The world’s top-selling car isn’t particularly synonymous with high performance despite some successful stints. Toyota’s Gazoo Racing engineers are changing that.
The Toyota GR Corolla is one of the year’s most anticipated hot hatches, set to hit Australia in early 2023 in limited numbers as a big brother to the mechanically related GR Yaris.
Just 500 units are slated to come in its first year, a fraction of what will be needed to meet initial demand, meaning this thing will in all likelihood become fodder for speculators as much as true enthusiasts.
But this is no limited-edition car, and is slated for a few years of series production at least.
This isn’t just a tweaked Corolla ZR, either. The GR Corolla is assembled at the same skunkwork section of Toyota’s Motomachi plant as the GR Yaris and (formerly) Lexus LFA, with more manual assembly techniques and slower build times – hence the low production numbers.
While the GR Corolla uses the donor car’s GA-C platform, the body has 349 more spot welds, and up to 20 feet of added structural adhesive.
Weight has been stripped out thanks to a forged carbon roof and aluminium bonnet, while an even more hardcore Morizo edition loses its back seats and adds bracing and a boot big enough for a full tyre set – fit for purpose indeed.
Wider front and rear fender flares give the GR Corolla a better stance. There are bonnet, boot and fender ducts; stamped side skits; a new grille; flatter underfloor; and a new rear diffuser with three exhaust outlets.
Bigger picture, the GR Corolla fits into Toyota’s growing Gazoo Racing family of sporty road cars; alongside not just the WRC-inspired GR Yaris, but the GR86 and GR Supra coupes. Toyota’s chief Akio Toyoda is himself a keen racing driver, and that trickles down.
We were fortunate to attend the GR Corolla’s global launch in the United States, at a baking hot circuit on the fringe of Salt Lake City, Utah – fitting since the USA is its main market.
We don’t know yet, with Toyota Australia keeping its cards close to its chest, though something in the average $60,000 ballpark would make sense – since a GR Yaris retails for between $49,500 and $54,500 before on-road costs.
Don’t expect Toyota’s local division to pull the same stunt as it did with the first 1000 units of the GR Yaris, which it sold at a big discount ($39,500) to drive fans into a frenzy and turn them into GR ambassadors.
That marketing tactic worked, perhaps too well given the ongoing wait lists, and is not going to be repeated with the bigger and even more supply-restricted GR Corolla.
The GR Corolla’s chief Australian competitors will include the Hyundai i30 N ($46,200 to $53,700), Volkswagen Golf R ($65,990), and Subaru WRX ($44,990 to $57,990). The previous-generation Civic Type R was $54,990.
One guide we have to use is a USA-market starting price for the GR Corolla Core of $35,900 (a tick over A$52,000 with a direct conversion), climbing to $42,900 (A$62,300) for the Circuit Edition, and up to $49,900 (A$72,500) for the more honed, two-seat Morizo Edition.
That makes the base GR Corolla Corolla US$2000 cheaper in the US than the outgoing Civic Type R there, and the mid-range GR Corolla Circuit US$1200 cheaper than a Golf R in the US.
This would suggest likely Toyota Australia pricing in the mid-$50,000 range for a GR Corolla Core and mid-$60,000 range for the GR Corolla Circuit – assuming both variants come, that is. The GR Corolla Morizo will likely arrive in strictly niche numbers and will cost more again.
Toyota has only changed those parts of the interior most required for a high-performance derivative: seats, stick, wheel and gauges. The general ergonomic layout and build quality are typical of a Corolla, as are many of the materials and trims.
A new and information-rich 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster helps you monitor the 4WD system, turbo pressure, gear indicator, G-forces, and revs (via a centrally-mounted tacho).
The grade-specific leather-wrapped wheel with circular hub and GR branding has been borrowed from the GR Yaris. It adjusts for rake and reach and feels great in the hand, with simple spoke-mounted controls for the audio, phone and active safety functions.
Other changes over the regular Corolla cabin include the short-shift gearstick and pull-up manual handbrake (as opposed to an electrical switch), which more than anything reveals this car’s rally roots.
Beyond this are metal pedal caps, red stitching, and manually adjustable GR-branded bucket seats finished in either cloth or Ultrasuede depending on the spec you buy.
They’re grippy and look the part, and proved helmet-friendly on the circuit. For a little background, I’m 194cm (2m give-or-take wearing a lid), and did not find myself short on headroom, nor did I need to contort myself to clamber in.
The GR Corollas we drove had a North American-market 8.0-inch touchscreen with conversational voice controls activated by a “Hey Toyota” greeting, cloud-based navigation, and over-the-air compatibility.
It’s not entirely clear what system Australian models will use, but Toyota has said it’ll be updating the dated infotainment in its Corolla models for next year.
Features such as phone mirroring, embedded navigation, and rear camera are all a given, and we’d bank on an uprated JBL sound system making the cut too.
While the GR Corolla Morizo is a two-seater, the main range has similar levels of back-seat space as normal Corollas, and rear occupants don’t need to worry about hitting their knees on hard-shell seat backs since they aren’t fitted.
The boot looks about the same as a regular Corolla’s too, and the back seats fold 60:40. US models at least use a tyre repair kit rather than a space-saver or full-size spare wheel.
The same 12-valve ‘G16E-GTS’ 1.6-litre three-cylinder (single-scroll ball-bearing) turbo as used in the GR Yaris, but pushing out an extra 20kW of power.
Outputs are 220kW at 6500rpm, and torque is an unchanged 370Nm between 3000 and 5550rpm – except for specialised Morizo Editions which offer 220kW and 400Nm.
The rear diffuser has three tailpipes, with the larger centre outlet kept open at idle and under 30km/h to emphasise the donk’s rumble, before closing off. Above 4500rpm it reopens to reduce back-pressure.
That extra 20kW is tasked with hauling an extra (roughly) 150kg kerb weight. GR Corolla figures are still classified as preliminary, but the target kerb weight is 1475kg. By contrast the GR Yaris range weighs between 1280 and 1320kg.
Toyota USA claims the GR Corolla will do a 4.99-second 0-60mph (0-96km/h) dash, although this feels a smidgen ambitious given we pulled a 5.4s in the GR Yaris – albeit in the real world with a limited number of runs.
More important is its user-engagement ensured by the six-speed manual gearbox with switchable rev-matching function on downshifts, variable AWD with three different front/rear torque splits, and various different driving modes.
The fuel tank is listed as storing 50 litres.
Toyota GR Corolla tech specs:
- Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder
- Power: 220kW at 6500rpm
- Torque: 370Nm at 3000-5550rpm (400Nm at 3250-4600rpm for Morizo)
- Gearbox: Six-speed manual with rev-match function
- Driveline: Variable AWD with three torque-split settings
- 0-96km/h claim: 4.99s
- Fuel tank: 50L
Press the clutch and the starter button, and the little engine fires into life behind a start sequence in the cluster. It sounds quite bassy at idle thanks largely to the centre pipe, and like all balance-challenged three-bangers, has a distinctive chatter.
Now keep in mind our launch drive took place entirely on track, and not a circuit of the calibre of Laguna Seca or similar. With this in mind we really need to temper our initial observations and wait for a road drive on local soil to get a more rounded view.
But first impressions are great, starting with the accurate and decisive shift action as well as a well-weighted clutch pedal with predictable take-up, paired to an engine that sounds quite unlike other hot hatches – gruff and fizzy and anything but fake.
You want to avoid falling too low in the rev band, keeping it above 3000rpm where it sings and offers near-instant pull. Heel-and-toe enthusiasts can switch off the rev-matching function, but don’t be too proud to lean on it either.
Being driven back-to-back with a GR Supra manual, it’s clear that the GR Corolla isn’t the same level of straight-line hero. But that’s not what this beast is really about.
There are two distinct ways to configure the car: a rocker switch ahead of the gearstick changes things such as accelerator response and electric steering weight, while the rotary dial behind the shifter is where you change the GR-Four 4WD system’s behaviour.
The engine rotates the longitudinal driveshaft which hooks up to the rear wheels through an electronic multi-plate clutch pack and control module, responsible for creating the various theoretical torque splits.
The default is a front-to-rear torque split of around 60:40, but you can set it to a track-friendly 50:50 by pushing the centre section, or a 30:70 distribution for a slightly more lively and rear-biased road feel that goes easier on the front tyres as a bonus.
