NEVER has there been a Toyota Corolla quite like the new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla hot hatch.
This all-wheel-drive, three-cylinder turbocharged, manual-only hatch has been in the works a long time, and according to Toyota Australia, it “completes the Corolla range”.
There are two distinct takes on the GR Corolla theme at launch: the five-seat GTS grade, which lists at $62,300 (MSRP), and the two-seat special model known as the GR Corolla Morizo Edition, which is priced at a staggering $77,800 (MSRP).
The latter is named after the persona that master driver and former Toyota chief, Akio Toyoda, adopts when he is behind the wheel of a car. Apparently.
Just 700 examples of the GR Corolla GTS will arrive in the first 12 months on sale, while Morizo versions are, according to Toyota Australia, not a “limited edition”, but the brand has only been able to secure 25 examples for the first year of allocation.
If you’re thinking that the GR Corolla seems to follow a similar formula to the GR Yaris, you’re right. It is a copy-and-paste exercise, to a degree, in that they share the same 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, though in the case of the GR Corolla there is more power on offer – 221kW (21kW more than Yaris) and 370Nm.
The torque figure jumps to 400Nm for Morizo models.
The 0-100km/h time is 5.29 seconds for the Corolla GR GTS, and 5.21sec for the Morizo, which has a 45kg weight advantage by way of a slew of items being removed to help keep kerb weight low. The GTS weighs 1485kg; Morizo is 1440kg. That is impressive given the GR models pack in all-wheel drive with Torsen limited slip differentials.
My time in the GR Corolla was split between on-road, a wet short-circuit track drive, and a skid pan session, and it’s safe to say I had the most fun driving the latter. That’s because the GR Corolla has a few neat tricks up its sleeve.
The selectable drive ratio settings mean you can adjust the driving character of the car at the turn of a dial, meaning it can go between a 60:40 front to rear drive setting to a 30:70 setup that is, understandably, more of a drift-style drive. In Track mode, there’s a 50:50 split, designed to make the car handle with more evenness.
Further to that, there’s a manual handbrake which, when operated, disconnects drive to the rear wheels, meaning you won’t need to worry about the clutch for the most part when pulling a handbrake turn. That in turn means you can plant your left foot (keeping you more stable), lift the handbrake to let the rear fling out, then power out on the throttle. For me, 30:70 drive mode was a bit too taily, but in 60:40 it had a proper slingshot-style acceleration out of the slide.
That said, it still feels more surefooted and confidence-inspiring to a wannabe driver like me. I’m not the sort of person who spends their savings on track days, but I can see the appeal after driving the GR Corolla in that situation. The steering is pretty good, too, with a nice weight to it and predictable response, but being an electric power steering setup, it isn’t the last word in terms of feel to the driver’s hands.
Not all GR models are the same. Where the Toyota GR Yaris tended to feel like it wanted to chew you up and spit you out, the GR Corolla is more like a firm hug from an old friend.
It is considerably more securely planted and controlled, not to mention controllable, in nearly all situations, with a level of confidence-inspiring assuredness that is rare to find in a manual hot hatch.
It doesn’t squirm or squirrel on the surface nearly as much as a GR Yaris does thanks to the Corolla’s longer wheelbase, and the drive is considerably more planted and with more high-speed stability, too.
The body control in the bends is a highlight. The Corolla’s suspension (Macpherson front, multi-link rear) offers a firm feel on the road, but still a level of comfort as well. It holds a line nicely, and there is very little body roll to contend with.
For the daily driver, the firm suspension may be a bit of a trade-off. That’s because the Corolla GR isn’t as plush riding or cosseting as a Volkswagen Golf R, for instance. Unlike the German hot hatch, the Japanese player doesn’t offer the driver adaptive chassis control to improve the comfort levels. Indeed, it can be a tad jarring over sharp edges, and you can firm the chassis’ rigidity over repetitive low-speed bumps.
As for the powertrain? It is a raspy little character that almost seems to egg you on, with plenty of pulling power spread through the rev range beyond a slightly laggy spot down low in the range. The trademark burble is evident from the three-cylinder turbo engine, however, it may not be loud enough for some. Even though there’s a revised three-output exhaust system that is designed to show what the car is capable of, it is still a Toyota, so it isn’t as flashy or flamboyant as it could be. For those who need the snap, crackle and pop in their lives, the Hyundai i30 N will be a better fit.
I would not say the GR Corolla’s six-speed manual gearbox offers any new standards in shift action or feel. Indeed, I reckon a Honda Civic Type R has a better slink to its action. But the Toyota’s ‘box offers a short throw and close gates, while the weighty clutch is great on the open road, but in stop-start traffic it may become tedious.
The six-speeder also has Toyota’s “intelligent manual transmission” system, which will throttle blip to rev match for you on the down-shift. Great for those who haven’t perfected their heel-and-toe movement but want to give the impression that they have.
A few final thoughts… There is some noticeable tyre noise to contend with, though for a hot-hatch buyer that mightn’t be a dealbreaker. And while the GR Corolla is certainly more about the person in the driver’s seat than any other position in the cabin, it remains a tight back seat for taller occupants, and in this spec the otherwise-standard rear-seat air-vents have been removed (the front covered console bin has been axed to help with arm space when driving).
If you really are the sort of buyer who doesn’t care about back-seat space, though, the Morizo Edition removes that row altogether, with a set of braces that allow you to connect a racing harness and secure a set of spare wheels for track days.
And yes, it still has one of the smallest boots on the market, at 213 litres for the GTS. The car’s battery is under the floor in the rear cargo zone now, too, and there’s no spare wheel (repair kit).
It may have taken a while, but it was worth the wait. The Toyota GR Corolla is a special car.