2023 Toyota GR Corolla
You can have a ton of fun for less than $40k
3 cylinders? 300 horses? Manual Transmission? The GR Corolla is a special car.
By J-F Wright
Thu, Jul 27, 2023 10:32 PM PST
Images by the author J-F Wright unless noted otherwise.
What Is A Toyota GR Corolla? A hatchback track-car with 3 cylinders and 300 horsepower meant for the entusiast driver who wants to be able to take his daily driver on a track for a fun-filled day. That’s the GR Corolla.
3 cyl -> 300 hp
First things first: Yes, the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla only has three cylinders - it’s a 1.6 liter 3-cylinder turbo. Also yes, each of those cylinders produces 100 horsepower, brining the grand total for the GR Corolla to 300 horsepower. That’s a lot of power for any car, but especially so for a car that only weighs 3252 pounds. That’s almost one hp per ten pounds of car. Impressive!
A Car-Person’s Car
Midway through my one-week loan of the GR I went with my three girls (10, 8, 6 years old) to our local plant nursery. As I pulled into the parking lot we all noticed the young-ish couple where the guy was having a hard time keeping his head from swiveling off his shoulders as I went by. Obviously he was a car guy, and it seems the lady was too. She realized that her man had stopped listening to her and was looking at something else. The noise coming from the GR quickly pointed her in the right direction.
They both stopped and (not physically pointing at our car, but close to it) took in the sight of a 2023 Toyota GR Corolla pulling up. My kids noted the extra attention we were getting, and I made a comment that “anybody who knows cars, will know this car… These folks obviously know cars”. We chatted with them, and answered some questions on our thoughts of the GR Corolla. Turns out they had just arrived in their VW R32 - also a car-person’s car.
This repeated a few times during our review week, with people of all ages and sexes giving the GR Corolla an extra look-over.
Not Just A Boy’s Car
The GR Corolla is a very fun car to drive. Its meant-for-the-track handling is very apparent on everyday streets, and the acceleration never gets old. Add to that the manual transmission and you’ll have a great time!
I’m a relatively mature (read: boring) gentleman. I’m the guy who will look up and sigh when a 20-something rolls into a parking lot with a Mustang cabriolet, music blasting and engine roaring. I do, however, remember my twenties, and had I had a cabriolet I would have probably done the same thing (not worrying about burning my yet-to-bald head)… The Toyota GR Corolla brings out that boy in me.
Thankfully, even in a GR, I remember that I have a lot to loose and my years of wisdom keep my young-boy-syndrome somewhat in check… At least keeping me from doing anything that’ll get me an expensive ticket (at best) or endanger myself and/or others on the road.
Drive & Handling (Sporty Driving)
The Michelin Pilot Sport tires do a great job grabbing the asphalt and help out in transforming the 300 horses into acceleration. Furthermore, this mini-beast has an adjustable all-wheel drive system - “GR-FOUR in Toyota talk - where you can set the ratio to either 60:40 (40% power to the front tires) or 70:30. Even though the difference is somewhat small, it’s still noticeable. Throttling around corners at 70:30 is a pleasurable experience, whereas the 60:40 will get the front tires to squeal a bit much.
Prior to hitting the AWD systems and tires, though, all that power needs to pass through the 6-speed manual transmission. Designated an “iMT” - intelligent Manual Transmission with rev-matching - this manual transmission is a bit smarter than average. When shifting gears the transmission will adjust the throttle to the correct level as you enter the gear. So, without the driver actually having to do anything (other than shift), the GR Corolla will downshift like a pro. And given the great engine noise coming out the back, it’s a pleasure for all - inside and outside the car.
A car this light and with this much power, meant for track driving, needs great stopping power. Thankfully the 14-in (front) and 11.7-in (rear) brakes get the job done really well, and with the exceptionally tight suspension you won’t feel the car lean forward when you slam on them. Actually, thanks to the tight handling, you won’t feel much body roll at all. Point the GR Corolla where you want it to go and it seems to be able to handle a lot of throttle or braking without missing a beat. Almost too confidence-inspiring, there is definitely an outer limit as to how hard you can push this car (and any other car), but to find that limit you’ll need a track (unlike many other cars).
Drive & Handling (Day-To-Day)
For a special car like the GR Corolla we’ve needed to adjust the headings. Two “Drive & Handling” sections are necessary - this is a track-car, but also a daily driver… For the (over)ambitious driver the GR Corolla will handle nicely, both on and off the track. For the mellow drive around town it’ll be a bit different from what one might usually experience. This car was built for the track, with tight steering, tight suspension, and a manual transmission.
Continuously being bounced around - feeling every one of the road’s imperfections - on a cross-country roadtrip would get old real fast. There are better cars for that. For the car aficionado, this is probably a moot point, especially if they are the type of driver who intentionally would choose the twisty back road to spend an entire roadtrip whipping around corners. For that person, this is an epic car.
Living With A GR Corolla
But, what’s it like when dropping off kids at an activity or in the Costco parking lot after a purchasing accident..? The quick answer is that it’ll do both quite fine*.
Let me elaborate on that asterisk: The back seat has three seatbelts, and sans car seats or boosters you’ll be able to stick three small butts back there. In our case, with a car seat and a booster, it will not fit more than two little ones. So, for the more common “family of four” it’ll work well.
As for the Costco conundrum (where one finds a great deal and makes a purchase, only to realize that it might not fit in the car) one might need to limit their Costco-runs to include only two people. This is, after all, a hatchback (man I love hatchbacks!), and that means that you can fold the rear seats and cram a whole bunch of stuff in there.
The interior of the GR Corolla is definitely sporty - but without taking away from the ability to use it as a daily driver: Comfortable, yet tight, front bucket seats. Sport pedals - the cool-looking no-slip kind - might finally come in handy in the GR, in many other “sport inspired” cars these pedals are just for show. GR badging to make sure you know what you are driving.
Thanks to the high ceiling in the rear (in turn thanks to the hatchback bulging exterior), it actually does not feel so small in the back seat - there is real space back there. Headroom for real adults, not just kids. The legroom is decent too, although the long-legged person will note that they get no under-leg support and they won’t be able to really stretch out in the back seat.
The GR Corolla does not disappoint the onlooker. Triple exhaust pipes line the rear. Functional scoops are visible both infront and behind the front wheels. The front is wide and aggressive and the way the rear bulges at the bottom makes it stick out quite a bit too. Black rims with red brakes complete the look, but some extra GR badging is thrown in for good measure.
That GR Noise
Oooh, that sound. It’s magnificent. When you start the Toyota GR Corolla you are immediately reminded that this is no ordinary small hatchback - the sounds of a track-car echo outside for all to enjoy. Inside of the GR you’ll hear it too - load and clear. The JBL sound system is great, but I’ll gladly spend my drive without it - letting my ears feast on the sounds of piston encapsulated explosions.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.