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2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review: The Perfect Track Attack

When you think of car models embedded into Australian folklore, few can flex the notoriety of the people’s car; the Toyota Corolla. Since 1966, the trans-generational, pragmatic people mover has reliably been getting people from A to B for over 50 years. While we had glimpses of Corolla charisma with Neal Bates winning Bathurst in 1989 and the iconic Castrol WRC car (shout out to my old Tamiya R/C replica) taking out the 1999 manufacturers’ title, for the most part, individuals haven’t typically associated Australia’s favourite small car with hair raising excitement. But that’s all about to change.

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Cars 2023 toyota gr corolla review
Image: Toyota

Introducing the Toyota GR Corolla. 221kW of turbo-charged, manual gearbox mated, all-wheel driven, functional madness. It’s the big brother to the cult GR Yaris, and like its sibling, it’s become one of the most sought-after acquisitions in the sports car scene. Now, while the general public has been refreshing the Toyota Australia website harder than a Fred Again pre-sale, there’s only been bits and pieces of information bubbling to the surface. So, when we received an invitation to do a track day in one of the 700 units bound for Australian shores this year, we giggled louder than Carlos Sainz SR airborne at the Swedish rally.

Before we dive into the specs and driving impressions of the GR Corolla, let’s take a moment to get some basic faqs out of the way:

  • What does GR stand for? Gazoo Racing. Aka Toyota’s motorsport and performance division.
  • Will it be offered with an automatic gearbox? No. This is manual only.
  • How much will it be: The GTS version will be $62,300 plus on-road costs. The extremely limited Morizo Edition (25 units) will be $77,800 plus on-roads, but we’ll discuss that later.
  • How can I get one? Your best bet will be a visit to your local Toyota dealership or registering your interest here

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at how the GR boffins have converted a staple of the Australian car market into a fully-blown performance animal.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota


Posing inside a garage at a rainy Sydney motorsport park, the GR Corolla certainly looks the part. While you can still see its friendly daily-driver underpinnings, the gruff additions bring a sense of muscularity to the five-door hatch. It’s not minimal and elegant like a VW Golf R, but it doesn’t try to be. Its design language is unapologetically larrikin, and it speaks that fluently.

Both front and rear bumpers have beefed up to house a wider track, with the adjoining guards equally swole. Air ducts are as large as legally possible to assist with cooling (and posturing), while the triple-exit exhaust rounds off the racer aesthetic. Anchoring the silhouette, the GTS version is grounded by 18-inch alloys partnered with Yokohama rubber, while the limited edition Morizio edition receives BBS-forged alloys and track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. If that isn’t enough to have you considering the Morizo Edition, then perhaps the carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer roof might shave a few tenths off your motorkhana time.

Inside the cabin, things could be more impressive. It’s not that anything is particularly nasty; it’s just not as unique as the exterior. You still get aluminium pedals, some special screens and plenty of leather; it’s just that everything feels a little too, well, Corolla. The heated sports seats and steering wheel are a nice touch (albeit a touch unnecessary for large parts of our climate), as is Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, but overall the interior just falls a little short.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota

Skid Pan

It seems almost serendipitous that the last time we were staring down the slippery skid pan at Eastern Creek was inside the Ford Focus RS Limited Edition in 2018. Not too dissimilar to the GR Corolla, the Focus RS was a turbo-charged, all-wheel drive, manual, hot hatch with a rallying pedigree, and based on current used-car pricing, is very much still in demand.

So, what do five years of engineering progression get you? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

The GR’s all-wheel-drive system features front and rear Torsen®2 limited-slip differentials that can be adjusted to three different torque splits: 30:70, 50:50 (Track), and 60:40. Now, while your brain might rush to select 30:70 and just drift to your little heart’s content, we were keen to push the car and ourselves through a makeshift motorkhana. The course consisted of some cone-weaving, handbrake flicking and power-sliding, all within a wet (and controlled) environment.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
  • First up, 30:70: A punchy launch, a noticeable rear-biased through the cones, but predictably, while it was fun power-sliding, it wasn’t the quickest at powering out of the handbrake turn.
  • Secondly, 50:50: A pronounced take-off, a more assertive front end through the cones, and a much more aggressive post-handbrake launch.
  • Finally, 60:40: Similar launch to track mode, a whisker of understeer-bias creeping into the cone slalom, but the exit from the handbrake turn was noticeably faster. You just point the front end, give it some power, and the little Corolla just slingshots towards whatever you’ve lined up in your cross hairs.

While it might not be surprising that our quickest time was in the 60:40 split or even that the overall time wouldn’t have been substantially faster than a Focus RS, what was most impressive is just how resilient the package was. Whether it be the extra cooling, the chassis development, or even the smaller capacity engine, the GR Corolla just didn’t need a break. I remember having to give the Focus RS some “downtime”, but the Corolla GR just couldn’t get enough. It was as fun as it was proficient, and the little package encouraged you at every flick of the steering wheel, reef of the handbrake, and squeeze of the throttle.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota


Now, we’ve had some good driving instructors in our time, but when we saw four-time Australian rally champion Neal Bates waiting for us in the passenger seat, we knew we were in for a memorable morning. We spent the first few laps learning the track: braking points, surface grip, and wet patches… all while feeling our way through the short-throw six-speed manual box. The digital 12.3-inch information screen partnered with the head-up display meant that anything relevant was just a periphery away.

Once Neal felt confident with our cornering transitions, we got the green light to turn up the dial, and that’s when the GR Corolla came into its own. With the drivetrain set to “Track” (50:50), the hot hatch exuded cornering conviction. We’d enter turns a little too hot, but the GR just seemed to find a way out of them.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota

Under the bonnet, the Corolla receives the same donk as the GR Yaris, but it’s now been tuned to 221kW of power (@ 6500rpm) and 370Nm of torque from 3000-5550rpm. The result? Pragmatic pulling power at every squeeze of the pedal. If you happen to be a gear too high going into a corner, the GR has enough juice to drag you out… If you get a bit crossed up on exit, there’s plenty of torque to accelerate you back onto a semi-respectable line. Partnered with the close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, the entire drivetrain is just so capable and fun while still treading that fine line between human engagement and efficiency.

Of course, if the GTS doesn’t feel hardcore enough for you, the Morizo Edition adds an extra 30Nm of torque, while narrowing the gear ratios for even further “boy racer” charm.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota

The Bottom Line

As an accessible sports car, the GR Corolla is hard to fault. Toyota could have easily gone for something more powerful, with an automatic gearbox, and ultimately, it probably would have set faster lap times. But instead, we have some far more engaging, far more characterful, and it’s an absolute pleasure to drive. In an era of 0-100 times and PlayStation gear changes, there’s something so refreshingly nostalgic about the GR Corolla, and it’s an oxymoronic formula I hope more manufacturers embrace.

Ultimately, it might be a little too harsh as a daily commuter, but as a functional sports car, solid canyon carver, and reliable track car that happens to have five seats, five doors, and a functional cargo area, it’s truly in a class of its own.

It would seem the name associated with one of Australia’s favourite passenger cars might now be linked with one of Australia’s favoured sports cars. Like the GR Yaris, the Toyota GR Corolla is an instant icon, and we’re here for it. We’re not going to lie; it will be tricky to get your hands on one, but those lucky enough to do so will be laughing and sliding from pillar to post.

Check it out

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Image: Toyota