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Toyota GR Corolla Review: A Winning Return To Toyota’s Performance Car Roots

Running in the 2020s.

A Toyota GR Corolla on track.

Fast, fun, capable and just a bit crazy, the Toyota GR Corolla is uniquely refreshing: a true enthusiast’s car based on a well-loved family favourite that represents a return to form for Toyota.

  • All-wheel-drive, heaps of tech and plenty of power make it an engaging drive
  • It’s very practical; it’ll still do Corolla things
  • Compares very favourably to the GR Yaris as well as more expensive rivals

Toyota has made more than a few great sports cars over the years – but few have captured the car enthusiast’s imagination more than the AE86 Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno. The latter, made famous by the popular manga Initial D, is inarguably one of the most iconic Japanese cars ever made.

But it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a properly sporty Corolla like the AE86 hit our shores Down Under. Actually, it feels like Toyota, as well as the rest of Japan’s auto brands, have been letting the side down a little bit when it comes to affordable performance cars in recent years.

Never fear: the Toyota GR Corolla is here. Not only is it one of the best hot hatches on the market, but it’s a return to form for Toyota – and is a worthy successor to the fast Corollas of yore (even more than the GR86 which is named after the AE86, but let’s not worry about that…)

WATCH our 60-second review of the new Toyota GR Corolla below.

What makes the Toyota GR Corolla so special?

Actually, if we’re speaking about heritage, the GR Corolla probably owes more to the Celica GT-Four than it does the AE86. Unlike most previous hot Corollas, which have been either front- or rear-wheel-drive, the GR Corolla is an all-wheel-drive beast. That doesn’t mean you can’t get the back out, though – more on that later.

Like the GT-Four, the RICE is strong in this one, with the GR Corolla rocking an aggressive and bulky body kit that instantly sets it apart from your average Corolla. It looks extremely purposeful, but it’s not just for show: the GR Corolla’s wider track and bigger rims necessitate the body kit. Those bonnet vents and huge grille aren’t just for show, either.

What else has been changed from the standard Corolla? Well, compared to the standard Corolla hatch, which is only available in Australia with a CVT and a selection of four-cylinder engines, the GR Corolla is only available with a six-speed manual, and the same 1.6L turbocharged straight-three engine that powers the GR Yaris. In the GR Yaris, that engine makes 200kW/370Nm but in the GR Corolla, it’s been boosted up to 221kW.

According to Toyota, that puts the GR Corolla on par with the Bugatti Chiron for kW per litre of engine output… And while the GR Corolla isn’t exactly cheap at $62,300, that’s a lot cheaper than a Chiron, which will set you back $5.5 million. The GR Corolla is also cheaper than a CUPRA Leon VZx or Honda Civic Type R (both of which are front-wheel-drive only) as well as the Volkswagen Golf R, by the way.

The interior of a Toyota GR Corolla.
There’s still plenty of hard plastics, but the Toyota GR Corolla’s cockpit is a pretty good place to be.

The GR Corolla also sports a huge rear splitter and a rather ridiculous triple exhaust (one pipe for each cylinder!) which not only sounds amazing but helps reduce backpressure, hence the performance gains over the GR Yaris.

The interior of the GR Corolla is also much more premium than the regular Corolla, with sports bucket seats, aluminium pedals and a sportier, leather-wrapped steering wheel. One minor gripe is that the GR Corolla doesn’t have a proper armrest console like the standard Corolla (presumably to fit the big, bolstered bucket seats) but that’s not a big deal.

What’s the Toyota GR Corolla like to drive?

In short: f***ing great. Much like the new Ford Fiesta ST, dispel any notions that a three-cylinder can’t be fun: the GR Corolla has more than enough power. In fact, it might even have a bit too much.

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I had the chance to drive the GR Corolla around Sydney Motorsport Park (on one of the wettest days Sydney’s seen in recent memory), and the GR Corolla was deceptively fast. It’ll do 0-100 in 5.29 seconds but that figure doesn’t really sell just how prompt it is. There were a few times during my drive where I was caught off-guard by how fast I was going – “I’m doing 110 right now?” – because it just pulls.

