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Toyota GR Corolla 2023 review

EXPERT RATING
8.5
Toyota spent decades ignoring the hot hatch market and now it has launched its second entrant in three years. But can the new GR Corolla not only live up to the hype of the GR Yaris but go head-to-head with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R?

Toyota hot hatches, it seems, are a lot like buses. Not in any physical or dynamic sense, of course, but as the old joke goes - you wait ages for one and then two come along close together.

It took decades for the Japanese giant to finally jump into the hot hatch crowd but they did in 2020 with the GR Yaris

And now, for 2023 comes the follow-up, the GR Corolla. Unlike the Yaris which was developed with the company’s World Rally Team in mind, this new Corolla-based hot hatch is aimed directly at the heart of the market. 

It will go head-to-head against the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R in terms of performance and price.

This is a rare segment of the market Toyota hasn’t previously played in, but like the GR Yaris, this new twist on the Corolla comes with high expectations and plenty of hype. But now that it has arrived it’s time to see if it’s been worth the wait.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

Let’s start with the good news. Toyota is offering two versions of the GR Corolla - the GTS and the Morizo Edition - and both are well-equipped, skipping over an ‘entry-level’ model with less equipment.

The GR Corolla GTS is priced from $62,300, while the rarer Morizo Edition starts at $77,800 (both prices exclude on-road costs).

Toyota Australia will have a separate launch for the Morizo Edition, so for this review we’re going to focus on the GTS.

The GR Corolla GTS wears 18-inch alloy wheels. The GR Corolla GTS wears 18-inch alloy wheels.

While a price north of $60K is high for a small hatch, the GR Corolla is actually competitively priced in today’s hot hatch market. The final Renault Megane RS Trophy costs $63,000, the Volkswagen Golf R starts at $66,990 and the Honda Civic Type R is priced from $72,600.

The GR Corolla GTS gets plenty of equipment for the money, beyond the obvious powertrain changes that differentiate it from the rest of the small car range. For starters, it comes with 18-inch alloy wheels fitted with Yokohama tyres and gets a unique, aerodynamically-tuned body kit.

Other standard equipment includes a wireless smartphone charging pad, dual-zone climate control, a 12.3-inch digital instrument display and a 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen, which includes an eight-speaker JBL sound system with digital radio and satellite navigation as well as wireless Apple CarPlay but wired Android Auto.

There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument display. There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument display.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is taken from the GR Yaris, as are the aluminium pedals and the manual park brake. The front sports seats are trimmed in a combination of suede and artificial leather with contrasting silver stitching, with the front seats also heated.

The bad news is, Toyota Australia has already received more than 4000 expressions of interest for the GR Corolla but has only secured 700 units for the entirety of 2023, so getting your hands on one won’t be easy.

The GR Corolla is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox. The GR Corolla is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Especially because Toyota Australia is vetting owners, to try and ensure those first 700 cars get into the hands of driving enthusiasts rather than those looking to buy and flip for a quick profit.

Toyota has asked its dealers to prioritise those with a background in performance cars, grassroots motorsports or car club involvement, but insists it will try and ensure everyone who wants one will get one eventually, when supply increases.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

There’s a lot to say about the design, because this one doesn’t look like any Corolla before it. The GR gets a major makeover to make it look tougher and go faster.

Starting at the front there's a new lower bumper that's wider and aerodynamically honed, with a large front under-spoiler that channels air to the best areas. The front bumper also features a larger intake to feed air into the engine.

The GR gets a major makeover to make it look tougher and go faster. The GR gets a major makeover to make it look tougher and go faster.

There's also a unique bonnet, with a noticeable bulge and pair of functional vents, for a more aggressive and purposeful look.

The GR sits on a wider track (+59mm at the front and +94mm at the rear), so the pumped out guards front and rear aren't for show. Inside each wheel arch is an 18-inch Enkei alloy wheel finished in gloss black.

There are unique side sills, too, with 'GR-Four' embossed into them to remind you of what's underneath. 

The GR has pumped out front and rear guards. The GR has pumped out front and rear guards.

While at the rear there are three exhaust outlets, just like the Civic Type R, which Toyota claims reduces exhaust back pressure to improve engine performance. The rear bumper also features a lower diffuser to complete the aerodynamic makeover.

