It may be one of the all-time best-selling vehicles and the longest-running nameplate in Toyota history, but the little Corolla isn’t exactly the sort of nameplate that inspires real passion among performance drivers. Until now, anyway.
The latest model from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team, the new GR Corolla hatchback is likely to take plenty of potential buyers by surprise.
Lined up in the blazing heat of a late summer day at the Utah Motorsports Park, the three new GR Corolla hatchbacks could rightly be described as fast, faster, and oh, wow!
Part of the Toyota lineup since 1966, the Corolla has clearly connected with motorists around the world, in 2021 surpassing the VW Beetle to become the best-selling nameplate in automotive history. But you can be sure that none of those 50 million buyers put down cash because they were looking for serious performance.
That’s about to change, at least if my first drive in the GR Corolla is any indication. The initials are short for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s in-house performance division. In a company long known for plain vanilla products, it’s become an increasingly important part of the brand since Akio Toyoda was named CEO and President. The grandson of Toyota’s founder, he has pledged to put more “passion” and performance” into its products.
It’s the Great Gazoo!
We’ve already seen what Gazoo Racing can do with the GR 86 and GR Sports Cars. Now, it’s Corolla’s turn.
In this case, the performance team started out with the Corolla hatchback, widening the body a bit, and adding a variety of structural braces. They also swapped rubber, turning to track-ready tires, while making a handful of aero modifications, including front air ducts and a rear spoiler. There are new black bumpers and, depending upon the trim level, a weight-saving carbon fiber roof.
To further save weight, the rear seat of the top-line Morizo edition has been removed. Oh, and as for that name, it’s Akio Toyoda’s nom de track, a pseudonym he adopted some years back when he faced pressure, as a senior executive, to stop risking life and limb as a semi-professional race driver.
Inside, the GR Corolla gets sports seats and a tilt/telescope steering wheel. The conventional analog gauges have been swapped out for a 12.3-inch digital display, with an 8-inch touchscreen handling infotainment duties. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard across the board.
Big Power From a Small Package
I almost failed to mention the GR Corolla’s unusual triple exhaust. It makes sense considering the hatchback is powered by a 1.6L turbo-three engine that makes a thoroughly impressive 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
You can only get the hatchback with a quick-action six-speed manual transmission, and power is directed through Toyota’s sport-tuned GR-Four all-wheel-drive system. While it will send 60% of your torque to the front rubber under normal driving conditions, that can shift to a 30/70 split when drifting, while the balance goes 50/50 on track.
GR Corolla Core Edition
Slipping on my helmet, I made a point of working my way up through the line, starting with the GR Corolla Core edition. The Utah track, at just over 2 miles, is a challenging one, with lots of tricky corners and a couple of straights that let you build up speed just in time to downshift and slam the upgraded brakes.
The Core model was surprisingly fun to flog around the race circuit. Its steering proved to be entirely predictable, the engine begging to rev up, while the brakes showed no sign of fade, lap after lap. For someone looking to get a reasonably serious car they could use on the track or the street, the GR Corolla Core would be hard to argue against, especially considering its starting price of $36,996, including delivery fees.
On the Circuit
The step-up Circuit Edition will be offered only during the first year of production, the 2023 model year. Starting at $43,995, it adds a variety of useful performance features, including front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials and upgraded brakes. It also comes with standard niceties that you’d have to add on with the Core edition, like heated seats, a JBL audio upgrade, and more.
The limited-slip differentials alone are transformative. Torque is more smoothly distributed to the wheels that need it, something that proved especially helpful on the twisting Utah Motorsports circuit.
GR Corolla Morizo Edition
For those looking for the maximum, track-level performance, the Morizo edition is the one to get, at a starting price of $50,995.
For one thing, it boosts the torque count to 295 pound-feet. It also adds, among other things, more bracing and structural adhesives. It also gets a uniquely calibrated suspension, light forged alloy wheels, and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber.
The combination of the limit-slip diffs and the added structural rigidity really shined on the circuit. And the added torque paid off as I blasted out of the track’s slower corners.
If anything, the Morizo encouraged me to push things harder and harder, waiting longer to apply brakes, applying throttle earlier as I emerged from the corners. Even when I overcooked the suspension coming out of a particularly tough turn, it proved surprisingly easy to keep the car under control.
Gazoo Racing Transforms the Corolla
For those who’d never think of a Corolla as a performance machine, those two little letters, GR, suddenly put the hatchback in league with the latest versions of the Subaru WRX and Honda Civic Type-R.
The 2023 GR Corolla Core edition will roll into U.S. showrooms late this year, with the Circuit and Morizo models set to follow early in 2023.