2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review:Driving Impressions

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Sep 14, 2022

Introduction

There's a new ride in town for hot-hatch enthusiasts based on the 2023 Toyota Corolla 4-door hatchback. Wait. What? A high-performance hot-hatch Corolla? Wider and wilder than your basic Corolla hatchback econobox, this one is all about handling, power, and driving fun. As the latest edition to the three-strong Gazoo Racing portfolio of track-ready cars, the all-new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla hits the streets with a 300-horsepower 1.6-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged engine, 6-speed manual transmission, and driver-configurable all-wheel drive (AWD). It's the first high-performance AWD Toyota in 20 years.

Recently, I had a chance to don a helmet and drive the surprisingly engaging and tenaciously grippy hot hatch on the road course and access roads of Utah Motorsports Campus, about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Price and Release Date

There are three variants of the new GR Corolla: Core, Circuit Edition, and Morizo Edition. The Core and Circuit versions seat five passengers, and the Morizo just two. Toyota removed the rear seat and added cross bracing in the cargo area of the Morizo to stiffen the body for the rigors of track usage, which should give you a clue to just how serious this new hot-hatch entry is. That's right, a 4-door Toyota that seats just two, and when you experience the Morizo Edition, you'll understand why.

Including the $1,095 destination fee, pricing for the Core is $36,995, the more generously equipped Circuit Edition is $43,995, and the all-out Morizo Edition starts at $50,995. The Core grade will be on dealer lots in November 2022, with the Circuit and Morizo Editions arriving in Spring 2023.

I drove a Morizo Edition decked out in optional Smoke gray matte-finish paint, totaling $52,640 with destination.

Principle competitors include the Honda Civic Type R—all-new for 2023 with 315 hp but just front-wheel drive (6MT only); the Volkswagen Golf R—also at 315 hp and with 4Motion AWD (6MT or 7DCT); and the 276-hp front-drive Hyundai Elantra N (6MT or 8DCT).

Independent Expert Opinion: Design, Comfort, and Utility

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition Smoke Gray Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Critical to buyers taking a high-performance Corolla seriously is making it look the part. With established players out there like the legendary Honda Civic Type R, Toyota pulled out all the stops to give the GR Corolla a faster-looking and more furious persona. Some of it has a Son of Frankenstein tacked-on look, but that's the point. Toyota wanted the car to look built for the task.

For starters, the GR Corolla stands 2.3 inches wider than a regular-issue Corolla hatchback. Large, overt fender flares front and rear are stuffed with plus-sized summer performance tires. A snarling McNasty bulldog grille houses a pair of large air ducts, and there is an air extractor on each front fender. The Circuit and Morizo Editions sport a power-bulging aluminum hood with functional vents and a forged carbon-fiber roof. Each rendition of the GR Corolla gets its own bespoke roof spoiler: in body color on the Core, gloss black on the Morizo, and winged on the Circuit Edition. All three versions exhaust via Honda Civic Type R-like brushed stainless-steel triple exhaust outlets.

Inside, the front seats offer the same roominess and comfort as the basic Corolla, which is quite good. The manually adjustable high-back front buckets provide extra lateral thigh and torso support to help keep occupants planted in the twisty bits. The seats are cloth-covered in the Core trim level, heated and upgraded to faux-leather and Brin-Naub faux-velour coverings for the Circuit and Morizo Editions. Helping the driver get a grip are a leather-wrapped steering wheel and manual shifter in Core and Circuit trims and Ultrasuede-wrapped in the Morizo. The driver interacts with a 12.3-inch digital display with nifty GR startup animation, turbo boost, AWD configuration, gear-selected, and other relevant engine and vehicle information.

Rear-seat fare is a roomy 60/40 split-folding bench except for the Morizo Edition, which removes the rear seat to save weight and adds lateral structural reinforcements to stiffen the body for serious track work.

Independent Expert Opinion: Infotainment, Technology, and Safety

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition Gray Interior Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

Most of the 2023 GR Corolla's product enhancements involve go-fast and high-performance driving hardware. However, the 2023 GR Corolla shares the same upgrades to its infotainment and advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) as the other 2023 Corolla models.

On the infotainment front, the GR models get the 2023 Corolla's next-generation multimedia system developed for U.S. applications. Elements include:

  • 8-inch infotainment touchscreen
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Over-the-air updates
  • 6-speaker Audio Plus stereo for Core and Morizo Editions
  • 8-speaker JBL Premium Audio with a 3-year trial of Dynamic Navigation with enhanced voice recognition and Google enhanced POI search for Circuit Edition
  • 3-month trial of SiriusXM satellite radio
  • Wi-Fi connect vehicle hotspot with a 30-day trial
  • One-year trial of Drive Connect, including Intelligent Assistant
  • One-year trial of Remote Connect with remote lock/unlock, remote engine start, and other functions

The Intelligent Assistant function with Drive Connect enables interior occupants to adjust cabin temperature, change audio sources, ask for directions, and more with voice control after using a wake-up phrase such as "Hey Toyota."

The 2023 Corolla also updates to the newest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 ADAS system. It includes:

Also standard with every GR Corolla is blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, and a reversing camera.

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition Smoke Gray Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Expectations were low when Toyota first announced that the GR version of the Corolla would have a 3-cylinder engine. The G16E-GTS, however, is not just any 1.6-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged engine, but one producing 100 hp from each of its three cylinders. More specifically, it makes 300 hp at 6500 rpm. It's also the power plant under the hood of the Euro-spec GR Yaris.

Torque is generous as well. In the Core Grade and Circuit Edition, the 3-cylinder turbo offers 273 pound-feet from 3000 to 5500 rpm. With more turbo boost, the peakier Morizo makes 295 pound-feet, but from 3250 to 4600 rpm. That's good in the 3,200-pound hot hatch, Toyota says, for zero-to-60-mph runs in just under 5 seconds flat. It's hooked exclusively to a 6-speed manual gearbox; no automatic transmission is available. And it comes standard with GR Four AWD.

About that AWD: A driver-selectable knob on the center console allows for the customization of front/rear drive torque percentages. The default setting is 60:40, which closely mirrors the GR Corolla's front/rear weight distribution and which Toyota recommends for daily driving. The 50:50 setting is the track mode, giving each summer tire equal purchase on a racecourse. And the 30:70 mode enables a bit of toss-and-catch tail-out driving on a closed course.

For the rigors of high-performance track work, Toyota strengthened the car's body structure. It accomplished this by adding 349 more weld points and an extra 9 feet of structural adhesive in the GR Corolla Core and Circuit models and nearly 20 feet in the Morizo Edition than in the base (non-GR) Corolla hatchback.

Relative to the base (non-GR models), all GR Corollas enjoy enhanced performance courtesy of quicker steering, substantially larger brakes with slotted and ventilated rotors for powerful, confidence-inspiring stops from speed, and sticky plus-size 18-inch summer performance tires.

The Morizo Edition takes GR Corolla track performance up further with a lowered body stance, wider rear track, the widest available 245/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 extreme performance tires on forged aluminum wheels, shorter final-drive gearing, and standard Torsen limited-slip differentials at both front and rear axles for enhanced side-to-side drive-torque distribution.

On the track, what it all amounts to is a car with tremendous stick that's comfortable in its skin. Combining summer performance tires, unfailing all-wheel-drive traction, and subtle downforce courtesy of air ducts and canards helps this little buzz bomb convey a feeling of confidence and stability. On the street, the GR Corolla is agile, responsive, and fun to drive in a wide variety of situations.

It makes fun noises, too, courtesy of a 3-pipe exhaust system. At idle and up to 1500 rpm or 20 mph, the larger center pipe is open, adding some bark for curb appeal. The valve for the center pipe then closes until you crank the engine to 4500 rpm when it again opens to maximize exhaust flow.

The 6-speed manual shifter is a short-throw design with light effort and precise gates. Clutch effort is moderate with smooth takeup and a generous engagement zone, making the GR Corolla one of the easier and more rewarding stick-shift hot hatches to drive.

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

As Toyota begins a measured transition to electrified vehicles, the newest member of the company's Gazoo Racing sub-brand, the GR Corolla, demonstrates that there remains a strong sense of engagement and analog driving fun in manually shifted, gas-powered performance cars that are going to be with us for a while longer. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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