You’ve probably watched and read reviews from journalists who wax lyrical about the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Many have called it the best hot hatch that money can buy but can you actually live with it? Is it a little too hardcore for the road? Is it too obtuse? Or is it legitimately the best bang-for-your-buck performance car on the market? Let’s find out.
We had our first chance to sample the GR Corolla at its international launch back in September last year. Our own Stephen Rivers described it as the “new king of hot hatches” and that was enough to give me the James May fizz when thinking about the car’s arrival to the Australian market where I’d have my first chance to experience what all the hype is about.
I will preface this review by saying I did not get any track time in the GR Corolla and I have no doubt that’s where it shines the brightest. What I can say with confidence is that on the street and on a day-to-day basis, it absolutely lived up to my expectations – and then some.
|› Model:||2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS|
|› Starting Price:||AU$69,800 ($46,617) Including On-Road Costs|
|› Dimensions:||173.5 in. (4,407 mm) L x 72.8 in. (1,851 mm) W x 58.2 in. (1,479 mm) H|
|› Curb Weight:||1,475 kg (3,251 lb)|
|› Engine:||1.6-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder|
|› Output:||296 hp (221 kW / 300 PS) & 273 lb-ft (370 Nm)|
|› Transmissions:||6-Speed Manual|
|› Fuel Economy||8.4L/100km (28.0 MPG) Manual|
|› On Sale:||Now|
The range of Toyota GR Corolla models on sale in Australia is not quite as comprehensive as it is in the U.S. Indeed, there are just two variants on offer, the GR Corolla GTS that we drove, and the flagship Morizo Edition of which just 25 examples are initially heading Down Under. While local shoppers don’t have much choice, the GTS is much more well-equipped than America’s base model. It is available from AU$69,800 ($46,617) including on-road costs.
Standard features are aplenty with the GTS. They include 18-inch Enkei alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40 Yokohama Advan Apex V601 tires at all four corners. Unlike America’s base model, the GR Corolla GTS also comes standard with the must-have front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials. It also has dual-zone automatic climate control, a wireless phone charger, an 8-speaker JBL audio system, satellite navigation, wired Android Auto, and wireless Apple CarPlay.
Prior to picking up the keys to our test car for the week, I hadn’t actually seen a GR Corolla in the flesh. I have always been fond of the exterior design of the 12th-generation Corolla, particularly in hatchback guise, and always thought it could serve as the perfect base for a hotted-up, performance-focused model. Toyota hasn’t disappointed in the visual stakes.
No regular Corolla – until you step inside
The hot hatch strikes an imposing figure with its flared arches and widened track and with just a quick look at the gaping-wide black grille, it’s obvious that it means business. Other visual highlights include the air vents incorporated into the hood and the particularly phat rear that looks like it’s just received a BBL. Unfortunately, Australia’s GR Corolla does not receive the same fixed rear wing as the Circuit Edition in the U.S. and the rear does look a little tame without it. The trio of tailpipes are a nice touch though.
I have mixed feelings about the interior of the GR Corolla. There are some very nice features found within such as the leather-accented GR sports seats wrapped in Brin Naub suede with silver stitching and accents. These seats are very comfortable, hold you in tightly, but do not adjust as low as I would like. The steering wheel is also lovely as are the metal pedals and the shifter. Curiously, Toyota hasn’t bothered to re-engineer the center console for right-hand drive markets meaning the hydraulic handbrake is on the passenger side of the tunnel, not on the driver’s side like in the U.S. Inclusions such as heated seats and a heated steering wheel are very welcome, as is the configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
In general, however, the interior of the GR Corolla feels quite dated. The dashboard is dominated by hard, scratchy black plastic and the HVAC controls look a little unrefined. Worst of all is the 8.0-inch infotainment system. The screen itself is nice enough but the software is years behind rivals including VW, Honda and Hyundai. It is very basic, has few features, and isn’t particularly user-friendly. Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it much as I just plugged in my phone and used Android Auto most of the time.
Read: Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Returns For 2024 In Blue And In Gran Turismo
The cabin feels pretty much the same as a standard Corolla, just amped up a little. Of course, the GR Corolla isn’t alone in this regard as pretty much all other hot hatches have cabins virtually indistinguishable from the base models they are based around albeit for a few unique trimmings and features here and there. Compared to the car’s smaller sibling, the GR Yaris, it feels significantly more spacious and given that it has four doors, is also much, much more practical.