The base GR Corolla Core grade has open differentials, but like the GR Yaris Rallye can be optioned with front and rear Torsen limited-slip diffs to send power to whichever corners can best use it. The Torsen LSDs are standard in GR Corolla Circuit and Morizo grades.
Suspension is a MacPherson strut front layout with newly circuit-tuned springs, shocks and stabiliser bars. At the rear is a double-wishbone-type multi-link assembly. Morizo versions add a stiffer spring rate alongside the stiffer body, lighter weight, and the aforementioned added engine torque.
It’s a blast really, with precise electric steering (2.4 turns lock-to-lock), an engine that wants to be kept on the boil and rewards you with an utterly distinctive soundtrack, a super-stiff body, and grip everywhere that encourages you to push harder and harder with each passing minute.
It feels stable, but nimble enough to rotate into corners despite being a bit longer between the wheels than the GR Yaris, with the AWD system enabling a little more slip at the rear in the requisite mode without triggering the electronic aids.
I also found the driving position a smidgen less compromised than the GR Yaris.
It’s easy to ease off the brake pedal just the right amount to start adding steering, and the stoppers (355mm rotors up front and 297mm at the rear) with four-piston and two-piston calipers respectively, showed so signs of fade after a full track day in 40-degree celsius heat.
While the cars we drove used US-spec Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, the versions we’re getting are expected to come with Japan-spec 235/40 Yokohama Advan Apex V601s.
I can’t tell you much about how the GR Corolla performs on-road, save to say that there are clearly going to be more comfortable and under-the-radar dailies out there.
But where it counts, I reckon this things ticks the same boxes as its less practical little sibling.
We don’t have final Australian specs, but this is a quick breakdown of the US-market range to give a little context.
GR Corolla Core highlights:
- 18-inch cast alloy wheels
- Functional air ducts along body
- Widened front and rear fender flares
- Aluminum bonnet
- Various GR badges and skirt imprints
- Blacked-out grille and diffuser
- Three brushed stainless steel exhaust outlets
- Roof mounted shark fin antenna
- Auto LED headlights, DRLs, tail lights
- Smart Key System remote keyless entry
- Fabric seats with grey stitching and GR-badged headrests
- 12.3-inch instrument cluster, bespoke
- GR leather-trimmed, tilt and telescopic wheel
- GR-badged start/stop button, shift knob
- Aluminum sport pedals
- Single-zone climate control
- 8.0-inch touchscreen
- Rear-view camera with parking aid lines
GR Corolla Core Performance pack adds
- Front and rear Torsen LSDs
- Red-painted brake calipers
GR Corolla Circuit adds
- Front and rear Torsen LSDs
- Red-painted brake calipers
- Functional bonnet vents
- Forged carbon-fibre roof
- Synthetic leather and suede seats
- Red interior stitching
- 8-speaker JBL audio
GR Corolla Morizo adds
- 18-inch forged alloy wheels
- Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres
- 30Nm more torque
- Two seats only
- Rear strut bracing
The GR Corolla offers much the same safety equipment as the regular Corolla.
That means front, front-side, and curtain airbags, and top tethers and ISOFIX points for rear child seats – not that the GR is the most family-oriented machine in the world.
Standard assistance features will include:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Lane keep assist
- Lane Trace Assist (centring)
- Adaptive cruise control
- Auto high-beam
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Speed-sign recognition
- Reversing camera
Toyota Australia provides a five-year and unlimited kilometre warranty.
The almost mechanically-identical GR Yaris requires servicing every six months or 10,000km, with each of the first six visits capped at a very reasonable $260 per visit.
Expect the Corolla’s servicing scheme to be priced similarly.
From the seat of the pants the GR Corolla doesn’t feel like the fastest hot hatch I’ve driven.
But when it comes to sheer driver engagement, it delivers on its promise, feeling very cohesive in the same way other track-honed, manual mega hatches like the Civic Type R and i30 N manage to.
Of course the GR Corolla has a major advantage over this pair in the form of its tricky AWD system shared with the GR Yaris – packaged in this incarnation into a much more practical, easy to live with vehicle.
We’re going to need to have a proper drive on roads, at home, against some competitors, to give you a true insight into exactly where the GR Corolla sits on the hot hatch podium.
But let’s in the meantime commend Toyota for committing to a range of performance cars – even one that’ll be incredibly tight on supply wth guaranteed long wait lists.
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