2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review

2023 Toyota GR Corolla - This is not just another Corolla... if you know, you know.


The Corolla is America's best-selling nameplate and dates to 1966 with 12 different generations. There are two letters that separate this car from the rest of the Corolla lineup in a very big way. The GR Corolla is a hot hatch that seats five passengers and is available in three trims known as Core, Premium and Circuit Edition. All GR Corolla models are powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter 3-cylinder engine. The high revving, compact-yet-powerful motor outputs 300 hp at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000-5,500 rpm. All models come standard with GR-FOUR all-wheel drive and pair exclusively with a 6-speed manual transmission.  It comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 which includes features such as Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, and Automatic High Beams. Other standard safety features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, hill start assist control and rear seat reminder.

Pricing starts at $36,100 for the Core, $39,920 for the Premium, and $44,740 for the Circuit Edition. Competitors include the Acura Integra Type S, Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Elantra N, Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI and Golf R. I spent a week in the GR Corolla Core with a price tag of $40,159 and here's what stood out.

Exterior Style (+)
At first glance it blends in with any other Corolla hatchback, but upon closer observation you'll see that the GR Corolla sports widened fender flares, unique wheels/tires, and unique badging. Up front, menacing LED lights flank the wide black grille featuring integrated LED fog lamps and GR badging. The forged carbon fiber roof on the Circuit Editions is matched with a matte black roof-mounted shark fin antenna. The Core grade features an aluminum hood with a color-keyed roof and matching shark fin antenna, gloss black power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and gloss black window molding.

At the rear, all models feature a rear lower bumper cover with functional air vents, which come in gloss black on the Circuit Edition. Three exhaust pipes match the three cylinders with one at the center of the rear bumper.  The tapering of the roof and rear pillars are complemented by a high mounted black rear sport spoiler on the Circuit Edition and a color matched rear-lip spoiler on the Core grade. The wide track and flaring of the rear fenders emphasize the car's wide, low silhouette, with a ground clearance of 5.3 inches. Overall proportions are good as it looks good from all angles.

Wheels / Tires (+/-)
Standard on the Core  and Premium model are 18" gloss black 15-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires. Circuit models get 18" gloss-black 10-spoke forged-alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40R18  Michelin Pilot Sport 4 high-performance summer tires. Premium models Plan to purchase a second set of winter tires in the Midwest.  

GR Factory Quality Control (+)
Did you know that all GR Corolla's are built in a dedicated Gazoo Racing Factory in Motomachi, Japan? It is the birthplace of legends such as the Lexus LFA and Supra A80 and is now home to the first GR production line, where GR Corolla and GR Yaris are assembled. The body and component assembly lines comprise several different cells connected by automatic guided vehicles rather than  conveyors featured in conventional car plants. This fully flexible method of working, with many manual assembly techniques, enables precise body and suspension alignment, with variations in vehicle dimensions and weight kept to a minimum.

Being assembled by experts means that each GR Corolla takes longer than a conventional mass-produced car. The assembly line has been streamlined for precision, with elements such as body alignment and weld checks to ensure that each GR Corolla is crafted with meticulous care and attention.

Power (+)
As mentioned, all models come standard with a 300-horsepower turbocharged 3-cylinder engine with 273 lb.-ft. of torque. This impressive output attributes 100 horsepower to each cylinder and can get from 0-60 MPH in just about 5 seconds. Pushing it to the floor will evoke a nice exhaust tone to remind others this isn't grandma's Corolla. Peak torque output on the Core grade and Circuit Edition hits between 3,000-5,500 rpm, with max horsepower at 6,500 rpm. It is so well-tuned to be a drivers' car. The power distribution is natural at all speeds around town and on the racetrack. It's spunky off the line and eases into turns. I drove this on the Road America Racetrack and was beyond impressed with its trackability.

An available performance package for $1,180 includes front and rear Torsen Limited Slip Differentials , 4-piston aluminum fixed-caliper disc brakes, red-painted calipers with GR logo; 14-in. x 1.1-in. ventilated and slotted rotors (front), and 2-piston aluminum fixed-caliper disc brakes with red-painted calipers and GR logo; 11.7-in. x 0.7-in. ventilated rotors (rear).

Manual Transmission (+)

A car like this should come in manual and Toyota did not disappoint, in fact they made it the only option.  The intelligent manual transmission in engaging with a short throw shifter and moderately tuned clutch. Rev-matching is available but can also be turned off.  Additionally, drive modes consisting of Eco, Sport, Track, and Custom will alter the dynamics for the various driving conditions.

Handling (+)
With a low center of gravity and standard Independent MacPherson-type strut front suspension with circuit-tuned coil springs, shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars, the GR Corolla's suspension is designed to maximize power delivery to all four wheels and provide optimum cornering capability on all surfaces. The rear suspension uses a double wishbone type multilink system that also accommodates the AWD system's goal of maximum agility and stability.

