There are three words I never expected to use in the same sentence: Toyota, Corolla and fun.
That was before the debut of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla, the very definition of a hot hatchback. And, as I learned during a day at the Utah Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, it is the very definition of transformative, turning a bland five-door into the sort of tire-smoker that’s a blast to drive, whether on-track or on the street.
Barely a year after introducing the Corolla Cross CUV, Toyota is back with an entirely different take on its familiar compact nameplate. The newest edition to the line-up is a high-performance hatchback boasting a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine delivering a tire-spinning 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, putting it in league with the latest versions of the Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf R and Honda Civic Type-R.
The body undergoes a number of revisions — almost all of them functional — while the cabin adds grippy sports seats and dual digital displays.
For 2023, three versions of the Toyota GR Corolla will be offered, starting with the base Core model priced at $36,996 — including delivery fees — the Circuit edition at $43,995, and the Morizo at $50,995.
With each step up you wind up adding more performance-oriented features, including front and rear locking differentials. The Morizo adopts a less-is-more approach, shaving weight by deleting things like the rear seat in a bid for maximum performance.
(Oh, and if the name doesn’t resonate, Morizo is the nom de track adopted by Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda — who used it to continue his semi-professional racing career once he reached the C-suite at the generally conservative automaker.)
What starts out as a standard Corolla hatchback undergoes some significant exterior updates — most of them focused on functionality. The body is slightly widened, for one thing, and, along with the GR badges, the hatchback gets a distinctive matrix grille framed by narrow LED lamps adding to the aggressive look. There are new bumpers and fascia, front and back, and the GR gets a triple exhaust package reflecting its 3-cylinder engine.
Weight is the enemy of performance and the Gazoo racing team has taken a number of steps to limit bass, starting with lightweight aluminum used for the hood and front door panels. On the Circuit and Morizo models, meanwhile, it gets a carbon sheet-molded roof. The Morizo even deletes the rear windshield wiper.
Aerodynamics are equally critical and all versions feature a flat underbody and air curtains to reduce drag and turbulence. The Circuit and Morizo packages take the Core’s modest integrated rear spoiler and replace it with a more effective high wing.
Under the skin, the hatchback features a MacPherson strut-style suspension up front, and a rear multi-link double-wishbone design. The Circuit Edition adds several unique features, including front red brakes and LED foglamps.
The cabin of the GR Corolla goes through a welcome transformation, as well, the GR team opting for “race-inspired, driver-focused” sport seats.
The standard-issue gauge cluster, meanwhile, as been replaced by a 12.3-inch digital display. The infotainment system — which introduces Toyota’s new voice assistant technology — uses an 8-inch touchscreen.
There are sporty accents throughout the cabin, and niceties such as a tilt/telescope steering wheel.
To further save weight, the rear seat of the Morizo edition has been removed — the track-focused model even sacrificing six of the eight speakers found on the Circuit and Core editions.
The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla makes some impressive numbers, all the more so considering it’s pulling from a modest-sized 1.6-liter 3-cylinder engine. In its base Core configuration, the package punches out 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
To put that into perspective, the standard-issue Corolla hatchback’s 1.8-liter 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve engine manages a mere 139 hp and 126 lb-ft.
The Gazoo edition body slams the newly redesigned Subaru WRX and falls just short of the 306 hp and 295 lb-ft delivered by the Honda Civic Type-R. And the numbers are even closer with the GR Corolla Morizo edition which boosts torque to 295 lb-ft.
Power on all models is directed through a short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox and goes to all four wheels through the racing-tuned GR-Four all-wheel-drive system. Drivers can choose from several mode settings, with the GR Corolla nominally pumping 60% of its torque to the front wheels when driving on the street. For the track, it starts with an even 50/50 split, while that goes to 70% rearward when set to Drift mode.
Both the Circuit and Morizo models come standard with front and rear limited-slip differentials. That’s an option on the Core package.
