Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A grey 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is shown from the rear while taking a corner in the rain.

A New Breed: The AWD, Manual Transmission, 2023 GR Corolla

Did we think Corolla’s were all about ease and commuter friendliness, without any pretense or tendencies towards performance? Think again! It’s 2023, and in 2023 we’re getting a GR Corolla. That’s right, you heard me: a speedy, high-performance GR Corolla. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and ask your local GR Corolla dealer. It’s all right; I’ll wait.

…And? Yeah, I told you I was right! Sure, we all know the Corolla as the affordable, fuel-friendly commuter car that’s inoffensive and can get you where you need to go with minimal thought involvement on the driver’s part—other than paying attention to the road, obviously. But this Corolla is different. Offered exclusively as a high-performance hatchback, this brand new, very first performance Corolla has been designed specifically to bring “Heat for the Streets,” as Toyota put it in their press release.

Now, if you’re excited about this and looking to purchase one, you should know a bit more about cars than your average bear. I’d wager you’re a bit of an enthusiast—someone who may not drive a performance vehicle but aspires to one, and in that inspiration has gotten very familiar with the parlance of the automotive world. If that sounds like you, then you’re in the right spot. I’m going to take you on a tour of this beefy Corolla, give you the ins and outs, and act as your official guide. Now, if you’ll take your seat and mind those sitting beside you, I’ll begin.

The Spirit of the Race

What is the point of making a high-performance Corolla? Well, Honda did it with the Civic Type R, and there’s plenty of enthusiasm over performance hatchbacks. Just take a look at the VW Golf GTI—perhaps the most popular hot hatchback. These little cars provide everything an enthusiast driver is looking for: powerful engines, enhanced suspension, and upgraded drivetrains. Plus, you get the practicality of a hatchback to boot.

If you’re not familiar with the specific GR title, I’ll explain briefly what it stands for. Toyota Gazoo Racing is the performance and motorsport division of the automotive giant. This GR Corolla is infused with the racing DNA of the GR team, with master driver Akio Toyoda at the helm. This will be the first fully designed and realized Gazoo Racing vehicle for the North American market, carrying forth the spirit of the rally racing that inspired it. Put through rigorous tests on the Fuji race circuit, along with heavy dirt and snow-covered roads, absolutely nothing was overlooked when developing this car.

A grey 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is shown from the front while drifting in the rain after leaving an Illinois GR Corolla dealer.

Design Overview

I’ll talk about the design first, because it’s quite honestly striking. It’s clearly a Corolla, but the aggressively styled front grille puts the GR racing stamp front and center. It looks like a car that could devour a road. The thin, angled headlights arc inward toward the Toyota badge, which acts as the metaphorical upper lip to the massive, honeycomb grille, which has a striking resemblance to bared teeth.

Flared fenders create a wider stance, while improved dampers and air vents encourage exceptional aerodynamics and engine cooling. There will also be a Circuit Edition of the GR Corolla, which’ll get you a carbon fiber roof, vented hood, 18” black wheels, and Ultrasuede synthetic leather seats.

Inside, we’re in a race car. Not really, but it feels like we’re in one. A leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel anchors the front dash, which itself is awash with upgraded gauges programmed with GR-specific meters. These meters are integrated into the 12.3” multi-color information display and include meters for the 4WD system (yes, you read that right), turbo pressure, gear position indicator, and tachometer.

Synthetic leather-appointed seats with GR badging, special red mesh inserts, and red stitching carry 6-way power adjustments for the driver, alongside 4 for the passenger. These seats are available with handy seatback pockets. Fabric-upholstered seats may be available as well.

Engine and Transmission

So, what’s powering this thing? Would you believe me if I told you it’s a 1.6-L, 3-cylinder direct-injection turbo engine producing 300 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque? Because it is. 300 hp from a Corolla. Who would have imagined that?

This engine power is achieved in manifold ways. First, the exhaust pressure is reduced thanks to the 3-piece valve-capped muffler. The engine also benefits from multi-oil jet piston cooling and a machined intake port. The turbocharger is integrated into the exhaust manifold, which helps to reduce the vehicle’s overall weight.

On top of this astounding news, we also know that the GR Corolla will come exclusively with a 6-speed intelligent manual transmission. The stick is placed ergonomically—where the driver’s hand will fall and find it easily. Short, fast shifts allow for easy gear changes with high torque levels that’ll snap and crackle as you zoom down the road.

It’s worth noting that this is the only transmission option. No automatic available. I’ll chalk this down to the purists at Toyota. Clearly, there are some, because virtually every other manufacturer offers an alternative automatic transmission in attempts to lure less enthusiastic drivers to the sport-tuned market. Not so with Toyota—and for that, I give them props.

Traction and Handling

This thing is planted to the ground, in more ways than one. I’ll start with the tires. The GR Corolla is outfitted with wide-tread Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, which is a fancy way of saying that your car will grip the road as you propel through it. Next, we have the widened stance, thanks to those flared fenders—making it easier to accommodate the MacPherson struts, circuit-tuned coil springs, shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars.

The special Circuit Edition gets an upgrade to a Torsen limited front and rear slip differential, allowing for maximum grip when making your way around a corner. And, of course, there is the GR Four AWD system. Toyota’s first sport AWD system in 20 years, the GR Four can adjust to various types of terrains. Multiple drive modes, including Dirt, Rain, and Snow, along with Normal, Sport, and Track modes, each alternate the torque distribution to the wheels as needed.

A red 2022 Toyota Gr86, a grey 2023 Toyota GR Corolla, and a white 2022 Toyota GR Supra are shown from the side on a racetrack.

Special Perks

Now, with this little monster set to make its grand entrance in the Fall of 2022, whoever purchases one will be granted a complimentary one-year membership to the National Auto Sport Association. Member benefits include participation in nationwide NASA events, free admission to NASA events, subscription to Speed News magazine, and discounts from companies like Hagerty Motor Sports and Choice Hotels.

One event Toyota specifically wants GR Corolla purchasers to attend is the High-Performance Driving event. This is where you take your car and, with the aid of an instructor, blitz it around a racetrack as it was designed to do. If you feel like this may be tough on the car, then trust me: It’ll likely start purring like one happy cat. Performance cars love to be taken to their limits.

This is a first for Toyota. We all know special cars like the GR Supra, but the GR Corolla will be something different. It’s like the everyman car decided it was time to hit the gym and become the ultimate version of itself. Between the GR Four AWD system and the 6-speed manual, it’s hard to find fault in the intentions behind this vehicle.

What could be more fun than a car that was created to be milquetoast and turns out to be hard lemonade? It’s not the best analogy—but who cares? The GR Corolla is going to be one hell of a fun car.