The “hot-hatch” segment, for a longtime defined by Volkswagen’s enthusiast-beloved Golf GTI, is inarguably shrinking, in sales volume and in number of models offered. In fact, the whole small, sporty-car thing is in serious decline. Sadly, buyer attitudes have changed, and shoppers—especially young shoppers—seem to value utility over fun these days. I curse their pragmatism.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla
It is for this reason that Toyota’s decision make available in the U.S. an absolutely over-the-top version of the Corolla hatchback is so surprising. The world’s largest automaker introduced the 2023 GR Corolla back in March, teasing enthusiasts with a tantalizing set of specs and great-looking body upgrades.
We—the automotive media–recently got a chance to put this hyper-caffeinated small Toyota through its paces at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Erda, Utah, and our first reaction is: Wow.
The little hatchback is based on the mainstream compact five-door Corolla, but it packs a wallop. A 1.6-liter, 3-cylinder engine delivers 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. This little engine that can is mated to a six-speed “intelligent Manual Transmission” (iMT), and it’s the only gearbox available.
Because the GR Corolla falls under the Gazoo Razing (that’s the GR) purview, you can expect a lot of race-inspired enhancements and options, including the standard ‘GR-Four” all-wheel-drive system. With the twist of a dial, you can adjust this AWD system to split the front/rear torque distribution ratio between 60/40, 30/70 or 50/50, depending on whether you’re looking for sport fun, stability, or just foul-weather traction.
Additionally, though it looks somewhat like a standard Corolla, the GR boasts some pretty non-Corolla hardware, including a track-tuned suspension, 18-inch black-finished cast-aluminum wheels, and 235/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. You can visually tell it apart from lesser Corollas by the wider fender flares and GR grille badging.
On the inside, you’ll see black sport seats with white or red reverse stitching, GR badging and Toyota’s newest-generation infotainment system. The standard 12.3-inch gauge cluster also includes a special GR meter, displaying things such as AWD mode, turbo boost pressure, and gear position.
For 2023, the GR Corolla will come in three trims or, as Toyota likes to call them, “grades.” The base model is the Core, and it will come equipped with all the basic performance goodies as well as a color-keyed roof and rear-lip spoiler, and GR-logoed fabric seats. The Core will have a starting price of $35,900, excluding the $1,095 destination fee. What we love about this base model is the availability of key options, like heated seats and steering wheel, which are available as packages. And, fully optioned, the Core will still be priced about $4000 less than the next trim up.
The Circuit Edition will be a limited-run model for 2023 only, and it adds a forged carbon-fiber roof, vented hood bulge, sporty rear spoiler, suede-and-leatherette seating surfaces, red accents, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. In addition to the roof, another clear visual differentiator on the exterior will be the glossier finish on the grille. This model will have a starting price of $42,900, and the only options available are premium paint colors.
The top-tier model is the Morizo Edition, which is named for Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who uses the name Morizo while racing. It’s worth noting the first model to hit dealers will be the base Core trim, which should be in showrooms now. The Morizo Edition will arrive this winter, and the Circuit Edition won’t arrive until spring of 2023.
Since Subaru has gotten rid of the hatchback version of its sporty WRX, the only real GR Corolla competition comes from Honda and Volkswagen. Honda in the form of the Civic Type R, and VW with the aforementioned Golf GTI or Golf R. However, both the Type R and GTI are front-wheel drive, whereas the Golf R is all-wheel drive. And the pricing disparity between GR Corolla and Golf R is about $10,000, with the VeeDub ringing in as the more expensive vehicle.
As a longtime GTI owner, I found myself comparing the GR Corolla to the GTI. A lot. In terms of interior styling and amenities, the GTI is the clear winner, with the super-cool base plaid seats and well-curated dash materials. But, this is kind of hard to write, the GR Corolla wins in pretty much every other category.
Let’s start with the seating position. The GTI always leaves me feeling cramped. This, because I am fairly short, and with my far-forward driving position, my knees perpetually hits the underside of the steering column. The tilt angle of the seat bottom being the culprit here. The GR Corolla cockpit is also tidy, but feels less closed-in. Plus, the driver-seat bottom is more accommodating, affording me plenty of room to maneuver between brake, gas, and clutch.
Speaking of the clutch, the GR Corolla’s is nicely sprung with just the right amount of stiffness. It’s plenty sporty, but light enough that it wouldn’t give you leg cramps if made a GR Corolla your daily drive.
What about handling? Toyota did a phenomenal job of tuning the GR Corolla suspension with just the right amount of stiffness, and I love that you can adjust the torque distribution with the twist of a dial.
As for safety, the GR Corolla boasts standard features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert–all of which are available on the GTI—but not standard.
I left Utah with the solid decision to put our GTI on notice. I’m going to strongly lobby for our next vehicle to be a GR Corolla—assuming I can get one…
Here’s the rub, production of the GR Corolla is going to be limited. Though Toyota hasn’t yet revealed production numbers for the base Core model, but we do know the Circuit Edition is going to be a first-year-only limited release, and that just 200 Morizo Editions are allocated for U.S. distribution. So, if you’re serious about taking a GR Corolla home, act now.
For my money, the Core model is plenty cool, even sans the carbon fiber roof and up-level interior trimmings. I would, however, opt for the Performance Package, which for $2450 includes heated seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging, premium JBL audio, limited slip differentials and cool red brake calipers. So equipped, the Core comes in under $40,000 barrier at $39,445.
Base pricing, including destination, for each trim is as follows:
- Core: $36,995
- Circuit: $43,995
- Morizo: $51,420
So, let’s recap: The base Toyota GR Corolla has standard all-wheel drive, more safety equipment and better handling than the VW GTI for about $5k more. Is it worth it? Yes.
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Gallery
(Click below for enlarged images)