If I told you 10 years ago that Toyota's best performance car was a Corolla, you'd probably think I was off my meds. The poster child for affordability is now a fiery hot hatchback and all it took were two letters on the bumper: G and R.
The Gazoo Racing moniker is no newbie to the US, admittedly. The Toyota GR86 (formerly the Scion FR-S) whetted our appetite for affordable performance and the GR Supra followed with more power. Now the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla rounds out the performance ménage à trois with a punchy three-cylinder engine and excellent handling for under $40,000 to start.
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|Quick Stats||2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit|
|Engine||Turbocharged 1.6-Liter Three-Cylnder|
|Output||300 Horsepower / 273 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||5.0 Seconds|
|Base Price||$35,900 + $1,095|
|As-Tested Price||$45,000 (est.)|
Choose Your Fighter
Utah Motorsports Campus' twisty 2.2-mile East Course is almost purpose-built for my first taste of the 2023 GR Corolla, which is coming to market in three trims: Core and Circuit, as well as the limited-edition Morizo trim. The Core and Circuit models are what most buyers will go for, given that Toyota will make only 200 examples of the Morizo and it costs nearly $50,000.
The Core and Circuit trims use the same turbocharged 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine as in the European GR Yaris producing 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Both of these versions will reach 60 miles per hour in about 5.0 seconds, but neither car is as inherently fiery as, say, a Hyundai Veloster N. The turbo is slow to spool, which means power doesn't peak until 3,000 RPM, nearly twice as late as the Veloster. And maximum horsepower takes until 6,500 RPM to reach full force, before pulling all the way to a redline of 7,200.
This car does its best work between third and fourth gear with the RPMs bouncing off redline. The three-banger is more lovable at the limit than it is low down, and it delivers ample horsepower and torque at speed, with an excellent crackly exhaust note emanating from the triple exhaust tips.
A six-speed manual is the lone gearbox option on all three versions, and it's stellar. The throws are snappy and quick (unlike in the Supra), the clutch is easy to modulate, and the built-in rev-matching system means no more half-successful heel-toeing.
The Core model has a standard open differential, but you can pay extra for the front and rear limited-slip diffs that come standard on the Circuit and Morizo trims (and you should). The GR-Four all-wheel-drive system comes standard with adjustable torque splits that give the Corolla more power in the rear. Normal mode sends 60 percent of torque to the front wheels, Sport transfers 70 percent to the rear, and Track offers an even 50/50 split.
The ‘Rolla is hilariously fun to fling around with most of its power at the rear. It bobs and weaves its way through corners with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires screeching and the back end handling most of the heavy lifting. But turn the traction control (partially) off and put the car in Track mode to unlock what Toyota calls "Expert" mode, which keeps the even 50/50 power split and makes the GR Corolla feel its sharpest. Corners feel quicker thanks to the perfect torque split, and there’s less wiggle in the rear.
Of course, the GR Corolla still doesn't have the same natural skills as its rear-drive GR86 sibling. This is a front-wheel-drive–biased hatchback after all. There’s body roll, more than I'd like personally, and the steering and suspension could both stand to be a bit chattier; there's an inkling of ambiguity when you hit a corner hard.
Unfortunately, nearly all of my driving impressions were relegated to the track, so it’s hard to gauge how this car might feel as a daily driver. Toyota did allow us a short 10-minute stint around the track’s outer roads and through some makeshift autocross courses, and there, the GR Corolla Circuit showed pluckiness that suggests it will be a lot of fun to drive daily. But until I can arrange some seat time on public roads, it’ll be hard to say definitively one way or another.
Gallery: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla First Drive Review
Morizo Means More
If you do plan on taking your GR Corolla to the track regularly, there’s only one option: the Morizo model. For as fun and dynamic as the Core and Circuit trims are, the GR Corolla Morizo takes that performance to a new level entirely. It’s nearly as different from the Core and Circuit models as a Volkswagen Golf R is to the GTI.
The upgrades include standard front and rear LSDs, a lower curb weight thanks to a rear-seat delete – yes, this is a two-seater – a reduced ride height, tighter suspension tuning, shorter gearing, standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 cheater tires, and more torque. The turbocharged three-cylinder’s output also jumps from 273 lb-ft in the Core and Circuit models to 295 lb-ft here. And you can feel that extra giddyup.
The Morizo model immediately rips off the line with more ferocity and delivers a deeper, burblier roar. Even shifting from first to second, you can feel how much tighter the gearbox is thanks to that shorter gearing. The final drive ratio drops from 4.05 in Core and Circuit trims to 4.25 in the Morizo. And even a somewhat minor upgrade like a new steering wheel – a nice Alcantara rim versus the thick vinyl base wheel– makes all the difference.
For as fun and dynamic as the Core and Circuit trims are, the GR Corolla Morizo takes that performance to a new level entirely.
That slight vagueness of the Core and Circuit models I felt when cornering has been completely quashed here. The Morizo darts into turns with extra grip from the Cup 2s and the firmer suspension giving it a new, sharper personality. The Morizo is tighter, flatter, and more composed than either the Core or Circuit models.
That extra torque also benefits from the added grip, so you can power out of corners more aggressively and gather additional speed ahead of long straights. On the East Circuit’s main straight, the Core and Circuit models would barely bounce off the rev limiter in third gear before corner entry. But the Morizo model was so quick down those same back straights that shifting into fourth gear was a must.
And virtually everything about the Morizo model feels more refined – even the styling. New vents on the hood, sharper 18-inch wheels, and a “GR-Four” emblem emblazoned on the radiator differentiate the Morizo visually from the rest of the range. And in terms of colors, the Matte Smoke paint job with a forged carbon roof is a Morizo exclusive, while a black leather interior with red stitching carries over from the Circuit model.
The awesome performance of the GR Corolla is what will draw most people in. But this car still has everything you want and need from a daily driver. An 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard alongside a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 is standard too, with features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-centering, and more. And if you pay extra, you can even get in-car wi-fi.
Best of all, the base 2023 GR Corolla Core will only cost you $36,995 with the $1,095 destination fee included. The now-discontinued Hyundai Veloster N was only slightly more affordable at $33,595, while the Corolla undercuts the $45,185 Golf R by nearly $10,000 – when the new Honda Civic Type R arrives, it will almost undoubtedly be more expensive to start.
The better-equipped Circuit model is still reasonable at $43,995, and at the top of the range, the Morizo model is $50,995. But again, only 200 of those Morizo models will be available in the US in the first year, so you better hurry if you want one.
But the fact that a Corolla can be this good at all, in any trim, is incredible. Toyota’s performance revival in the US – spearheaded by the FR-S/86/GR86 and the GR Supra – peaks with the GR Corolla. It’s a proper hot hatch by every definition.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit