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2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review: Get Your Rally On

Toyota GR Corolla 2023
Photo: D.Heyman
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Dan Heyman
Toyota taps into its rally racing heritage for the most powerful Corolla ever

•    Auto123 reviews the new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla.

People may not realize it but for all its work as a taxicab, people mover and driver’s ed car, the Toyota Corolla actually has a storied past in the world of motorsport. Most notably, the World Rally Championship in which Carlos Sainz Sr. piloted one to the WRC Constructor’s Championship in 1999.

It's that pedigree Toyota’s trying to tap into today with the release of the GR (“Gazoo Racing”) Corolla. Like Sainz Sr’s car, it gets a punchy turbocharged motor (though a 3-cylinder and not a 4-cylinder), and like Sainz Sr’s car it comes with AWD as standard.

Unlike Sainz Sr’s car, however, it comes equipped only with a 6-speed manual transmission across all three of its trims. Those would be:

  • GR Corolla Core ($45,490)
  • GR Corolla Circuit ($53,990)
  • GR Corolla Morizo ($59,990) (very limited edition)

Unlike Sainz Sr’s car, the GR Corolla isn’t going rallying. Although, its smaller Yaris sibling has been rallying – and winning – and it also uses a 1.3L turbo engine.

See also: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Priced at $45,490 in Canada

Front of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Front of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

Exterior of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

You don’t get a fancy Castrol racing livery on this Core version, but you do get:

  • 18-inch gloss black wheels
  • Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires
  • Aggressive front splitter
  • XL rear spoiler
  • Triple exhaust system

The Circuit model adds red brake calipers as well as a carbon fibre roof.

But here’s the thing: with so much of this car’s inspiration rooted in Toyota’s racing heritage, wouldn’t it be cool to tap into that with some specialized graphics options? Look no further than Toyota’s own and very “rad” 4Runner 40th Anniversary edition to see how this can be done without going over the top. Even just a pair of stripes – one red, one green – somewhere on the body, could be just the ticket.

Driver's seat of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Driver's seat of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

Interior of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Inside, the theme continues, but to what extent depends heavily on which trim you’re in.

The Core model gets aluminum sport pedals, contrast grey stitching and aluminum accents, while the Circuit model gets red stitching on suede-trimmed heated seats with “GR” logos on the headrests.

Which is all great, but one has to ask whether or not someone is going to be willing to pay over 45 grand for a Corolla hatchback, and almost 60 grand if you opt for the top-spec Morizo edition.

Digital instrumentr cluster of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Digital instrumentr cluster of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

While you have the same tall seating position and the same 8-inch infotainment display as a standard Corolla, you do get a unique modifiable digital gauge cluster. That’s cool, but I found the way the various info cells were arranged a little less than perfect.

You also find the GR logo on the steering wheel and shift knob plus the metal pedals to remind this is no ordinary Corolla.

After that, it’s all Corolla hatch, meaning a surprisingly roomy rear seat considering its size, and over 500 litres of storage behind the rear seats. That’s less than what’s on offer from a standard FWD Corolla hatch but it’s not bad, considering the addition of a second differential back there.

Profile of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Profile of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

Driving the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Firing it up serves up a great off-beat warble – there is an uneven cylinder count, after all, and three tailpipes – that had me thinking of the car whose recent demise could very well be to this particular Corolla’s benefit: the five-door version of the Subaru WRX and its STI twin.

Thanks to a well-tuned clutch take-up, rolling smoothly away from stop is no big deal, though the shifter’s somewhat long throw does take a little getting used to. Once you get into a rhythm, however, this is a car that flows right along with you. Power comes on in a fairly aggressive manner – peak horsepower takes until 6,500 RPM with peak torque arriving at 3,000 RPM, so you do have to wring its neck a little to get the best out of it – but that’s what makes it so durn fun.

You find yourself really grabbing those shifts a little more than usual on a winding road, but you do it because you’re rewarded with such response when you really get it right, really drop it into the meat of the powerband. It’s a car that rewards when driven with aggression, and I won’t fault it for that.

Rear of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Rear of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

Things change a little on the handling front. Thanks to extra welds, extra underbody bracing and the standard fitment of front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials, this car flows nicely with your inputs, which don't need to be quite as whip-snap as the gear changes. It just hunches down and beds itself in as you let those sticky Michelins transmit everything to the road. Add recalibrated suspension for a massive reduction in body roll and you’re off to the races.

Off to the races, once you’ve selected which of the three torque-splits you’re provided: 60/40 front/rear, 50/50 or 30/70 for an almost RWD-like feel. Toyota recommends the 60/40 for everyday driving, the 50/50 for track use and the 30/70 for use on slower, windier roads. The difference between the three is palpable; the rear-end becomes livelier, and you get that much more pull out of the corners.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla, stop/start button
2023 Toyota GR Corolla, stop/start button
Photo: D.Heyman

Here are a few of your questions about the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Is a sedan version of the GR Corolla on the way?
While there have been some altered photos floating around the web, there is no plans for a GR Corolla sedan at this time.

Why is the central tailpipe a different shape?
The central tailpipe only becomes active at 4,500 RPM, helping unleash all of the GR’s power. There’s also no artificial exhaust note pumped into the cabin.

How different is the Morizo version?
Surprisingly, quite different. It has a roll cage instead of rear seats, the rear windows don’t roll down and it makes more torque. It also gets a carbon-fibre roof and specialized forged wheels.

Manual gear shifter of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Manual gear shifter of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

The final word
The real question is this: How well does this performance Corolla stack up against the likes of the Honda Civic Type R, or even the Volkswagen Golf R. Having only driven the latter, I can tell you that the Corolla is more on-the-nose, its every response laying claim to being a performance model. It’s more of an assault on the senses, but it’s no smoke and mirrors. This cars like a proper performance car, and one of the more thrilling compacts we’ve seen in Canada in some time, if not ever.

And it’s a Toyota Corolla. The world we live in.

Strong points
Wide fenders, plus big wings and bumpers
Those dark wheels and red brake calipers
Optional suede-trimmed seats are a great fit
Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Grippy, fast, fun
Ability to manually adjust torque distribution

Weak points
No option for retro-style or specialized graphics package
Standard seats could be more robust
Wireless charging requires upgrade to Circuit trim
Digital gauge cluster is messy
Shifter slightly long on throw

Engine of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Engine of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: D.Heyman

Competitors of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

  • Honda Civic Type R
  • Subaru WRX
  • Volkswagen Golf R

Specifications sheet of 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core

Specifications sheet of 2023 Toyota GR Corolla MORIZO Edition

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Photos:D.Heyman
2023 Toyota GR Corolla pictures
Dan Heyman
Dan Heyman
Automotive expert
  • Over 12 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 70 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 150 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists