Yes, it’s about time Toyota joined the party. Yes, it’s probably too expensive compared with at least some of the established rivals. But, in the end, does it really matter? This is a proper, hardcore hot hatch made by Toyota featuring a potent turbo engine and clever four-wheel drive system. This is what we have all been waiting for.
Toyota Australia offers the GR Corolla in just one highly-specced trim called the GTS. However, if you’re serious about entering motorsport and taking on some rally events, the local arm also offers a special version called the Morizo Edition. The back seats are ripped out and there’s a carbon fibre roof, extra chassis bracing underneath, and a torque boost of 30Nm. But, only 700 are available.
Prices start from $62,300 for the GTS as tested here, and from $77,800 for that Morizo Edition which is probably all sold out by the time you try and convince your other half that you need one. Prices exclude on-road costs.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS: What is it?
This is Toyota’s answer to all sorts of cool hatchbacks that are on the market right now. The big one is the Hyundai i30 N and of course the just-arrived Honda Civic Type R. These are both front-wheel drive. The other main one is the Volkswagen Golf R, except, some could argue that it is more about refined super hatch motoring whereas the others are perhaps more serious about being on the track or even competing.
And then the other main ones are the Mercedes-AMG A 35 and A 45; substantially more expensive but a similar makeup nonetheless. And similarly the Audi S3 and RS 3 as well as Toyota’s own GR Yaris for some sibling rivalry.
The GR Corolla is underpinned by the same TNGA-C platform as the regular Corolla, unlike the GR Yaris which is based on the smaller TNGA-B layout – though, in GR form the Yaris features a similar rear end to the Corolla to help accomodate the all-wheel drive system.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS: What does it come with?
As you’d expect, the GR Corolla is the flagship model and it comes with everything that Toyota offers for the Corolla range. That includes a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster with configurable display options – including a turbo boost gauge – along with an 8.0-inch touch-screen system.
To be honest, the main touch-screen on the dash is pretty basic. The graphics and colours are not all that interesting, and the functionality is user-friendly but lacks depth compared with some of the more modern systems out there right now.
What we really like though is the arrangement of physical buttons around the screen, and a completely separate panel for the climate control with all functions receiving their own dedicated button or dial. This kind of arrangement is much easier to use while driving as opposed to being distracted and digging around within a touch-screen.
Passengers are comforted in bespoke sports seats in the front. They hold you in nicely and they offer decent long-distance support, unlike some of the more hardcore options in this space. The driving position is good thanks to wide adjustment ranges from the steering column and seat, and you sit lower than in the GR Yaris, for those wondering.
Rear seat space isn’t ideal for taller passengers, especially in the middle seat. There are more spacious hatchbacks in this class, such as the Honda Civic. But in essence it’s a Corolla problem rather than specific to the GR model. Claustrophobia sufferers might not like the high door sills and wrap-around D-pillar in the back, either. It’s not what you would call open and airy. But it is acceptable for kids and as a general run-around vehicle.
Speaking of which, the GR Corolla offers only 213 litres of boot space. That’s not much for this class. There is no spare wheel under the floor but instead a puncture repair kit.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS: Fun factor
Like the GR Yaris, this comes with a 1.6-litre turbo three-cylinder engine. It is an amazing little unit and we love that Toyota has actually turned up the power specifically for the the Corolla compared with its smaller brother, the GR Yaris with the same engine.
Here, power peaks at 221kW at 6500rpm, with 370Nm of torque available between 3000-5550rpm. These are some quality, class-rivalling numbers on their own. But coming from a buzzing three-cylinder is what makes it so much more enjoyable than a typical four-cylinder.
The noise is rumbly and grumpy, with a cool turbo whistle and plenty of ongoing character. From low revs it almost feels like the engine is about to stall. But, some how, the low-end pick up just pulls it up to speed with very little hesitation or turbo-lag. There is some surge going on during this process, but it’s a fun experience.
And then to be able to enjoy this while shifting gears yourself, it is what driving enthusiasts dream of. The gear shift throw is relatively short and nicely-gated, and the clutch pedal is set up to provide good feel so you can instantly recognise the grab point.
There are some selectable modes for the GR-Four all-wheel drive system, too. You can opt for 50:50 torque split between the front and rear axle, or 40:60 and 30:70. It’s difficult to fully appreciate the differences on the road unless you’re really pushing it to its limits. We found the regular 40:60 configuration to offer a good balance.
The handling is magical. Genuinely. The way it rails around mid-speed bends is just insane, and then really tight corners can be hastily escaped thanks to the immense power-down grip, and punch from the engine. It is better to keep the revs above that 3000rpm threshold in our opinion, if you want to utilise its full potential.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla GTS: Should you buy one?
If you can find a spot in the queue, indeed. Toyotas are usually excellent at holding their value, so it’s a smart buy from the get-go. For serious driving enthusiasts, the drive modes and sheer driveline capability are above class expectations. You’ll cherish its eagerness to hit the track and even compete.
On the other hand, this is not the most practical hot hatch in the segment. The boot is small and the rear seat area doesn’t put the segment on notice. If these areas are not important – or as important – then please, we urge you take one for a test drive. It should blow your mind like it did ours.
How does it rate against its rivals?
We’re overwhelmed with gratitude that Toyota has finally entered this challenging segment. Let alone come up with a cracking number like this. It’s unique, looks tough, sounds good, and offers brilliant performance and driving satisfaction.