skip to content
Driving Line Mark Logo

Road Test Review: The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Brings Turbocharged Rally Sound And Fury In An AWD Hot Hatch

It's been more than three decades since Toyota took a stab at bringing a hot hatch to America. Way back in the late '80s (and leading into the '90s), the rally-inspired Celica All-Trac Turbo breathed all-wheel drive fire into showrooms as it basked in the glow of the World Rally Championship competition that had brought it into being. Since then, the automaker has stayed largely on the sidelines of a battle that's seen Volkswagen, Honda, and even Hyundai carve out impressive mindshare among enthusiasts seeking a practical, fun daily driver, but as of now Toyota is finally back in the game with a track-ready terror of its own.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla front 3/4

The new-for-2023 Toyota GR Corolla maintains two key connections to that long-ago Celica. The first are the words ALL-4 emblazoned on its side skirts, both a name for its all-wheel drive system and a nod to the JDM nomenclature used to describe its predecessor. Then there's the rally link, as the GR Corolla lifts its drivetrain directly from the smaller GR Yaris, a hatchback sold in Europe and Japan that also pulls duty in WRC.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla rear 3/4

What's it like to pilot Toyota's foray into all-wheel drive fun, and how does it compare to a seemingly crowded market filled with intriguing options for compact car fans with money to burn? It turns out that taking a totally different tack has paid dividends for the Corolla GR and helped set it apart from the rest of the pack—as long as you're ok with making a few sacrifices.

Priced To Sell*

Let's get this out of the way: it's expensive to shop for a hot hatch. The current ask for luminaries like the Volkswagen Golf R starts at $45k, with the Honda Civic Type R only a thousand dollars behind at the entry level (and that's before you start adding options). If you're looking for similar hatchback fun at a lower price point, you'll either have to accept a horsepower haircut (the Volkswagen Golf GTI) or step up to a taller-riding, albeit similarly-sized crossover (the Hyundai Kona N), each of which stickers for roughly $10k less.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla side profile

Into this fray steps the Toyota GR Corolla, and it brings with a pricing structure that seems to provide the best of both worlds. The base Core model's $36,000 sticker positions it directly in line with the most affordable members of the sport compact community, while its $50,000 Morizo model (intended specifically to cater to the needs of track fiends) is a match for well-equipped Golf R and Civic Type R builds. In the middle sits the Circuit, which splits the difference at $43,000.

Core Value(s)

I spent time with the GR Corolla Core, which provides a solid foundation for hoonery and full-throttle happiness even in its base spec. Unlike any of its peers, the Corolla drops a cylinder to present driver with a turbocharged three banger that shakes and rattles 300 hp out of its 1.6L of displacement. Matched with 273 lb-ft of torque and a six-speed manual gearbox—its only available transmission—the Toyota's standard all-wheel drive system provides enough traction for the GR to flirt with the 60-mph mark in about five ticks of the stopwatch.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla front view

Assuming perfect conditions, you're also looking at a sub-14 second quarter mile time with a trap speed of over 101 mph, numbers that are good enough to post it alongside the front-wheel drive Civic Type R (albeit well back of the all-wheel drive Golf R thanks in large part to the VW's dual-clutch automated gearbox). That's pretty good company to keep considering the cost delta between these three vehicles, and among its pricing peers the Corolla GR will keep well ahead of nearly any challenger.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla rear 3/4

Optional gear for the Core includes a Performance package that adds Torsen limited-slip differentials front and rear, a fine compliment to the car's beefed-up braking versus the non-GR Corolla and a must-have at the fairly reasonable price of $1,200. If you upgrade to the Circuit you get the Performance, Technology, and Cold Weather packages (adding heated seats and a louder stereo), along with a carbon fiber roof pane, while the Morizo deletes the rear seats, window motors, speakers, and wiper, tweaks the suspension somewhat. and adds forged wheels and a bit of a torque boost (thanks to more aggressive air induction on the hood).

Old Fashioned Fun

In full flight, the Toyota GR Corolla is an absolute blast. Its three-cylinder rumble needs no artificial affectation to sell the ear on what it has to offer (just a third exhaust outlet that opens at idle and above 4,500 rpm to help usher in extra oomph). The engine's pleasingly coarse character is a good match for the stout, gets-the-job-done shifter sticking out of the center console.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla shifter

The GR Corolla has a pleasingly mechanical feel from behind the wheel that separates it from the more polished software shenanigans engaged in by the Civic Type R and the Golf R.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla AWD controller

With even its 'Custom' drive mode limited to three options (each of which is already activated in the also-basic 'Sport' mode), the only real digital controller for the Corolla's antics is the dial that controls which axle is fed more torque. Engaging the 30:70 front/rear split encourages tail-out times on tighter corners, with a more neutral 50:50 Track setting and a commute-friendly 60:40 split also available.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla 3-cylinder turbo engine

Fooling with the limited ones and zeros guiding the Toyota's drive can be fun, but they're more of a distraction from how straight-forward the car really is. Dial in your preference for oversteer or understeer and then forget about the rest, as even its stability and traction control (each of which can be turned off) are remarkably relaxed, allowing substantial lateral movement on corner exit. I came to appreciate just how direct the GR Corolla felt as compared to its hot hatch compadres, a tie-in to its Celica All-Track history I hadn't expected from a vehicle conceived at the height of the Playstation performance era.

Back To Basics

For a certain slice of the compact performance crowd, the Toyota GR Corolla is a slam-dunk. If you can somehow manage to find a Core model absent an outrageous dealer markup (as limited production of the Corolla has cursed inventories across the country), and you're down to revisit the days when pilots could pace themselves without the prattling of too many layers of electronic insulation, there's not much else like it out there—and certainly nothing with this mix of all-wheel drive grip and Torsen traction.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla interior

Be advised that you'll have to swallow an interior décor that, while not depressingly pedestrian, is pretty far removed from anything resembling an upscale experience. You'll also need to be ok with the somewhat clunky feel of the Toyota's shifter (versus the sublime Civic Type R setup), and the necessary roughness associated with its bump-steery suspension and vibratory three-cyl mill.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla front view garage

At the low end of the price spectrum, the Core makes it a little easier to hand-wave away the lack of niceties inside the GR Corolla and focus on the connection between driver and machine. For the much more expensive Morizo, unless you're intent on hitting the track every single weekend you'd be better off spending the mega-bucks elsewhere. Either way Toyota is back, and the GR Corolla is proof positive that the automaker hasn't forgotten any of the lessons learned so many years ago on dusty rally stages around the world.

Return to beginning of article

Recommended For You

Loading ...