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 zero–to–hundred sprint of just 5.29 seconds and a maximum speed of 230 kph. All of this, despite also only being a turbo–boosted1.6 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.