We take to a wet Sydney Motorsport Park to test the new GR Corolla’s capabilities in track and motorkhana driving – and we walk away impressed
However, an arm-wrestle with head office has seen that number pushed out to 700 units set for Australian delivery between now and March 2024 – but Toyota warns that this is really the limit until after that point.
With demand expected to surge past 700 cars within a few months of GR Corolla order banks opening up, and with Toyota using a buyer survey to vet the genuineness of prospective owners’ automotive interests, mark-ups are all but a certainty.
But Toyota executives are urging Aussies not to pay over retail for this car, making clear it isn’t a one-year limited edition and assuring that more stock will come … eventually.
Still, it will be a long wait for some, not least because a first Australian drive of the GR Corolla revealed this five-door hot hatch to be possibly one of the best-rounded performance cars on sale for less than $100,000.
Our initial drive was based out of Sydney Motorsport Park’s south circuit and skid pad on a day where light rain fell all day. We partook in a short road drive to transit to and from the circuit, but this wasn’t sufficient to draw out extensive on-road dynamic remarks.
Despite sharing similar running gear to the well-received, three-door GR Yaris Rallye, the GR Corolla is remarkably different in appearance, and especially feel – with the 90mm-longer wheelbase evident in both greater stability and adjustability while cornering.
It’s also a car that takes a step up in perceived quality to match its $62,300 price, before on-road costs. It’s pleasant, if not plush, but heated Alcantara seats, a JBL stereo and a high-quality digital dashboard all pitch the GR Corolla as more upmarket than its GR Yaris kid-brother (from $49,500).
In Australia’s hot hatch market, GR Corolla money sees it nestled between Volkswagen’s hot Golfs. It’s a few thousand off a Golf R, and comfortably less expensive than the $72,600 (driveaway) Honda Civic Type R.
Two versions of the GR Corolla will come to Australia at first in the form of the $62,300 GTS model reviewed here, and the far more limited 25-unit, two-seater GR Corolla Morizo lightweight special that arrives in May at a price of $77,800.
Interestingly, two of Toyota’s other GR models – the Supra and GR86 coupes – have both GT and GTS versions, but local executives were adamant that a cheaper GR Corolla GT version won’t be considered unless there is clear customer demand.
Standard equipment on the GTS model is quite generous:
By contrast, the $77,800 Morizo edition adds $15,500 to the price of a GTS, and gets the following specification changes:
Further, the Morizo spec deletes the rear windscreen wiper, satellite navigation, parking sensors, wireless device charger and the heating function for the steering wheel, all in the name of weight-saving.
Our first Australian drive of the GR Corolla was heavily biased towards generous time on a mostly-wet racetrack, and a few entertaining rounds of a gymkhana circuit on a skid pad. In these arenas, the GR Corolla is highly engaging.
However, hot hatches are at least as much about road driving. We did complete about 50km on public roads between Richmond and Sydney Motorsport Park, but this was plagued by morning peak hour traffic. We’ll be evaluating the GR Corolla on our favoured driving roads in a fortnight’s time, and will update our findings.
The short amount that we can say about the GR Corolla’s on-road dynamics is that it should make a reasonable enough commuter. Like the underlying Corolla model, the GR’s ride quality feels impressive on-road, with definite stiffness but well-rounded damping that takes the edge off urban bumps.
Immediately the steering feels well-weighted – just like the GR Corolla – and it’s delivered through an attractively thin-rimmed and small leather steering wheel. The ergonomics of the cabin are better than the Yaris, with controls placed more perfectly within the driver’s reach and a more natural seating position.
Stop-start traffic does see you flicking the leather shifter between first and second a lot, but the bite point of the clutch is intuitive and the engine has sufficient torque to remain in second much of the time.
Mercifully, our morning commute ended at Sydney Motorsport Park where the tight and sinewy South Circuit was just being dusted with the first rain of the morning – it turned out to be on-and-off all day – conditions that brought into sharp relief the clear differences between the GR Corolla’s adjustable torque-split modes.
