per cent of torque heading to the rear it really feels like the rear axle is pushing, and the front axle is along for the ride.
It doesn’t feel contrived like Drift Mode can, and you’re able to really play with the different settings on the road rather than needing a skid pan, racetrack, or deserted carpark to explore what the drivetrain will do.
I wish the steering was a bit more incisive, and that it communicated more about what the front axle is doing when you’re really pushing, because it’s the only real weak point in the package.
With time you gain faith in the front axle, but on the slippery and leaf-littered roads we used to test the GR it doesn’t immediately inspire confidence.
Maybe that’s down to how much is going on with the drivetrain, maybe Toyota needs to kidnap some Honda engineers and lock them in a room
GR Corolla GTS highlights:
- 18-inch Enkei lightweight alloy wheels
- 235/40 R18 Yokohama ADVAN tyres
- AWD modes (60:40, 30:70, 50:50)
- Front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials
- LED headlights with auto high-beam
- Triple exhaust tips
- Toyota Connected Services
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- 8.0-inch touchscreen
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- Heated leather steering wheel
- Heated front seats
- Wireless phone charger
- 8-speaker JBL audio system
- 1x USB-C port in centre console
- Dual-zone climate control
- Manual seat adjustment
- Rear privacy glass
- Power-folding and heated exterior mirrors
- Tyre repair kit
GR Corolla Morizo edition adds:
- Carbon-fibre roof
- GR badge on intercooler
- 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels
- 245/40 ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect Tyres
- Unique Morizo Edition shift knob design
- Carbon-fibre blank plates for rear window switches
- Front sports seats with harness holes
- Slots in the carpet to allow harness fitment
- Additional bracing in the cabin incl. harness-rated top bar
- Fixed rear windows
- 2-speaker audio system
- Removes dual-zone climate control
- Removes heated steering wheel
- Removes wireless phone charger
- Removes rear seats
- Removes parking sensors
- Removes satellite navigation
- Removes electric rear windows
- Removes Rear windscreen wiper
There is currently no ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating specific to the Toyota GR Corolla, although according to ANCAP’s website “all variants” of the Corolla Hatch wear a five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2018 testing.
GR Corolla GTS features:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian detection (day, night)
- Cyclist detection (day)
- Intersection assist
- Emergency steering assist
- Lane departure warning
- Lane Trace Assist (lane centring)
- Speed sign recognition
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Reversing camera
- Front, rear parking sensors
- 7 airbags incl. driver’s knee
It also has the Toyota Connected Services suite, which can call emergency services in the event of an accident.
The GR Corolla features the same five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on offer elsewhere in the range, extendable to seven for the powertrain if the logbook servicing is done on time.
Maintenance is required every six months or 10,000 kilometres; down from 12 months and 15,000km in the regular Corolla range, but in line with the smaller GR Yaris..
The first six visits (three years/60,000km of motoring) will each set you back $300, meaning three years of maintenance will set you back $1800… not including tyres.
The GR Corolla feels a bit like a reborn Ford Focus RS.
It’s rooted in the world of rallying, and has clearly been designed by a team that loves driving… but doesn’t care as much about interior presentation, or practicality.
That’s not to say it won’t do the boring daily stuff, because it will. The ride is fine in town, the clutch is friendly, and it has a full suite of driver assists if that’s something that really matters to you. It feels pretty damn special the whole time, too.
But it’s not a commuter – and it’s all the better for it. Yes, you need to make some sacrifices to live with it, but most of the cars we really love driving weren’t designed by a committee, they were designed to tick one box emphatically.
And boy, does the GR Corolla tick the driver enjoyment box.
Its turbocharged engine is a fizzing, snorting masterclass in delivering a big punch from a small package, its all-wheel drive system shows you don’t need uber-torque-vectoring-plus-professional to make a grippy little hatchback feel adjustable, and the manual transmission proves sometimes the old-fashioned way really is better.
There are few better ways to demolish a damp back road on sale today, although we’ll have to put it head-to-head with the Civic Type R to confirm whether it’s the best.
That’s high praise already.