It’s also unbelievably grippy. The Toyota GR Corolla is exceptionally planted, especially in its default 60:40 torque split mode. It just hangs and hangs on, meaning you can really dollop on the power in and out of turns.

A Toyota GR Corolla on track.
The Toyota GR Corolla is incredibly capable on the track.

The best bit about the GR Corolla is its intelligent manual mode that will rev-match for you. It’s pretty amazing; it’ll turn even a self-shifting novice into the next reincarnation of Ayrton Senna.

Another cool feature of the GR Corolla is its handbrake. First of all, you still get a manual handbrake, something surprisingly few modern sports cars give you. But that’s not the cool bit: the cool bit is that, unlike most manual cars, you don’t need to put the clutch in when you use it, as power is cut to the rear axle when you pull the handbrake up.

That means you don’t have to mess around with your left foot and instead use it to brace yourself, freeing you up to focus on steering input and power/braking. In layman’s terms, it makes it really easy to do big skids. And everyone likes doing big skids, yeah? I certainly liked doing big skids in the GR Corolla out on the skidpan at Sydney Motorsport Park, I have no shame in admitting.

Even being a total hoon, you feel completely confident in the GR Corolla. Maybe it’s because it’s a Toyota and feels appropriately bulletproof? It’s just a car that inspires so much faith in its driver, meaning you can really push it to the limits and eke out every ounce of performance.

There’s just something particularly fun about fast Corollas

Just the concept is somewhat titillating. The Toyota Corolla is, by several orders of magnitude, the best-selling car of all time. When you think of a car, you probably think of a Corolla: they are so unbelievably ubiquitous that sometimes it beggars belief. And that’s because they’re great cars.

A Toyota GR Corolla drifting.
It was only a little bit damp.

But they’re not sexy, not fun. They’re white goods on wheels… But the GR Corolla is fun. Wrap that boring Corolla in a boxy body kit, dial up the horsepower and pour hot sauce in its veins and you end up. There’s almost a sense of cognitive dissonance there. It’s a Corolla?

You get the same sort of vibe with the GR Yaris, GR’s other headline-grabbing hot hatch. You tell people that you’ve got a Yaris and they won’t be impressed, but then if you ever took them for a spin in it, you’d blow their tiny minds.

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Yet as good as the GR Yaris is, the GR Corolla is arguably a better car. The GR Yaris is a properly mental driver’s car; a rally homologation special that you just don’t see very often these days. But it’s not as practical or as powerful as the GR Corolla. (Subjectively, I also think the Corolla looks better.)

At the end of the day, the GR Corolla can still do Corolla things: it’ll fit 5 adults in comfort, haul plenty of groceries and do the school run, all in style. It’ll be reliable, even when you thrash it, and if it needs work, it won’t bankrupt you to get it fixed, and you can get it fixed just about anywhere… The GR Yaris is nowhere near as practical.

It’s also not a Corolla! Fast Corolla! Come on, what more do I need to say?

A Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition.
The Morizo Edition is even more mental than the normal GR Corolla.

The only thing that gets me more excited than the GR Corolla is the forthcoming GR Corolla Morizo Edition, which ups the torque, has a carbon fibre roof and no rear seats, despite still having four doors. I know I’ve just pontificated about how the GR Corolla is great because it’s practical, but in the same way that there’s a novelty factor about fast Corollas, there’s a novelty factor there about no rear seats. It’s silly and I love it.

This is what we’ve missed: Japanese car brands being silly. Toyota in the 90s embraced all sorts of weird stuff: twin turbos in the Supra, butterfly doors on the Sera, whacking a V12 in the Century…

The GR Corolla (and its stablemates, the GR Yaris, GR 86 and GR Supra) are a return to the innovative, sporty and a little bit silly Toyota of yesteryear. They’re making sports cars again that people can get really excited about, and that’s a very, very good thing.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla pricing

ModelSpecsPrice (AUD, before on-road costs)
Toyota GR Corolla GTS221kW/370Nm
0-100: 5.29 sec
Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition221kW/400Nm
0-100: 5.21 sec
limited to 25 units

Find out more about the Toyota GR Corolla at Toyota’s online showroom here.