Heading out onto the circuit first in fixed 50:50 distribution – labelled as track mode – the GR Corolla feels, as expected, planted and zealous, searching for and finding traction wherever it can in an effort to lap as quickly as possible. Toyota claims a 5.29sec 0-100km/h time for the GTS model, and we’ll test that independently soon.
Overseas specifications of the GR Corolla benefit from Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, but Toyota Australia has opted for a slightly less sticky Yokohama Advan Apex tyres measuring 245/40 R18 at all four corners.
This has had the effect of making the Australian-spec GR Corolla slightly more playful and willing to slide – either off-throttle when provoked into lift-off oversteer, or on-throttle if you select the car’s sport mode, which sends 70 percent of torque to the rear axle.
On the damp surface at Sydney Motorsport Park, we admired the GR Corolla’s resolved, classic hot hatch chassis balance, which offers immediate and zealous turn-in thanks to the light engine unencumbering the front axle, and the easy ability to passively rotate the rear end with the stability control in expert mode.
However, in the sport drive mode that is so rear-biased, you can then pick up the rotation on-throttle and gracefully induce the Corolla into an amusing powerslide – a novel feature for a hot hatch, unseen with such ease since the departure of the true-RWD BMW M140i.
While the Mk 8 Volkswagen Golf R does have a twin-clutch rear axle that can send up to 50 percent of engine torque (200Nm) to a single rear wheel, the Corolla’s helping of 70 percent (260Nm) makes inducing power oversteer that much easier. If that’s your thing, you’ll like this hot hatch.
Moving over the wet skid pad offered an opportunity to run the car around a gymkhana circuit in the default 60-front, 40-rear mode, which endows the car with classic FWD hot hatch dynamics, locked 50-50, and tail-happy 70-30. The quickest times will come from the middle setting, we think.
The engine itself has had plenty written about it from when the GR Yaris arrived on the scene a few years ago, but it’s worth heaping some more praise on the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder ‘G16’ unit, which gets a higher state of tune for service in the GR Corolla.
With the wick turned up to 221kW, the GR Corolla feels like it has an appropriate amount of power – it’s quick but not unapproachable, as the 5.29sec 0-100km/h claim implies.
This drops to 5.21sec for the Morizo, thanks to its additional 30Nm or eight percent of torque from additional boost pressure and reworked first and second gears.
To that point, the GR Corolla – like the GR Yaris – remains a six-speed, manual-only vehicle. Speaking with Chasing Cars, chief engineer Naoyuki Sakamoto confirmed that an automatic transmission is in the works but remains several years away from entering production.
Perhaps the clearest way where the GR Corolla appears to be a better car than the GR Yaris for most drivers is in its additional approachability and flexibility. The GR Yaris’s super-short wheelbase makes it quite snappy and requires drivers to push hard to test the car’s high limits.
The additional near-10cm of wheelbase in the Corolla and what felt like a more liveable suspension tune appear to make this car more enjoyable and well-rounded in most situations – but we’ll need to wait until we can hit our favourite driving roads to really confirm that.
Toyota endowed the latest-generation Corolla with a pretty pleasant interior when the model was released in 2018, and the GR Corolla builds on those liveable foundations with additional sporty equipment.
The dash layout is clear, and is carried across from the recently (subtly) facelifted Corolla hatchback, pulling in a refreshed 8.0-inch central touchscreen. The bezels are decidedly thick, but the software works well enough and iPhone users score wireless CarPlay – but Android people will still need to plug in a cable.
Borrowed but enhanced from the Corolla ZR spec is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with unique-to-GR graphics. The driver’s screen is really well done. Toyota says it consulted motorsports drivers on layouts that made sense to them, and that’s obvious from the minimalism and clarity that shines through.
However, there is a strong element of driver customisation in the binnacle display, and you’re given three slates to set up – all custom – so one could be for sporty road driving, another for track use, and a third for commuting.
