The compact sports car segment is undergoing a big shakeup. While Subaru announced the legendary WRX STI will not return (at least in gas-powered form), Toyota took a lot of people by surprise with the debut of the hot 2023 GR Corolla, a car that will give the new, eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf R a serious run for its money. Oh, and don’t forget the Honda Civic Type R is coming up with a full redesign for 2023, as well.
I had the opportunity to get a closer look at the GR Corolla during a recent media event at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas. And just like my fellow auto journalists on hand, I was allowed to ride shotgun for one lap.
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Everything You Want
As a quick refresher, this radical expression of the Toyota Corolla Hatchback is the third member of the Gazoo Racing family, following in the footsteps of the GR Supra and GR 86. Under the hood is a small, turbocharged 1.6-litre triple-cylinder engine.
There’s only a handful of vehicles with just three cylinders on the market right now, and they’re absolutely not the exciting type. Think of the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Buick Encore GX or Mitsubishi Mirage. On the other hand, the GR Corolla packs 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. How about that?
Power is split between the two axles via the GR Four all-wheel drive system. Drivers need to know how to handle a clutch, because the only transmission available here is a six-speed manual. Superior grip is provided by the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires mounted on a set of 18-inch wheels.
So there I was, sitting in the front passenger’s seat next to Formula Drift driver Jhonnattan Castro, whose job for the day was to showcase all the fancy moves the GR Corolla is capable of on Eagles Canyon Raceway.
Forget the boring Corolla as you know it—this hot hatch is explosive and skilled enough to impress almost anyone. Toyota’s engineers worked hard to solidify the chassis and lower the centre of gravity, and it shows. Handling is amazing just like the car’s ability to brush off speed just before attacking corners. By the way, you’ll find 355mm discs with four-piston callipers up front and 297mm discs with dual-piston callipers in the rear.
Due to the singular nature of the engine, which has one less cylinder than every other competitor, not to mention the triple exhaust system, the GR Corolla sounds different but not really better. Frankly, I was a bit underwhelmed.
Also, I thought the passenger’s seat seriously lacked firmness and lateral support. This is a high-performance compact car, remember. On top of that, material selection is disappointing. The interior is full of dark and dull plastics—a far cry from the Volkswagen Golf R, which feels way more sophisticated and refined.
Overall, the brief experience I had with the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla was quite promising and refreshing even though a few things left me wanting more. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to sit in the driver’s seat pretty soon and test the car’s limits myself. Stay tuned.