Toyota's GR-FOUR All-Wheel-Drive drivetrain brings rally-inspired engineering to the GR Corolla. With the twist of a dial or a push for Track mode, drivers can adjust the GR-FOUR system to fit a variety of road conditions and driving styles with 60-40, 50-50 or 30-70 torque distribution to the front and rear wheels.

Passing and merging on the highway is easy (and fun) in this car. It's a small, unassuming hatch that zips in and out. It's smooth through the shifts and rides like a fancy go-kart. The tires are grippy around corners with minimal weight shift.  Steering is light, but it feels confident and grounded to the pavement. Its tuned suspension manages road imperfections well, but with just enough feeling. And the fixed caliper disc brakes  with ventilated and slotted rotors are well-matched with ample stopping power.  Overall, Toyota has found a sweet spot in the GR Corolla's tuning that make it fun enough for an enthusiastic drive, but also calm enough for daily driving.

Fuel Economy (+/-)
Fuel economy is average for the segment. EPA estimates 21/28/24 MPG city/highway/combined. It has a 13.2-gallon fuel tank that will offer around 300 miles of driving range on premium grade fuel.

Interior (+/-)
Hopping inside, the GR Corolla sports a simple, but well-built cabin. For the most part, it is nearly identical to any other Corolla which is satisfactory, but not nearly as impressive as what is under the hood. Materials are average and feel less premium than some competitors. Drivers face a 12.3" digital information cluster and popping up at the center of dash is a n 8" multimedia touchscreen. The slim center console features a wireless phone charger tucked under the dash and the manual gear shifter positioned where the driver's arm is naturally positioned. Some mixed materials would better differentiate the GR Corolla from a standard one.

Seats (+/-)

While much of the interior is like the rest of the Corolla lineup, the GR models do get sport seats that keep the driver and passenger snug . Core models are finished with black and silver details, fabric trimmed sport seats with gray stitching and GR badged headrests.  The seats are comfortable with a good amount of cushioning, bolstering and space for adults. Head, leg, and shoulder room were all sufficient. A 6-way adjustable driver's seat with suede covered sheet seatback pocket; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat with seatback pocket are standard on the Core grade. Rear seats comfortably accommodated three kids, but leg room would be tight for three adults. Heated front seats and heated steering wheel are standard on the Circuit Edition and are available with the Cold Weather package option on Core grade.

The Circuit Edition's interior is finished in black with red trim details around the door handles, center console, steering wheel, and side air vents. For an added touch, a leather wrapped "Morizo" signed shift knob comes on the launch year Circuit Edition. Drivers and front passengers are cradled by Brin-Naub suede and synthetic leather-trimmed sport seats with red stitching, red mesh inserts, seat back pockets and GR badged headrests.

Cargo (+/-)
There is 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats which is less than the Golf R (19.9 cu. ft.) and Civic Type R (24.5 cu. ft.). There is some hidden cargo space under the rear floor and storage bins on either side if needed. Rear seats do fold down for expanded  cargo room.

Technology (+/-)
One of the major tech differences for the GR Corolla compared to the regular Corolla is its 12.3" digital cluster behind the steering wheel.  It incorporates a display for the turbocharger boost levels, gear position, tachometer, and AWD mode. The brightly lit display is designed for easy viewing in any condition and even features a start-up GR animation. Graphics are average.

All GR Corollas feature Toyota's all-new, North American developed Audio Multimedia system displayed on an 8-inch touchscreen. It wirelessly connects with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with ease and functions well. The system is intuitive, easy to navigate and can also be controlled via the steering wheel or the "Hey Toyota" virtual assistant. Core models come standard with a 6-speaker stereo while the Circuit Edition offers an enhanced audio experience with an available eight speaker JBL Premium Audio system including an eight-channel, 800-watt amplifier. Overall, it offers everything you need without too much flash.

Final Statement
The GR Corolla is built to be a performance car and it does so very well. Its impressive 3-cylinder engine packs sufficient power to engage the driver both on the track and on the streets. The standard manual transmission is pure fun, and the car sounds good too. The interior is acceptable, but not overly impressive. The value in the GR Corolla is under the hood and with its subtle, but impactful exterior styling upgrades. Those that know cars will be impressed with this hot hatch and everyone else will appreciate the value in the Corolla nameplate.

First Impression Summary

Test Vehicle:
2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Exterior Color:  Supersonic Red
Interior Color: Black Cloth
Notable Options: Cold Weather Package ($500), Special Color ($425), Performance Package ($1,180), Technology Package ($770)
Price as tested: $40,159 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.