- The Toyota GR Corolla was one of the talked about enthusiast cars of 2023, most notably for its 1.6-liter three-cylinder powertrain and rally-developed all-wheel-drive system stemming from the GR Yaris.
- In the summer of 2023, Pit+Paddock’s Sam Du purchased a 2023 GR Corolla Core model to build for the SEMA Show and use as his daily driver.
- After six months of ownership, which included two road trips to Las Vegas, Sam shares his pros and cons of Toyota’s hyped-up hatchback.
The Toyota GR Corolla broke the internet nearly two years ago in March 2022. It was then that fanboys and fangirls of all-wheel-drive, turbo engines, manual transmissions, and hatchbacks, began saving their pennies for what would be the coolest Japan-built Toyota to touch down in the U.S. in many years. I was one of many over-eager enthusiasts who started bugging their local dealers to try and see how the hell I could get my hands on the GRC. Then at the start of 2023, GR Corollas began sprinkling their way across the country, and I picked up a Core model as a new Pit+Paddock project car last summer.
It’s been more than six months since I’ve made my hot hatch dream a reality. With that said, I felt it was an opportune time to share some of my favorite and least favorite things about owning a GR Corolla. But first, let’s make sure you know some of the basics…
4 THINGS YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW ABOUT THE GR COROLLA
Three Cylinder. The obvious thing you need to know is that it’s powered by a 1.6-liter three-cylinder. Yes, that’s right, a three-cylinder! The GR Corolla comes into the market as an underdog when talking about “size”, but thanks to a single-scroll ball-bearing turbo and a well-tuned package, the hatchback makes 300hp, and more importantly, 273 lb-ft of torque that’s available between 3,000 and 5,500 rpm.
AWD. One of the GR Corolla’s most attractive attributes is being all-wheel-drive. Power at all four wheels makes it that much easier and more predictable when accelerating out of corners. Plus, being able to switch front/rear torque distribution from 60:40, 50:50, and 30:70 is a cool feature.
Rowing Gears. There are a handful of cars today that ONLY come with a six-speed manual and the GR Corolla is one of them. It’s a testament that Toyota designed the GRC for true driving enthusiasts.
JDM. The GR Corolla is as pure as a Toyota as can be. Assembled in the Gazoo Racing factory in Motomachi, Japan, tested on the circuits of Fuji, Suzuka and Tsukuba, and cut from the same cloth as the homologated GR Yaris, the GRC has the foundation of what diehard Japanese performance car fans want.
3 MODS EVERY GR COROLLA OWNER SHOULD DO
Many of you have already seen my car finished at the SEMA Show with the Artisan Spirits body kit. These photos shot by Renz Dimaandal however, were taken weeks prior which show a more simple yet effective setup of the car.
Protect It. You’ve just bought a brand-new GR Corolla that set you back $40K and the last thing you want is a rock chip or door ding to spoil your purchase. Protection gives peace of mind, which is why I made sure to PPF the car with XPEL through 405 Motoring before putting some miles on the car.
Lower It. The ideology behind the AWD GR Corolla is that it’s bred from rally racing and the GR Yaris. That doesn’t mean most GRC owners should retain the unattractive stock ride height. With the help of Auto Tuned, I changed out the suspension to RS-R Club Racer coilovers and haven’t looked back, although lowering springs are great options as well for those who just plan to do most street driving.
Style It. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll keep saying it ‘til the day I die. “Wheels make the car.” For my GR Corolla project, I kept the JDM theme going by selecting the most recognized set of Japanese forged wheels in the world: Volk Racing TE37s.
3 THINGS I LIKE ABOUT THE GR COROLLA SO FAR
Now it’s time to get real. After six months, the honeymoon phase is over, and with the first three modifications finished on the car, it’s time to give my no-bullshit evaluation, starting with what I like:
Pure Practicality. While the GR Corolla is designed to be an easy-to-drive AWD hot hatch, its ability to be a functional daily driver is what has benefited me the most. I think hatchbacks (and wagons for that matter) are underrated. The GR Corolla’s ability to comfortably seat four people, still have trunk space, and still have enough fun factor to put a smile on my face is key.
“Sporty-Esque”. I say “esque” because the GR Corolla doesn’t make you go “hold on to your horses”. The 1.6L turbo packs a punch, especially considering a three-cylinder powering all four wheels. The car is zippy and putting it through the gears is what I enjoy now (and what I missed most when I picked up the GR Supra four years ago). I also have no complaints about its handling and grip. It goes where you point it and loves to be thrown into the corners hard. You honestly have to be driving like a complete idiot to get into a lot of trouble in this car because it’s incredibly balanced and forgiving out of the box.
The Hot Hatch Hits. You can be the judge, but the GR Corolla looks on point when it has the right wheel fitment and is lowered to a more acceptable ride height. It doesn’t need to be on TE37s, but any clean tuner wheel would look right at home on the GRC.
3 THINGS I HATE ABOUT THE GR COROLLA
Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but these are my three biggest gripes, dislikes, and “room for improvement” about the GR Corolla thus far:
Needs More Power. You might call me a hypocrite after I’ve just praised the potency of the three-cylinder engine, but for a person of my mediocre driving skill with a small appetite to go fast, 300 horsepower isn’t enough. My fondest memory of the GR Corolla was test-driving the Morizo Edition at Utah Motorsports Park before the car went on sale. It made me a true believer in the GRC recipe, and I hope eventually all trim levels will share the same level of performance.
Exhausted Exhaust. When will the fad of triple exhaust tips be over? I’ll give it a pass on exotic cars like the Lexus LFA and Ferrari 458 Italia, but my biggest styling complaint with the GR Corolla (and Honda Civic Type R) is the unusual choice for three tips. A more traditional dual-exit on either side or a center single-exit would’ve made me happier. And speaking of the exhaust, the stock tone is too quiet as well. I’ve since installed a Remark system, which has opened the sound up, but remains too tame for my liking. I’m not asking for a screamer, but a sportier-tuned exhaust note should be achievable, right?
Interior Woes. No one buys a GR Corolla for its glamorous interior; however, the Core model falls very short of feeling “premium”, especially for the car’s price. Most of the blueprint is carried over from the standard Corolla, cloth fabric is used throughout and the stock “sport” seats could use more shape and bolstering. I also have the JBL Audio upgrade and it’s quite underwhelming with minimal bass volume, which I took notice of on two long road trips to Las Vegas and back.
OWNERSHIP HAPPINESS SCALE
To put things into context, I’d rate myself a 9/10 when it comes to being the happy owner of a GR Supra. It’s well-equipped, handles phenomenally, looks sexy, is fun to modify, and hasn’t gotten old after four years. For its list price of $55,400 MSRP today, I believe you get what you pay for and more. The only reason I’m not giving it a 10 is that I got cockblocked from the option of a manual version back then!
As for the GR Corolla, I’ve concluded that I’m about a 7/10 right now. I know it’s no GR Supra, but I also know how a hot hatchback should make me feel. To me, a car worthy of the GR badge needs to feel premium, which the GRC Core falls short of. I also still think back to that electrifying feeling behind the wheel of the Morizo Edition. If Toyota can share its formula for more torque and shorter gearing from the Morizo to all the GRC models, we’d be a step closer to the perfect hot hatch.