Sunday, March 26, 2023
First Reviews 2023 Toyota GR Corolla First Drive Review: Attack Corolla

2023 Toyota GR Corolla First Drive Review: Attack Corolla

I love the new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla, possibly enough to trade in my 2021 Type R

  • The new 2023 GR Corolla is priced from $45,490 in Canada and $35,900 in the US.

  • The GR Corolla is bonkers and possibly the best new hot hatch.

  • Like the new Civic Type R, if you want one, better get in touch with someone at Toyota NOW.

Cowichan, BC. GADZOOKS! Sorry, I mispronounced Gazoo Racing… In all seriousness, this is the final piece of the new sport compact car segment I will drive in 2022 and it’s clear to me now that I have saved the best for last. The all-new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla has come out of left field and smacked all of its competition in the face.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Really, I feel like cussing, something along the lines of “@%!?#\∞/£¡]$!!!” This unpronounceable exclamation summarizes how I felt the moment I stepped out of the GR Corolla after my first few hot laps of the superb Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit. Look, it’s really simple: this new car is everything it is supposed to be, it met and surpassed expectations – it is a riot and it is brilliant.

Contrary to the new 2023 Honda Civic Type R, the new GR Corolla is not a follow-up act that needs to impress more than the car it replaces – something the new Type R could not do in my opinion. Let’s be clear: The new Type R is exceptional but it’s not the Type R Type R buyers, owners, and fans likely wanted. On the other hand, this is the GR Corolla GR Corolla enthusiasts hoped it would be.

3 Cylinders of FURY

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Unlike Honda, Toyota did not cater to a crowd of a certain age with disposable income and an image issue. The Japanese auto giant aimed squarely at fanboys and fangirls knowing full well that there’d be more than enough of them willing and ready to part with at least $45,000 and more for a chance to own one of these automotive gems.

The 2023 GR Corolla party starts with a turbocharged 1.6L 3-cylinder engine. Immediately upon start-up, it unapologetically burbles and won’t get any quieter. In fact, under firm to hard throttle, the 3-pot comically sounds like a tractor engine, but it will never be mistaken for one. With 300hp at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb.-ft. of torque from 3,000 to 5,500 rpm, this Corolla will never be mistaken for your 89-year-old Meema’s Corolla. Available only with a 6-speed manual transmission, the compact hatchback launches to 100km/h from a standstill in 4.99 seconds.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The manual transmission itself if hyper-rewarding to use. Though not as mechanically refined as the new Type R’s (no other manual gearbox is) gear-shift action, the GR Corolla’s throws are light and crisp. Coupled with perfect pedal placement and immediate throttle response, this car holds the best manual gearbox I’ve ever experienced in a FWD/AWD Toyota. At the event, we also got to track a GR86 and a GR Supra manual. The former’s ‘box is epic, but we knew that.

It is a real RIOT

Though quick, the GR Corolla isn’t the fastest to the tonne in the segment due mostly to the absence of an automatic transmission – I ain’t care. What it is however is devastatingly gifted where it truly matters. On the track, the sub-3,300lb AWD hatchback will with little doubt teach a corner-carving masterclass to all of its competitors.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The standard GR FOUR AWD system is the gift that keeps on giving no matter the road’s surface, paved or otherwise. With included front and rear Torsen limited slip differentials, the GR Corolla is a force of momentum. Torque split can manually be set to 60/40, 50/50, and 30/70 (front/rear) via a selector wheel enabling the driver to precisely select the desired amount of power distribution front to rear. It may not offer fancy torque vectoring like the Volkswagen Golf R but sensing the front differential claw at the pavement on an off-camber up-hill left-hander is all the convincing I need to know that this is a superior track talent.

So the GR Corolla does without a Drift mode, or adaptive dampers, and is only about 125lbs lighter than the Golf R, its closest rival, but from the driver’s seat, the Toyota feels more alert, lithe, and alive. Engineers over at GR focused on performance basics only whereas the German engineers needed to cover up the Golf’s potential rawness with layers of civility to please buyers.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Sophisticated and Fast-R

After driving the Golf R, Type R, new and old, and the GR Corolla, I’ve had a mild change of heart. There was a time when the grownup Golf’s behaviour is what I favoured but as we move slowly and surely towards electrification, I find that I need more than ever to experience and feel something.

I for one feared that the absence of adjustable dampers would hamper the on-road drive but such was not the case. I’ll admit that I drove on only smooth paved roads and one brief stretch on a hard-packed dirt surface only to discover no real shortcomings. That may change in the Greater Montreal area. On the track, the 2023 GR Corolla demonstrated surefootedness and unflappable grip that made the GR Supra feel clumsy (this was not the right track for the coupe). Roll and pitch are negligible even under massive braking or acceleration. At the same time, yaw can be controlled based on differential control and throttle application. Basically, the GR Corolla is a canvas to be manipulated as desired by the driver no matter how hard it is pushed.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla is raw, unfiltered, and downright rude. It’s buzzy and raucous, and always playful. Steering is spot-on in all respects. In my video, I note that on-center assistance drops slightly however I’ve come to revise that statement as I drove the car more after the shoot. Frankly, I prefer its linearity over that of the new 2023 Type R and as much as my 2021 FK8 Type R. Finally, the ventilated discs at all four corners crushed by fixed calipers (4-piston front, 2-piston rear) handled the speed and severe braking through elevation changes (98 meters total) like they were designed for the job.

A few words on the Morizo

Hot damn! For the Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires wrapped around forged alloy wheels, an extra 20 feet of structural adhesive, the red/black Ultrasuede on the seats and steering wheel, the supplemental bracing and rear-seat delete, and extra torque are clear and present signs that this is the GR Corolla to get.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

In fact, tracking both a Circuit and Morizo back-to-back reveals that the latter is a different car. Its rigidity and chassis responsiveness are almost shocking. Because of the extra bracing, tires, and lighter curb weight (about 70lbs less than the Core, 100lbs less than the Circuit), the Morizo is unflinching and unphased by driver inputs. Sadly, I can’t really add to this other than saying there will only be 10 for sale in Canada and you’ll probably not get one of the $59,990 cars even if you try.

Based on a Corolla hatchback

Kudos to Toyota for building the GR Corolla from a 5-door hatchback. And bravo for adhering to a proper aftermarket look, much like the FK8 Civic Type R. The rear quarter panels have extra plastic tacked on, as do the rear doors, while the front and rear bumpers look like they came out of a box ordered from The Racer’s Edge. Though this may sound crude, I could not be happier with how the car sits.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The standard 18-inch wheels are superb but there’s something to be said about the Circuit’s vented and bulged hood, larger rear spoiler, and carbon fibre roof. Even so, I’m not convinced these features are worth the extra $8,500 required over the $45,490 Core.

As standard, the GR Corolla includes heated front sport seats, a 12.3-inch digital cluster, an 8-inch infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and more – essentially all the best bits from the regular Corolla.

And the worst ones, at least for me. The Corolla hatchback has a useless trunk and an even more hopeless rear bench seat. There’s no way it could replace our 2021 Type R but it would make a monstrously entertaining addition to the family fleet.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre


Get one. Not enough budget? Get a Subaru WRX. Want to pretend like you’re a grown-up? Get a Volkswagen Golf R. Prefer FWD and on a budget? Get a Honda Civic Si. Prefer RWD? Get a Toyota GR86 (or Subaru BRZ) if on a budget or, with some extra coin in hand, get the new muscle car in town, the Nissan Z.

This IS a golden era of sports cars. And I’ve been Corolla Attacked and I loved it.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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