Can the epitome of appliance-like cars—the Toyota Corolla—win the Motor Authority Best Car To Buy 2023 award? It’s a question we never thought we’d ask, but here we are.
Toyota, the automaker known for playing it safe with reliable but boring vehicles has shoved a rally-car powertrain into its Corolla economy car. With a trick all-wheel-drive system and all the willpower to back up its attitude, the Toyota GR Corolla is a riot.
Toyota tapped the same G16E-GTS 1.6-liter turbo-3 engine it uses in the smaller GR Yaris for the GR Corolla. But in this application power jumps from the GR Yaris’ 268 hp to 300 hp, though torque stands pat at 273 lb-ft. The single-scroll, ball-bearing turbo huffs a lot of boost, but it takes a beat to scroll up. Peak power doesn’t arrive until 3,000 rpm, and then keeps giving its all until the 7,000-rpm redline. Early shifts make it seem like the GR Corolla doesn’t have much power. Don’t be fooled, it just takes a heavy foot and a longer wait between shifts to get there.
Buyers who don’t #GiveAShift need not apply because the GR Corolla only comes with three pedals and a 6-speed manual transmission. The gearbox features short, positive throws and the clutch is moderately weighted with a somewhat grabby takeup point. We’ll take what we can get and say thank you, Toyota.
A key ingredient in the GR Corolla’s fun factor is the advanced all-wheel-drive system that enables the driver to change the front/rear power split between 60/40, 30/70, and 50/50. While the 60/40 front bias is meant for everyday use, Sport mode flips the system into a 30/70 rear-bias split. Toyota says the 50/50 split is meant for high-performance driving. On the road, the standard 60/40 split is fine, but once the roads start getting twisty, flipping the GR Corolla into the Sport model really makes this hot hatch shine. With its 30/70 split, it’s not hard to get the rear to slide out while the front claws at the pavement to pull the car out of corners. It’s a system unlike anything else on the market today, and it reminds us of the old Mitsubishi Evo in the best way.
Toyota said the GR Corolla will sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.99 seconds, but our butt dyno can’t tell the difference between that and 5.0 seconds. Toyota may be overly eager to parse the time, but the GR Corolla is still sufficiently quick.
The MacPherson-strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension are paired with track-tuned dampers, springs, and stabilizer bars. That creates a firm ride, and we’re not sure we’d want to drive it on pockmarked Midwest roads.
Upper trim Circuit and Morizo models feature front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials, but they’re are optional on the base Core model. The differentials are part of the secret sauce that helps the GR Corolla put down the power so effectively. They are a must-have.
The GR Corolla doesn’t look like any other Corolla. Its widened body panels give it a puffed-up look and cover 18-inch wheels wrapped in 235/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber (245/40 Cup 2s are available). Gaping intakes feed the intercooler and cool the brakes. Like the Honda Civic Type R, the GR Corolla features a triple-tip exhaust.
Starting at $36,995, the GR Corolla seems like a steal, but it’s not perfect. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster’s interface might’ve been created in MS Paint, the 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system’s interface is dated, and the screen’s resolution feels a full model cycle behind everything else on the market. The interior is full of hard, cheap plastic straight from the Corolla’s economy-car parts bin, and there’s no center armrest up front. Add the two limited-slip differentials, and the GR Corolla pushes $40,000, putting it within spitting distance of the more mature Honda Civic Type R.
Will the Toyota GR Corolla’s analog experience and willpower be enough to take the win over two other hot hatches, an outrageous SUV, a luxury EV, and a sport sedan? Check back on Jan. 4 when we reveal the winner, along with the champs from our sister sites, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports.
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