Safety and Technology
The 2023 GR Corolla doesn’t skimp on the advanced driver assistance technology, offering the same Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 features found in the base Corolla. While some systems come as upgrades, all models get welcome features including forward crash avoidance technology with pedestrian detection, as well as active cruise control.
The hatchback swaps out its conventional analog gauges for a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, with an 8-inch touchscreen handling infotainment duties. Nice under perfect lighting conditions, but, like a number of other recent Toyota models, the gauge cluster tends to be surprisingly difficult to read under bright lighting — like what we faced during a hot summer day in Utah.
The GR Corolla also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard across the board. Meanwhile, in its effort to save weight, the Morizo package eliminated six of the eight speakers found in the Core and Circuit models.
Other tech features — depending on model and option package — include cloud-based navigation, an onboard WiFi hotspot and Toyota’s newest voice assistant-based infotainment system.
I’d challenge even the most hard-core performance drivers to finish a few laps in the GR Corolla without cracking a smile. Spending time on a track like the Utah Motorsports Park certainly comes as a revelation for anyone used to the rest of the Corolla line.
I intentionally chose to work my way up the line, starting with the base Core model. With modest expectations I took my first lap of the winding, 2-mile track and quickly realized that this machine likes to be exercised. The GR team has done a lot more than just amp up the engine. Every aspect of the car’s manners has been upgraded. Steering proved precise and predictable. The manual transmission was easy to run through the gears. The suspension minimized body roll and helped keep the tires firmly planted through even the tightest turns.
The Circuit edition took things up a notch, with much of the credit going to the twin differentials. They helped manage left-to-right torque and made it even easier to power through corners. The oversized brakes, meanwhile, readily scrubbed off excess speed.
The real revelation came when I slipped behind the wheel of the Morizo. It might not seem like much, but the extra 22 pound-feet of torque proved substantial on track, coming on low in the REV ban and helping me launch out of the circuit’s corners with plenty of momentum. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires were a clear plus. So were the added braces and structural adhesives, the stiffer body making the GR Corolla even easier to keep under control, even after I overcooked one particularly tricky corner — appropriately named “Maybe I’ll Make It.”
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Specifications
|Dimension||L: 173.5 inches/W: 72.9 inches/H: 58.2 inches/Wheelbase: 103.9 inches|
|Powertrain||1.6-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder, 6-speed manual transmission with GR Four AWD|
|Performance Specs||300 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $35,900; As tested: $50,995 including $1,095 delivery fees.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
Let me admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the conventional Corolla. Yes, it’s the car I’d recommend to folks who put quality and reliability at the top of their list. And at up to 53 mpg, it’s hard to beat from a fuel economy perspective. But it’s also the dictionary definition of plain vanilla.
Or so it was, until now. Suddenly, the GR Corolla plants a flag in an entirely different market segment. It’s fast. It delivers great handling. And with its quick-throw manual transmission it’s simply a lot of fun to drive.
And that could create an entirely new market for Toyota — even if it will barely move the needle in terms of overall sales. Americans bought just short of 250,000 Corollas in 2021. By comparison, Toyota expects to ship just 6,500 GR models to the U.S. during the 2023 model year. And that includes a mere 200 of the top-line Morizo edition.
So, if you want a combination of serious track and street performance, along with traditional Toyota Corolla attributes, you’d be amiss not to check out the new GR line. For the first time, the Japanese giant can stand tall against more familiar hot hatch players like Honda, Subaru and Volkswagen.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla — Frequently Asked Questions
How much will the GR Corolla cost?
The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla starts at $36,996 — including destination fees — for the base Core model. The Circuit edition starts at $43,995, while the Morizo comes in at $50,995.
Is the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla a limited edition?
Only about 6,500 will be shipped to the U.S. for 2023. The Circuit edition will only be offered for 2023, and about 1,500 will be earmarked for the States. As for the Morizo, 200 models will be shipped to the U.S. this year.
How fast is the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla?
While the factory has yet to release official numbers, estimates for the Core edition run around 4.4 seconds for the Morizo edition.