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Toyota’s GR Corolla – SABRINA?

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Toyota’s GR Corolla – SABRINA?

Toyota’s GR Corolla


I know…this is an overview of Toyota’s hot hatch, the GR Corolla. But let’s discuss Sabrina, the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Growing up above the garage – her father is the family chauffeur – Hepburn’s Sabrina attempts to contain a huge crush on Holden’s character, David Larrabee. (This is while I developed a huge crush on Larrabee’s Nash-Healey.) Early in the movie, Sabrina sits in a tree – at an age when girls her age have stopped climbing trees…if they ever did – watching a Larrabee party, wishing she was there. To make a long story less long, Sabrina leaves for a culinary school in France, and upon her return she and David get reacquainted. One thing leads to another, and – in short – you really should watch the movie. 

The socioeconomic divide between ‘above the garage’ and the Larrabee mansion runs throughout the film, while a similar divide exists at a Toyota dealership. In Toyota’s drawing room is the Supra, Sequoia and an about-to-be-revived Land Cruiser, while above the garage is the oh-so-ubiquitous Corolla. Today, crashing that Larrabee party is the GR Corolla, a seriously hot hatch that, if it were a politician, would be deemed ‘disruptive’.

The recipe, of course, is familiar – and having spent time recently in both the Golf R and Acura’s Integra Type S, I know it can be compelling. Not only are extensive modifications made to the basic Corolla hatch, but the GR Corolla is given its own dedicated factory and assembly processes, much like a Mustang – in the mid-‘60s – was initially sent to Carroll Shelby’s ‘finishing school’ in Los Angeles to become the GT350. At Toyota’s Motomachi plant, the frame is reinforced and fenders are flared, but there’s far more lurking beneath the visual mods than, well…those visual mods. 

I’ve always liked the basic Corolla hatch, and there’s even more to like in this hotter variant. It’s visually tight, and within the context of its 30-something target audience, it looks almost adult when compared to its most direct competitor, Honda’s Civic Type R.

Given that the GR moniker is derived from GAZOO Racing, you’d better have something under the hood. Out goes the Corolla’s prosaic four, and in its place the GR Corolla is blessed with a 1.6 liter turbocharged three delivering 300 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The power comes in at 6,500 rpm, while peak torque begins at 3,000 revs and tops out at 5,500. Directed – notably – to all four wheels via Toyota’s GR Four All Wheel Drive System, 60 arrives in under 5 seconds; actually, it’s 4.99 seconds, to be obsessively precise. And the GR Corolla will rocket on to a governed top speed of 142.9 miles per hour. (For those of you looking for a top speed of 143, you’ll need to shop elsewhere.)

The use of an all-aluminum turbocharged three helps the GR Corolla’s fore/aft balance, and keeps the curb weight under 3,300 pounds. And when speaking of fore/aft balance, the GR-Four all-wheel drive system can be adjusted with just a twist of the dial. Everyday driving will typically call for a 60:40 front/rear split, while maximizing the fun factor suggests a 30:70 split. Should you want stability – and in 2023, who doesn’t? – dial up the 50:50 balance for track days or life’s ‘special stages’. It’s an amazing piece of engineering for what is – at its most basic – a production vehicle.

Of course, when you have 300 horsepower propelling just over 3,200 pounds, you’re well served by the appropriate mods made to suspension, wheels and tires. It all starts with a stiffened platform, made stronger with 349 more spot welds and extensive use of structural adhesive. 

Front suspension is a MacPherson strut design, while the rear employs a double-wishbone multilink assembly. None of this is revolutionary, but underscores Toyota’s ability to engineer high performance capability in what begins as a very pedestrian package. Our base Core GR also boasted the $1180 Performance Package, which includes front and rear Torsen Limited slip differentials and, not incidentally, red brake calipers and GR logo. On the ground are 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires mounted on 15-spoke cast alloy wheels. 

Inside, a clean, uncluttered dash design boasts a GR Full TFT meter with a 12.3-inch Multi-Information Display, showing you and your engaged passenger 4WD mode, turbo pressure, gear position and tach. Designed, we’re told, for easy viewing ‘in any condition’, it probably deserves its own GoPro.

If I were to ask for one change, it’d be to tighten the manual shift linkage. It doesn’t lack precision, but throws are too long for what should be a snick-snick operation. And while I like manuals, offering a dual-clutch automatic wouldn’t be the worst thing on the Build Your Own website.

Described by its builder (or, more accurately, the writer of its press release) as a Pure Toyota sports car, the descriptive nails it on the head if – of course – a sports car can include four doors and a hatch. 

My sports car is a ’21 Miata – a purchase decision I don’t regret. But if wanting to add a strong dose of automotive joy to an everyday commute, the GR Corolla presents a compelling opportunity. At a window sticker starting at $40K and accelerating through two additional trim levels (one of which is a track car, pure and not so simple…), it’s not cheap – but less expensive than building your own. 

In sum, don’t watch the party. Be the party.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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