Review: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core

Words: Calvin Chan

Photography: Calvin Chan

Published: May 16, 2023


R is a powerful letter in the automotive hemisphere. You’ll find the 18th letter of the alphabet plastered all over affordable sports cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, Audi RS 3, Ford Focus RS, and now the Toyota GR Corolla. But before you write off this as just another Rolla’ that blends into the suburban landscape, just know that it’s one of the most raw, focused, and engaging Toyotas ever built.



You can forget about what you know and think about the Corolla. GR has changed the game. GR stands for Gazoo Racing and is the performance arm of Toyota. Think of it like what M is to BMW, or AMG to Mercedes. The GR Supra was the vanguard in North America, resurrecting the legendary moniker to bring Toyota back into the performance fold. The GR86 was next, an updated version of the 86 that instilled pure driving performance and engagement into a lightweight, affordable, rear-wheel drive package. The GR Yaris followed shortly after, launching with much fanfare overseas but remains forbidden fruit here in Canada.



But the GR Corolla is our pick of the litter. It’s the most fun we have had behind the wheel of a $50,000 car since, well, ever. The recipe calls for excitement: hand-built in Japan, 18-inch wheels, limited slip differential, rally-inspired AWD system, and a highly strung 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine pushing out 300-hp and 273 lb-ft of torque - what else could you want? A six-speed manual runs the show (no automatic available), and you can even shift the torque distribution between the axles with a simple dial like in the Subaru WRX STI, from 60:40 to 50:50 or 30:70 to the rear.



Those who had lost patience waiting for a manual GR Supra, those infuriated by the Golf R’s infotainment system, or those who are 999th in line for a Civic Type R, will find that the GR Corolla ticks all the right boxes. More fun and refined than a Veloster N or Elantra N, and rowdier and more entertaining than a Golf R, the GR Corolla simply doesn’t get distracted by offering luxury amenities or the whole gamut of creature comforts. Instead, it has put all its marbles into the powertrain.


Three-cylinders are rare in the Canadian market, and there’s a reason. The odd number of cylinders means the engine isn’t as smooth as a four-cylinder, and is rougher around the edges, transmitting rough vibrations during idle and at low revs, and rattling all the items you haven’t secured down in the cabin. It reminds us of other odd-cylinder engines like the Audi five-cylinder RS units. The powerband is much more limited, so you need to keep the needle swinging in the meaty 4,000 - 5,000 rpm range, but once you get in that sweet spot, oh boy. It’s a highly caffeinated, triple-shot espresso of an engine.



The GR accelerates with gusto and never feels lethargic or underwhelming under wide-open throttle. Still, the ride loses in fluency the slower you go, rippling and crashing at the tiniest of bumps and road cracks. Safe to say, it’s a car that rewards fast and aggressive driving and despises being wrangled at a relaxed and casual pace. It reminds us of the WRX STI in this way, especially with its similarly rumbling exhaust, plastic-laden interior, 300-hp output, and adjustable AWD system. And without a new STI on the market, Toyota has filled that gap quite nicely with the Corolla. It’s even got a better sound system, not that you need it. The vocals in the GR are exhilarating, to say the least. It will not only wake up the neighbours but elicit grins from ear to ear.


It’s not exactly fuel efficient though. We averaged 11.3 L/100km over a mix of city and highway driving, not great for such a small hatchback but then again it’s manual and all-wheel drive, and we weren’t exactly piloting it like an arthritic senior. We drove it like it was meant to be driven. In all, you can expect about 400 km on a full tank.



This is a three-pedal-only game, and the prerequisites to operate them are in full effect. But the shifter and clutch bite point are quite lenient. Beginner-friendly? We’d say so, as there’s even auto downshifting which blips the throttle for you for perfect rev-matching, giving your limbs a bit of a break in heavy traffic. Heel and toe shifts are not mandatory here. But we wish the button was in a more convenient location - it’s hidden behind the steering column out of view, making it difficult to access in a pinch. Annoyingly, it defaults back to OFF every time you restart the vehicle.


The shifter offers excellent engagement and positive feedback, rowing through the gears without ambiguity, and slots into place without any wiggle room or guesswork involved. Though, it’s easy to mistake third gear for fifth - the tolerance between gates is narrow, and the angle at which the shifter is placed isn’t the most ideal.



But it’s the peachy handling that impresses us more. The GR Corolla is a remarkably three-dimensional sports car with a tenacious front end and playful rear. You can take a lot of liberties with corner entry speed thanks to the sticky tires (ours was on winters but it still offered plenty of grip) and AWD system. We could actually detect differences between the 60:40 and 30:70 split modes. The rear has more slip in the latter and allows for more followthrough and rotation under throttle or trail-braking. With a heavy front end, the turn-in will never be as sharp as the GR86, but it will swing its hip nicely if you ask it to, and we simply adore how it enjoys playing on the fringes of grip and tire limits when you egg it on.



Expectedly, the ride in the GR is stiff, bouncing up and down when negotiating sharp oscillations, and it doesn’t handle those motions with the same grace as a Golf R. It’s slightly rougher than a Civic Type R too. But neither of them flies under the radar as well as the Corolla, especially in this simple and unremarkable shade of white paint. It doesn’t even have a fancy paint name. It’s just, White. To the untrained eye, it looks like any other civilian Corolla. But spot the central exhaust tips, slightly more imposing body kit, and rear spoiler, and you will know it’s hiding a three-cylinder reactor. Yet, it does not even feel special when you climb into the heavily bolstered seats, until you fire up the engine and realize that there’s a real sense of occasion to this hatch.



There’s truly nothing special or noteworthy about the interior. If you covered up the GR badges, you wouldn’t guess it costs nearly double a base Corolla. There’s a litany of unashamed plastic littered throughout, and it genuinely feels cheap next to the competition. For $50,000, you would expect a little more garnish. Rather, it’s bare bones in here, and not a visually or ergonomically pleasant place to spend time in. It’s an off-the-rack suit that barely fits.



The GR Corolla is a riot to drive, and the best part is you don’t need to sell a kidney to afford one. It rings up under $50,000 and delivers a six-figure performance. It’s not as affordable as a GR86, it doesn’t have the wild styling of a Type R, and the cabin is far from being as refined as the Golf R, but the GR performance is undeniably more exciting and enthralling.


Toyota has put all its money into delivering driver engagement and involvement, and as a result, it’s easy to find harmony with the road and feel at one with both acceleration and steering inputs. Every stab of the throttle and gear change strikes the emotional chord like a slam dunk, and tugs on the heartstrings more than any other hot hatch on the market. There’s no shortage of desire here.


Photo Gallery:













Model: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core

Paint Type: White
Base Price: $45,490

Price as Tested: $45,490
Wheelbase(mm): 2,642
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,405 / 1,851 / 1,479

Curb weight (kg): 1,479
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder
Horsepower: 300 hp
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD

Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.1 / 8.3 / 9.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.3





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