Inside the Gazoo Racing treatment continues, with a smaller, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports seats and aluminium pedals. There’s ‘GR’ branding around the cabin to remind you what you’re driving.

One major design change between the GR and the rest of the Corolla range is the console between the front seats. Because it’s only available with a manual gearbox Toyota has removed the lidded centre console box to create more space for you to shuffle gears or pull on the handbrake without hitting your elbow.

There’s ‘GR’ branding spread throughout the cabin. There’s ‘GR’ branding spread throughout the cabin.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

While there are a lot of similarities between the GR Yaris and GR Corolla, arguably the biggest difference is size. The Corolla is obviously a small hatch, so offers five doors instead of the Yaris' more compact three-door layout.

The rear seats are more useful than those in the Yaris, because the bigger car and additional doors make it easier to access, but space is at a premium in the rear. 

The Corolla lacks knee room for adults and teenagers, but younger kids should be fine.

The decision to ditch the centre console box may make it easier to shift gears and do handbrake turns, but it does severely cut down on small item storage spaces. 

Up front is a smartphone charging pad and a pair of cupholders. Up front is a smartphone charging pad and a pair of cupholders.

It’s been replaced by a shallow shelf, that’s only deep enough to store a mobile phone, so you may struggle to find somewhere to pop your odds and ends.

There is a pair of cupholders though and the smartphone charging pad so it’s not devoid of storage spots.

Another practical sacrifice at the expense of performance is in the boot, with the addition of the rear driveline plus the repositioned battery making the floor higher, cutting out four litres of space to leave a relatively small 213 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

Toyota has carried over the same powertrain as the GR Yaris, which means a 1.6-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox and all-wheel drive system.

There are some key changes to account for the larger body, though, most notably a 22kW power increase, so the engine makes 221kW and 370Nm of torque.

Toyota has decided to launch its hot hatches with a focus on enthusiast drivers, hence manual-only. An automatic option is reportedly in development, but for now the GR Corolla is for those who enjoy shifting their own gears.

The 1.6-litre, three-cylinder, turbo engine produces 221kW/370Nm. The 1.6-litre, three-cylinder, turbo engine produces 221kW/370Nm.

The GR-Four all-wheel drive system is similar to the GR Yaris Rallye, which means it has Torsen limited slip differentials on the front and rear axles. 

This allows Toyota to offer adjustable torque distribution to each axle, with three modes to cycle through - 50:50, 60:40 (front:rear) and 30:70 (front:rear).

The rear differential also features a clutch-pack that allows the rear drive to cut out when you pull the handbrake, so there's no need to dip the clutch when you want to do a handbrake turn.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Claimed fuel consumption for the GR Corolla is 8.4 litres per 100km on the combined urban/highway cycle, which is a good return for such a potent and highly-strung engine. 

Obviously, if you drive it to its performance potential (on the road or track) you’ll see returns well above that, likely in the mid-teens.

It also requires a diet of 98-octane unleaded, so you’ll have to pay a premium at the pump.

A 50-litre tank means the official consumption number translates to a range of just under 600km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

Despite the focus on performance Toyota didn’t cut corners on safety. For starters, there are seven airbags, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

It also comes equipped with 'Toyota Safety Sense' as standard, which brings autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, active cruise control, emergency steering assist, lane departure warning, intersection assist and road sign recognition.

ANCAP awarded the rest of the Corolla range a maximum five-star safety rating back in 2018. While it shares a lot of its structure (and actually has chassis reinforcement for more rigidity), the unique powertrain means that score isn’t applicable to the GR Corolla.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

The GR Corolla is covered by Toyota’s standard five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plus seven-years coverage for the engine and driveline.

Toyota is offering capped price servicing for the first three years/60,000km, which costs only $300 per visit but requires servicing every six months/10,000km - shorter than typical in the industry.

What's it like to drive?   10/10

It’s hard to know where to start because Toyota gave us a chance to experience the GR Corolla on the road, race track and a skidpan to highlight all aspects of its driving character.

We’ll start with the on-road performance, which unfortunately represents the shortest amount of time we spent behind the wheel, but it was enough to give us a good idea of how the GR Corolla handles itself. 

Unlike some rivals that have become too focused, highly-strung and too firm for the road, Toyota has found a good balance between the need for performance and practicality inherent in a hot hatch.

Toyota Gazoo Racing engineers have completely reworked the suspension. Toyota Gazoo Racing engineers have completely reworked the suspension.

A key to its on-road performance are the wheels, 18-inch rims aren’t big in today’s performance car world but by sticking with a smaller wheel size it means a higher profile tyre is fitted, and that helps make for a more compliant ride. 

And, of course, it helps that the Toyota Gazoo Racing engineers have given the suspension a complete reworking compared to the standard Corolla.

The engine and transmission also work nicely on the road, feeling well-matched and easy to live with, as long as you’re okay changing your own gears. 

The GR Corolla deeply impressed with its handling and performance on the track. The GR Corolla deeply impressed with its handling and performance on the track.

Manuals may be increasingly rare but when you find a good one like this - with a nice short throw and well-weighted clutch - it reminds you of just how engaging and enjoyable to drive they can be.

Speaking of enjoyable driving, Toyota gave us time on the twisty and technical Amaroo Circuit at Sydney Motorsport Park. 

This allowed us to unleash the full potential of the GR Corolla in a safe environment… or it would have if rain didn’t put a dampener on proceedings. But even in the rain the GR Corolla deeply impressed with its handling and performance on the track.

Toyota found a good balance between performance and practicality. Toyota found a good balance between performance and practicality.

Toyota’s decision to drop the average Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres from the GR Yaris in favour of sticker Yokohama Advan rubber, with a noticeable more aggressive and dry-road focused tread pattern, makes a major difference to its road-holding.

The wet track actually allowed the GR Corolla to showcase its adjustability and capabilities in a unique way. The lower grip level highlighted the differences between the various settings for the differentials more than it would have in the dry.

The GR provides an engaging and enjoyable drive. The GR provides an engaging and enjoyable drive.

In the ‘Race’ setting, with 50:50 torque distribution, the Corolla felt neutral and well-balanced around the track. Switching to the front-biased 60:40 split the car will pull itself out of corners better, while in the 30:70 rear-biased split obviously it feels like the back end wants to slide around more and it has a tendency to understeer into corners.

Running through a slalom and some hairpin turns on the skidpan highlighted these qualities even more. 

Whereas on the track - especially in the wet - the front-biased setting is quicker, on the skidpan sending more power to the rear allows you to slide and drift the car, which may not be faster but is a lot of fun.

The GR can send 70 per cent of its power to the rear wheels. The GR can send 70 per cent of its power to the rear wheels.

Especially with the clever handbrake, which operates like a rally car by disengaging the drive to the rear wheels as soon as you pull it.

This means you don’t have to dip the clutch and can flick the GR Corolla on its axis with relative ease. 

While probably not very helpful in your daily commute, for the type of buyers Toyota is hoping to attract, those who compete in grassroots motorsport events like motorkhanas, the trick handbrake will be a very handy tool.

Verdict

There were obviously huge expectations on the GR Corolla following the overwhelming popularity of the GR Yaris, which was a tough act to follow. Especially when you look at the Corolla on paper and realise it has the same engine and powertrain as its smaller, lighter sibling.

Despite this the GR Corolla doesn’t just meet expectations, it exceeds them. It’s objectively a better car than the GR Yaris, the extra size not only makes the GR Corolla more practical but helps it handle with more balance and confidence than its occasionally twitchy little brother.

The extra power from the engine compensates for the extra size and weight, so you’re left with a car that has all the elements any hot hatch owner should be chasing. 

Toyota may have taken its time to finally deliver a Corolla-based hot hatch but it was well and truly worth the wait.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel, accommodation and meals provided.

Pricing guides

$37,950
Based on 170 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$29,990
Highest Price
$47,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Ascent Sport + Convenience PK 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $26,510 – 32,670 2023 Toyota Corolla 2023 Ascent Sport + Convenience PK Pricing and Specs
Ascent Sport + Convenience PK 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $30,910 – 37,180 2023 Toyota Corolla 2023 Ascent Sport + Convenience PK Pricing and Specs
Ascent Sport + Conv PK Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $35,090 – 41,800 2023 Toyota Corolla 2023 Ascent Sport + Conv PK Hybrid Pricing and Specs
Ascent Sport Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $33,990 – 40,480 2023 Toyota Corolla 2023 Ascent Sport Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.5
Price and features8
Design9
Practicality8
Under the bonnet9
Efficiency8
Safety8
Ownership8
Driving10
Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$62,300

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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