You can place maps, media info, a big tacho, a G-force meter and other useful readouts on one of three panels.
Also unique are the seats, which are large buckets finished in dark grey vinyl and suede – no racier colours are available at this point, sadly. The pews felt comfortable enough but were not the last word in support; there is no adjustable lumbar, for instance, like you’d find on an i30 N or Golf GTI.
The ergonomics in here work well, with the supple leather steering wheel and leather gear shifter falling easily within reach, and Toyota has relocated some of the Corolla’s buttons on the central spine further inward to prevent accidentally touching them with your knee.
Material quality is reasonable, but the hard-touch doors mean it’s immediately clear that this is no luxury-sports Golf rival and is instead aiming for the harder-edged element of the hot hatch segment, most clearly the likes of the new Honda Civic Type R.
Moving to the back seat reveals, unsurprisingly, that the GR shares the foibles of the underlying Corolla hatch. Second row space is just about enough as long as the driver or front passenger don’t have a languid, pushed-right-back driving position. There’s a flip-down armrest (unusually), but no air vents.
However, it’s the puny boot that is actually quite comical. You’ll fit a couple of carry-on suitcases in there, but not much more, with the cargo area measuring in at 213 litres – or 229 litres for the Morizo. No spare wheel is carried aboard the GR Corolla; a tyre repair kit is used.
The regular Toyota Corolla hatchback has a five-star safety rating from Australian body ANCAP, but this rating does not apply to the GR Corolla.
Because of that, this hot hatch is officially unrated for crash and safety performance in Australia.
However, the GR Corolla GTS is fitted with a range of standard safety equipment, much of it attributable to Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of technology. Included safety gear takes in:
We didn’t get enough time on testing roads to evaluate the operation of the GR Corolla’s adaptive safety systems, but we hope to do so soon.
The GR Corolla’s maintenance requirements are quite demanding for a hot hatch: Toyota requires it be serviced every six months/10,000 km, rather than every 12 months as is the case with its rivals.
The first six such services are capped in price at $300 apiece, meaning the cost to service the GR Corolla through Toyota dealers is capped at $1800 for three years/60,000km. After that point the servicing price becomes uncapped.
Of course, additional maintenance requirements will exist for buyers who want to use their GR Corolla for its intended motorsport purposes, and you’ll need to budget for tyres, brakes and other consumables.
When it comes to fuel, our limited road drive resulted in consumption of just under 10.0L/100km. If that holds up in more extensive road testing later on, it would mean the GR Corolla has a fuel range of 500km thanks to its 50-litre fuel tank. This hot hatch requires 98-octane super premium petrol.
Toyota’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty applies to the GR Corolla. However, while rival Hyundai says that non-competitive racetrack use is explicitly allowed by its warranty, the situation is less clear-cut for Toyota.
Speaking with media at the launch of the GR Corolla, Toyota Australia vice president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley said this about track use and the warranty:
“We will apply the normal, standard Toyota warranty, and assess case-by-case if someone uses [the car] for track. We do clearly understand that it will be used [on the] track.”
The true test of a hot hatch is on-road driving, and that’s the next chapter in this story. However, for buyers that are intending to use their GR Corolla for track days, gymkhanas, and other motorsports activity – you’re in for a blast.
The GR Corolla feels like one of the best-balanced hot hatches of the modern era, with sensible dimensions, an appropriate level of power and a terrific switchable 4WD system that lets you change the car from feeling like a classic FWD hot hatch, to an agile 50/50 weapon to a lairy, tail-happy RWD sports car.
It also offers some level of practicality being based on the Corolla chassis, but don’t go thinking you’re going to pack your family and all their stuff into this car – it’s way off the roominess of an i30 N, hot Golf or a Civic Type R.
However, for many buyers those practicality compromises will be totally unimportant, especially if you mainly drive one- or two-up in the car. For that use, it’s absolutely sufficient.
So, the GR Corolla passes an early track and drifting test with flying colours. Next up: road driving.
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