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Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - GR


We like
Thrilling performance and handling, strong fade-free brakes, accurate steering and shift feel, tenacious and adjustable all-wheel drive grip, tough wide-body stance
Room for improvement
Exhaust note lacks substance, price is getting ‘up there’, legacy Corolla packaging issues remain, road noise is relentless, just 700 examples are available, no spare wheel

The AWD Japanese hot hatch has made a comeback, burlier and better than ever

31 May 2023



AS A kid, all-wheel drive and turbocharged small cars from Japan were revered, almost idolised by me and my peers. These hard-charging imports were seen as cutting-edge examples of their kind, not only taking the world rally circuit by storm, but delivering almost-attainable performance to starry eyed teenage boys like me.


For the most part, the genre was dominated by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX STI… two models which have now gone the way of the dodo. In their place, the GR Corolla has arrived from Toyota, providing with it a thoroughly modern take on a formula that was once ubiquitous with our diverse car culture.


Powered by a burlier version of the GR Yaris’ three-pot 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine – and driving all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission – the five-seat GR Corolla GTS is priced from $62,300 plus on-road costs.


The price tag does not make the GR Corolla a performance bargain, but it is safe to say that it offers a lot of bang for your buck. How does 221kW at 6500rpm and 370Nm from 3000-5550rpm sound? Good enough for a 5.3-second dash to 100km/h, Toyota says.


Visually, the GR Corolla GTS is characterised by 18-inch Enkei alloys with Yokohama boots, a triple-exit exhaust, additional air intakes and model-specific bumpers (to accommodate a widened wheel track) and a choice of four paint colours: Glacier White, Ebony, Liquid Mercury and Feverish Red.


Standard cabin equipment includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment array with Toyota Connected Services, proprietary satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a digitised instrument panel, head-up display, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, aluminium pedals and an eight-speaker stereo from JBL.


The GR Corolla is backed by a five-year warranty while service intervals are set at six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. Capped priced servicing sees each visit to the service department set at $300 for the first 36 months or 60,000km.


Driving Impressions


We spent time with the GR Corolla in a week where Melbourne’s four-seasons-in-one-day weather was doing its level best to live up to the reputation. Heavy rain and sunny breaks were backed up with just enough drizzle to make the roads slick… the kind of conditions that would challenge the roadholding resolve of your typical hot hatch, particularly one without all-wheel drive.


But punting the race-ready ‘Rolla in such conditions just didn’t seem to faze it. The GR-Four all-wheel drive system never once set a wheel out of step, clinging tenaciously to the cold and often lumpy blacktop with steadfast resolve, even when dialled back to its most ‘tail happy’ (30:70) setting.


We even challenged the GR Corolla to a short burst of loose gravel, too, finding the grip on offer hard to shake loose, even when provoking the rear end with a dab too much throttle. It doesn’t squirm or shimmy, instead just buttoning down and rocketing forward.


The GR Corolla’s three-pot is at its best when its kept nice and high in the rev range. Although it offers ‘enough’ low-end torque, it is far happier when snicking through the the cogs quickly with a wide-open throttle. Even at passing speed the package feels lag free and fast to respond, a trait we reckon would be wonderfully suited to track work – or dare we say a good tarmac rally.


Coupled with a confidence-inspiring wide track and planted ride, the GR Corolla’s body control is predictable, if a little firm. Add a healthy helping of road noise into the deal and you could find the hatch is a little hard to live with, particularly considering the tight back seat and compact luggage area (just 213 litres) shared with the derivative model.


Still, this isn’t a luxury car, and it doesn’t pretend to be. If a softer alternative is your thing, there are plenty on the market for the price.


We really enjoyed the GR Corolla’s accurate steering and never-say-die brakes, but found the exhaust and engine note to be a little underwhelming. Considering the car has three pipes sticking out the rear, a vented bonnet and a menacing wide stance, it seems a little dull to the ears.


Of course, most of us won’t really need to get our hopes up... Toyota has very limited numbers of the GR Corolla available, and the majority are already spoken for.


It’s something of a hollow victory for those of us who have longed for the chance to own an all-wheel drive Japanese hot hatch – especially one as good as this. But we might add that a wait in the queue will be well worth it, especially if you missed out on the Evo or STI back in the day.

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