A growling turbocharged three-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive give drivers a taste of the rally championship.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

February 1, 2023

5 Min Read
2023 Toyota GR Corolla.Image courtesy of Toyota

In other countries, racing powerful all-wheel-drive hatchbacks over hill and dale in the World Rally Championship is a popular sport, and Toyota is one of the leading manufacturers in that racing series.

These cars must be built on the actual body shell of a production model and they must be legal to drive on public roads. To make the donor car as ideally suited as possible, Toyota built a hot-rod version of its diminutive Yaris economy car, dubbed the Gazoo Racing (GR) Yaris.

Toyota gave up on the notion of selling the subcompact Yaris to Americans, so the GR Yaris did not come to the U.S. when it debuted last year, to the angst of many car enthusiasts. No worries, Toyota has brought us a GR version of the compact Corolla instead, and it is a better car for our purposes than the GR Yaris.

To start, the GR Corolla is tuned to deliver 300 horsepower instead of the 257 hp in the GR Yaris, making it the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine. Torque rating for the 1.6-liter G16E-GTS triple engine is 273 lb.-ft. in the base and tested Circuit Edition, while the Morizo Edition bumps torque to 295 lb.-ft.

The engine runs 25.2 psi of turbo boost to achieve this, and it pushes the Corolla to 60 mph in five seconds. As an indication of the car’s intended purpose of entertaining serious drivers, the GR Yaris comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. In recognition that some younger drivers might find the car appealing but that they could use some help with the shifting, the GR Corolla includes an intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) feature that, when switched on, matches the engine revs to the gear and vehicle speed automatically.

Related:Toyota's GR Yaris Hints at What to Expect from GR Corolla

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The car’s all-wheel drive system has adjustable torque split, with a 60/40 front/rear distribution as the default, a sporty 30/70 split available for a rear-drive feel and a 50/50 split in Track mode. There is also a drive mode selector that lets the drive choose among Eco, Sport, Track, and Custom modes. This setting seems to primarily adjust the throttle response.

That production body shell necessary for racing? In the case of the GR Corolla, the GR Factory at Toyota’s Motomachi plant adds 349 more spot weld points to increase its rigidity. For racing, stock bodies normally have continuous welds added to all the joints but adding a lot of spot welds may be more realistic for a production model than seam-welding the body. This is supplemented with an additional nine feet of adhesive and extra bracing in the central tunnel and rear wheel wells.

Related:The 2022 Toyota GR 86 Premium Provides Classic Sports Car Fun

The result of this reinforcement is crisp steering feel and feedback, without harsh ride compliance. This suspension control lets the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tires maintain contact with the road, even when accelerating over a washboard dirt road or potholes. The GR Corolla is perfectly comfortable in around-town and highway driving, and significantly, it doesn’t drone at highway speeds, which I experienced previously in the GR Yaris.

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Another huge advantage is the GR Corolla’s useable back seat. The two-door Yaris has a tiny back seat that few adults would find tolerable and the access through the two doors is poor. The Corolla, in contrast, has a perfectly acceptable back seat with its own set of doors for ease in ingress and egress.

It is the same in the hatch area. The Yaris has so little trunk space that it won’t fit a pair of roll-aboard, overhead bin-sized suitcases. The Corolla has plenty of space for those and more and any diminishment of fun or performance due to the extra size is imperceptible.


The six-speed manual transmission is one of the highlights of the GR Corolla, and the team at Gazoo Racing delivered. The shifter provides clear detents for each gear and moves easily through its short throws. The clutch provides abundant feel for the friction point, making it easy to creep through traffic or to park the GR Corolla in a tight spot.

These sensations and the skills to appreciate them are some of the things that will be lost when we’re all driving EVs. The Corolla GR is an impressive standard bearer for the combustion flag because unlike some domestic V8s, for example, it is civilized to the neighbors.

The three-cylinder engine has a lovely growl that has some of the texture of a Subaru WRX’s flat-four, but with more refinement and willingness to rev. When in the default 60/40 front/rear torque split mode, there is evident torque steer through the steering wheel as the front tires scabble for grip.


But switch it to 70/30 and the GR Corolla feels almost like a rear driver. On dirt roads, the 50/50 power delivery of Track mode delivers a dose of stabilizing power through the front wheels without inducing understeer or torque steer.

Starting price for a base GR Corolla Core is an impressive $36,995. If you can’t have fun with this base version of the car, you aren’t doing it right. However, our $44,420 Circuit Edition includes front and rear limited-slip differentials, a navigation system, plus seat and steering wheel heat, so that seems worthwhile.

In total, the GR Corolla is the adult’s hot hatch and a fine tribute to the thrill of driving a manually shifted combustion vehicle rapidly on a twisty road. Such machines will be missed.


About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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