The first-ever 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is definitely not the same Corolla of choice for sensible grandparents worldwide. A product of the Japanese brand's Gazoo Racing performance division, this rally-inspired hatchback instead embodies several decades of racing heritage and is designed to be every bit as capable on the track as it is in the city.
Just looking at the vehicle, there's no doubt something special is here. The huge wide-mouth matrix grille feeds much-needed air to the radiator and intercooler, while the functional ducts on either side of Core trim loaner provide cooling duties. The fenders are literally bulging out to accommodate wide gloss black 18-inch 15-spoke alloy wheels shod in sticky 235/40/18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires.
Hovering 5.3-inches over the ground, the planted stance is complemented by the aggressive rear diffuser housing triple exhaust tips and a colour-matched roof spoiler. An aluminum hood keeps the weight down.
The dark monochromatic interior is equally sporty, featuring comfortable and supportive fabric seats with grey stitching, a leather steering wheel, aluminum pedals and GR badging throughout. The 12.3-inch instrument cluster is fully digital and, in addition to the usual readouts, shows boost pressure and 4WD mode (more on this later).
All models pack the new eight-inch North American-developed Audio Multimedia infotainment system. Admittedly the stereo was the low point of the car for me as the lack of physical controls made it a chore to tune radio stations, requiring poking at the screen and navigating through submenus — something that's not ideal while driving. The Apple CarPlay was also finicky, automatically kicking out of SiriusXM multiple times and returning to the app's streaming source.
Multimedia issues aside, the star of the show is the performance. Engineers have managed to extract an impressive 100 horsepower from each turbocharged 1.6-litre engine's three cylinders, producing 300 horses and 273 lb-ft of torque. Emitting a deep almost Subaru-like boxer rumble upon start-up, the only transmission option is a tactile six-speed short-throw manual. A joy to row through the gears, it's a night-and-day difference from the clunky feel of the BMW-derived ZF shifter installed in the A91 Supra.
As opposed to a conventional all-wheel drive setup, the GR-FOUR drivetrain can be manually dialled to distribute 60 percent of the torque to the front axle and 40 percent to the rear in daily driving scenarios; 30:70 during spirited motoring sessions; or 50:50 when maximum stability is needed, which is great when ripping around loose gravel roads, for example.
A punishing suspension is one caveat to operating the racy vehicle on the street. Comprised of a Macpherson strut and double wishbone combo, the coil-tuned springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars aren't too forgiving over potholes and uneven pavement. Still, they are great at carving around hairpins and sweeping turns on the track, as I had the pleasure of experiencing during the model's initial launch.
A higher Circuit Edition grade is also available, bundling extras such as dual Torsen limited-slip differentials, forged carbon roof, vented hood, red callipers, heated steering wheel and seats, eight-speaker JBL audio and more.
Highlights (as tested):
Motor: 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder
Horsepower: 300 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 273 @ 3,000 rpm
Gearbox: six-speed manual
Layout: all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 11.1 L/100 km