2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review and Test Drive
This new hot hatch is small but mighty.
The new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla — a tire-smoking, corner-carving, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, stick-shift version of the Corolla five-door hatchback — exists to stir up a little excitement. It's also here to remind people that the automaker can build thrilling vehicles — and maybe bring in a few new buyers more interested in S curves than spreadsheets.
The speedy-small-car recipe has historically brought driving-enthusiast credibility to other brands, even for short periods. Today, in addition to the 2023 GR Corolla, the entries serving a highly engaged customer base include the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Elantra N, and Subaru WRX, among others.
The GR Corolla hatch, which offers elements of Toyota's motorsport-focused Gazoo Racing, comes in Core, Circuit Edition, and Morizo Edition trim levels. Base prices range from the mid-$30,000s to the low $50,000s, including the destination charge to ship the car from the Motomachi, Japan, factory that builds it to your local dealership.
For this GR Corolla review, I test-drove the range-topping Morizo Edition in Tucson, Arizona. It came with extra-cost Smoke gray matte-finish exterior paint, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $52,640, including the $1,095 destination charge. Toyota provided the vehicle for this GR Corolla review.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review: The Design
The new Toyota GR Corolla is anything but subtle, and that's the point. With long-established rivals vying for the same buyers in the sport-compact-car space, such as the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI, the GR Corolla ought to stand out.
The show starts with bulges in all the right places. On the Circuit Edition and Morizo Edition, a bump in the hood houses the GR Corolla's lively 300-hp three-cylinder turbocharged engine. Toyota stuffs the overt fender flares with large summer performance tires. Up front, sizable brake cooling ducts flank a feisty bulldog grille, and functional air-extractor vents decorate each front fender. These versions of the car also have a roof constructed of carbon fiber. At the rear, there's a functional roof spoiler and a rear bumper punctuated by a brassy three-pipe center-exit exhaust.
You'll find a pair of heated, manually adjustable, high-back front sport seats with aggressive lateral thigh and lower torso support in the cabin. Still, the seats are surprisingly comfortable. Cloth is standard in the base Core trim, while the Circuit and Morizo Editions upgrade to artificial leather and simulated suede. All GR Corollas get a 12.3-inch digital driver display.
With the Core and Circuit Edition models, you can bring extra passengers along for the ride, thanks to a rear bench seat. The car's trunk holds 17.8 cubic feet of cargo, but you can expand the space by folding the back seat.
The Morizo Edition ditches the rear seat to save weight and instead includes an angled barrier to prevent cargo from sliding forward into the front seatbacks during hard braking. There's also a structural cross brace between the rear wheelhouses of the Morizo Edition to improve body rigidity and handling response. The brace bifurcates the cargo area, complicating the ability to carry long items flat on the cargo floor.
Aside from a pair of cupholders and a small flat area beneath the dash, console storage is minimal due to the console-mounted mechanical handbrake, all-wheel-drive mode selector, and manual shifter. The glovebox, however, is a decent size, and there is a fair amount of storage in the door pockets.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review: The Technology
The bulk of the technology in Toyota's new hot hatch relates to its special mechanical bits and go-fast tweaks that make it a blast to drive. The infotainment system, safety features, and advanced driving-assistance systems (ADAS) are similar to the standard-issue 2023 Corolla hatchback.
The 2023 GR Corolla Morizo Edition test car's infotainment system runs the latest Toyota Audio Multimedia platform through an 8.0-inch touchscreen display. Highlights include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, and several connected services plans with free trial subscriptions of varying lengths.
The connected service plans include Safety Connect (SOS emergency calling, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle tracking), Wi-Fi Connect, Remote Connect (remote access to door locks, car-finder function), and Drive Connect. With an active subscription to Drive Connect, the infotainment system features natural voice recognition and a cloud-based navigation system.
I had no trouble quickly and easily pairing my Samsung Android phone using the prompts on the infotainment screen. It also asked me if I wanted to use Android Auto, which was a wise call because Toyota had not yet established the test vehicle's Drive Connect account. Android Auto made it easy to issue voice commands to request directions to nearby point-of-interest locations and seamlessly provided map and turn-by-turn voice instructions to reach them.
I also used Android Auto to stream my favorite music from my Pandora app to the GR Corolla's no-frills sound system. Frankly, the music that most entertained me was the engaging soundtrack broadcasting from the GR Corolla's melodic, three-outlet exhaust.
Toyota equips the GR Corolla with 10 airbags, a backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. In addition, it comes with the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 collection of ADAS. Elements of TSS 3.0 include a forward-collision warning system with pedestrian, cyclist, and motorcyclist detection and automatic emergency braking. The GR Corolla also has lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, road-sign assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control.
The backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert systems were the most useful during my evaluation. The improved lane-keeping and lane-centering technologies did better than previous iterations of the systems at maintaining lane discipline where distinct lane markings were not always present. Still, I found them most suitable for use on major, well-maintained highways.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have posted crashworthiness test results for this model.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review: The Drive
Under the GR Corolla's hood lurks a turbocharged 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine rated to generate 300 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. In the Core and Circuit Edition trims, the engine offers 273 pound-feet of torque from 3,000 to 5,500 rpm. The Morizo Edition, with more turbo boost, punches out 295 lb-ft but with a richer midrange from 3,250 to 4,600 rpm. With the lighter, 3,186-pound Morizo Edition, Toyota says the hot hatch can scoot from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. That's not push-you-back-in-the-seat fast, but it's plenty quick.
All GR Corolla models have a six-speed manual transmission. The shifter has short throws and precise gates, although it's not quite as delightful to use as the stick in the Honda Civic Type R. The GR Corolla's clutch offers a generous engagement zone and smooth shifts with moderate effort.
A full-time GR Four All-Wheel Drive system is also standard. The driver can adjust the percentage of drive torque sent to the front and rear wheels using a console dial with three settings. For daily driving, the recommendation is the 60:40 setting. Toyota recommends the 50:50 setting for track use, which sends each tire the same amount of drive torque. There's also a 30:70 mode for drifters looking for a tail-out driving experience.
All GR Corolla models gain performance cred over the standard-issue Corolla with 18-inch summer performance tires, quicker steering, and larger four-wheel-disc brakes with ventilated and slotted rotors.
The Morizo Edition ups the GR Corolla performance ante with a wider rear track, a lower ride height, and extra-wide 245/40R-18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 performance tires on forged alloy wheels.
Last fall, Toyota offered me the opportunity to drive the GR Corolla Morizo Edition on the track at Utah Motorsports Park. The GR Corolla proved itself a genuine performance car comfortable with a well-calibrated blend of acceleration, cornering, and braking abilities.
Those same dynamically balanced attributes also served the car well when I drove the GR Corolla for a week on public streets, albeit with traffic. Toyota's newest hot hatch is fun to run up through the gears, and I found the car tackled the turns and twisty stretches of the road with agility, responsiveness, and unfailing four-wheel-drive traction with nary a peep out of the sticky Michelin Cup 2 tires. The generously sized 14.0-inch front, 11.7-inch rear ventilated disc brakes offered a firm pedal and drama-free stops.
Regarding fuel economy, the GR Corolla's 24 mpg EPA estimate doesn't warrant bragging rights. I saw a mere 19.5 mpg in a week of driving with a heavy right foot. With the GR Corolla's small 13.2-gallon fuel tank, the observed 19.5-mpg average fuel economy made for a short, action-filled, 257-mile cruising range — but what a cruise it was.
Is the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla a Good Car?
Few people likely need a four-door, two-seat car. Maybe a few more would want a sporty Morizo Edition to play show and tell at the next Cars and Coffee gathering.
As a performance derivative of the standard-issue Toyota Corolla hatchback, the GR Corolla already has the value, reputation for reliability, and safety gear to be competitive in the hot-hatch segment. To stand out, I believe Toyota was right to go with the cobbled-together, tuner-car look of the GR Corolla.
The GR Corolla is a relentless blast to drive. And Toyota has enough clout with performance-minded buyers who traditionally have favored Hondas, Subarus, and Volkswagens to do well in this space.