Driven: The new GR Corolla

Motoring specialist Calvin Fisher catches feelings at the launch of the GR Corolla. Read on to learn more about his budding love affair.

This feels important. My palms are gripping the leathery helm, fingers wound tightly around the wheel of Gazoo Racing’s latest darling the GR Corolla. It’s occupying, nay, competing in the highly contested, historically critical role of C-Segment hot hatchback. Brands are built, and legacies can crumble based solely upon how the latest offering from their respective marques fare here. So this Corolla has to impress.

I feel the pressure as I dip the weighty clutch into the carpet, and with my left hand shift the manual lever into first gear. The cabin is decorated in the tinsel of motorsport: carbon fibre and leather, with GR emblems dotting the space. There’s a man at my window counting me down, because oh, did I mention that I’m about to launch this thing at the first corner of Zwartkops Raceway?

Track toy, confirmed

Go! I drop the clutch and am rewarded with an explosive launch control and already have much to report. But alas, it’s time to snatch second gear, climb up the rev range before descending on the brakes, then scything from right to left, kissing the blurry red and white curbs marking the exit of the corner. Repeat til giddy. This is fiercely addictive, but then track driving of any nature can be tons of fun. But this is the GR Corolla, and to appreciate it, we need to discuss some numbers.

There are only three cylinders under the bonnet of the Corolla; you might have been expecting four. Essentially, you’ve got the heart of the GR Yaris, but where that car made 198 kW and 360 Nm, its larger sibling boasts 221 kW, endowing it with an impressive zerotohundred sprint of just 5.29 seconds and a maximum speed of 230 kph. All of this, despite also only being a turboboosted1.6 l engine but deriving a great deal of help from Gazoo’s 4WD system, dubbed GR-Four. Which is precisely why I’m able to carve up the eight turns at Zwartkops with great alacrity and a ravenous needle absolutely tearing its way to the red line each time. 

That three-pipe exhaust system even manages to trump the onboard Android Auto/Apple Carplay as my favourite sound, raspy and full-bodied, goading me on to reach those high notes. Handling is sharp, rewarding a pointy front axle, and remaining flat in the turns. The GR Corolla makes use of McPherson struts up front paired with rear (trailing) wishbones, working in combination with Gazoo’s limited slip differential for tons of grips. Mind you, not completely infallible, there are indeed limits at which the traction will let go, usually at the rear end, and in the most smile inducing manner. I mean, it will slide, and with a bit of practice, you’ll easily prompt it back in line. The result is an engaging driving experience, comparable to the GR Yaris. But… you know… with two more doors and a larger cabin.

The GR Corolla parked and in action

Also a pretty face

I realise I’ve completely neglected the exterior, having started with the main event (the driving experience) but, well… just look at it. It’s sharp, wide and fits perfectly into Toyota’s long and illustrious motorsport-inspired Corollas. Indeed, the Corolla nameplate has been affixed to sedans, coupes, hatchbacks and fastbacks, even the occasional wagon, both locally and internationally. Yes, on tarmac and gravel. Based on the current-gen hatchback, but heavily fettled for performance, as illustrated by the carbon fibre roof on the Circuit model (but missing on the entry-level Core derivative), and an array of vents, wings, diffusers and more. The end result looks potent, like a three-pot turbo terroriser for the tarmac or dirt, and in practice, it isn’t far off. 

Toyota hot hatchback enthusiasts are a particular bunch, with specific needs who require strong representation in a legacy that includes nomenclatures such as TRD, RSI and RXI. And to them I only have this to say about the GR Corolla: “Have at it folks! You won’t be disappointed.”

Close up details of the GR Corolla

Toyota GR Corolla Pricing

Core model:      R841,00
Circuit model:   R902,400 

Click here for more info.

Full throttle

The brand-new Gazoo Racing headquarters opens at Zwartkops Raceway.

The Power of Three

Along with the GR Yaris and GR86, the Toyota GR Supra now spearheads a powerful triumvirate of hallowed whips. It also now has three pedals at play.