A performance superstar
Driving the GR Corolla is where it really begins to make sense. Sure, the interior is a little lackluster and it could look a little more extreme but the way it covers ground over any kind of road surface is truly mesmerizing.
Like the GR Yaris, it features a 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder but this engine has been tweaked to now produce 221 kW (296 hp) at 6,500 rpm and 370 Nm (273 lb-ft) of torque between 3,000 and 5,500 rpm. However, these figures only tell part of the story. In fact, the GR Corolla feels quicker than those numbers would have you believe. This became immediately apparent when I first pulled away from a set of lights in it.
The engagement point of the clutch pedal is quite low meaning that with just a little bit of pressure on the throttle, you can easily drop the clutch, pin the throttle, and this thing will rocket off the line in a way that no other hot hatch with a six-speed manual transmission can match. In an instant, you’ll be at the top of first gear going a touch over 60 km/h (37 mph) and after changing into 2nd and then 3rd, 100 km/h (62 mph) appears on the dash much quicker than expected. Toyota says the car needs a touch over 5 seconds to hit 100 km/h but it feels even quicker than that as you’ll have to shift into 3rd at around 98 km/h (61 mph) or else you’ll slam into the rev limiter. Equally as impressive as the sheer speed off the line is just how easy it is to repeat over and over again without the car feeling like it is getting stressed.
Straight-line acceleration is just one of the GR Corolla’s many areas of expertise. The combination of a trick all-wheel drive system, twin LSDs, and sticky Yokohama tires provide it with remarkable levels of grip in the twisties, so much so that finding the limits of it is virtually impossible on public roads.
Turn-in is exceptional and the front tires immediately hook up as soon as you turn into a bend. If you miss an apex in this most potent of hot hatches, it’s your fault, not the car’s. The mid-corner grip is also incredibly strong, although we can’t help but think it could be even stronger were the car mounted with Michelin or Pirelli rubber. Like the GR Yaris, the car has an adjustable all-wheel-drive system where you can either a 60:40 front/rear power split, a 50:50 power split, or a 30:70 power split.
Read: Toyota GR Corolla Looks Right At Home Drifting Through The Snow
Those with experience driving front-wheel drive hot hatches will be most at home with the 60:40 split but for some added driving thrills, the 50:50 and 70:30 splits are preferable. Interestingly, even in the 50:50 mode, the rear end rotates very easily, making it feel as though there is more power at the rear than there actually is. In 30:70 mode, this feeling is even more pronounced and with the traction control system disabled, allows you to perform smoky drifts. Speaking of drifts, Toyota has also fitted the GR Corolla with a hydraulic handbrake that quickly rotates the car and disconnects power to the rear wheels, allowing you to easily perform 360-degree donuts on a dime. It’s hardly a useful feature on the road nor one that will benefit lap times on a track, but it is loads of fun.
The soundtrack of the GR Corolla also impressed us. Whereas the GR Yaris has always been a little muted, the GR Corolla offers a much more thunderous soundtrack with plenty of base, so much so that we were left wondering if the JBL subwoofer hasn’t been tuned to add some base to the exhaust note. There are no cracks and pops like VW and Hyundai hot hatches which is a little bit of a shame.
The shifting action of the gearbox is good but cannot rival that of the Honda Civic Type R. Then there’s the ride. The GR Corolla is quite stiff and unlike some rivals, it does not have adjustable dampers. That’s a shame given its sky-high starting price and does mean living with it on a daily basis can be a little more challenging than some alternatives.
Is this the new hot hatch benchmark?
It’s impossible to deny that the Toyota GR Corolla is a very, very good hot hatch. While it may perform best on a racetrack, it is perfectly suited to public roads whether you want to drive it calmly or try to exploit some of the performance. Is it the best bang-for-your-buck performance car on the market? We’re not so sure. The Hyundai i30 Sedan N (Elantra N), while not technically a hot hatch, offers just as many driving thrills, better technology, and more comfort, all while starting at AU$55,000 ($36,733) before on-road costs, a saving of almost AU$14,000 ($9,350).