2023 Toyota GR Corolla

PHOENIX — Hammering out 300 horsepower with 273 lb.-ft of torque to the all-wheel drive system through a six-speed only manual shifter, the all-new for 2023 five-door Toyota Corolla GR hatchback is the newest performance offering from the detail-obsessed TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team, with master driver Akio Toyota, a.k.a. Morizo promising to infuse excitement into the Japanese automakers brand. Few cars for the 2023 model year has generated as much buzz and hype.

What starts out as a standard Corolla hatchback, is completely reworked into a track performing hot hatch aimed to compete against such stalwarts as the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru STI, Volkswagen Golf R and others. The GR is offered in three trim levels, Core, Circuit Edition and Morizo Edition. Our test GR Corolla was a pre-production Morizo which is limited to a production run of just 200 units for the 2023 model year.  

The GR Corolla starts at $36,995 including destination for the Core trim level with performance upgrades to the suspension, limited-slip differentials, larger brakes and, upgraded interior accouterments. The $42,000 Circuit Edition adds suede seating and blistered front and rear fender treatment and front and rear valences for a more aggressive in-your-face statement. We'll skip the rest of the narrative to describe the exterior visual and looks of our test MOROZO and let the accompanying photo images do a better job of it.

Our MOROZO Edition has a base price of $50,325 finished in an exclusive matte finished Smoke gray color comes equipped with a forged carbon fiber roof, rear lip spoiler vented bulge hood, Brin-Naub and synthetic leather-trimmed sport seats with red stitching, red mesh inserts and Untrasuede wrapped MOROZO signed shift knob. Morizo has had the rear seat removed andother components to reduce weight and maximize performance. All grades come equipped with Toyota’s all-new, US-developed multimedia system with an 8-inch touchscreen standard. Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 is standard.

We've already commented on the torque and horsepower but what's absolutely remarkable is that it comes from a 1.6-liter inline three-cylinder that propels this tuner from 0 to 60 in a manufacturer-claimed 4.99 seconds. That's crazy quick with the aid of its svelte 3,250 curb weight a big help along with a strong 26.3 psi of turbocharged boost.

The GR's all-wheel-drive system is truly remarkable and works through the magic of the center differential — well at least not a traditional center differential that divides the power front-to-rear. Rather it uses a wet clutch pack that varies the torque distribution between the two axels via a rather large counsel mounted twist knob with a "GR-Four" label seemingly pulled from the bygone era Celica GT Four vintage.

A twist of the knob to the left delivers a 60/40 torque split favoring the front axle — excellent for day-to-day aggressive driving. Twist the knob right and the split defaults to a 30/70 rear favored split under normal driving conditions. This is best selected for dry pavement and a rear-biased feel.

Pushing the knob down engages Track Mode, and the GR divides power equally front and rear. What's especially worth knowing is Track Mode is separate from the vehicle's traction-control operated by a toggled switch just in front of the short-throw six-speed manual shifter. We especially liked its rev-match shift capability feature. Next to the traction-control toggle is a drive mode switch selectable from Eco, Normal to Sport that sharpens throttle response and exhaust notes louder and more agreeable even though the stock exhaust notes are loud just the same.

But not all is goodness. There's significant and annoying turbo lag so getting off-throttle is best with ease to allow the little three pot to build boost. But once spooled up you'll delight with a rush of torque and mellifluous exhaust notes as a reward. We also found the shifter to be far from silky smooth and overly tall. The lower gears come quickly but fifth and sixth are more lethargic than hoped for. Redline is indicated at 7,000-rpm. Further, you'll need to keep the revs up through the gears to release maximum power. We liked the drilled metal pedals but wished they were closer together for easier heel-toe shifting even though I struggle mastering the maneuver.

Handling and cornering is relentless with tenacious grip aided by impressive performance from the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. But the lack of adaptive dampers results in a turbulent ride and harshness especially noticed by the front seat passenger. Even the smoothest of new blacktop does little to arrest the experience. On the positive side the cabin is surprisingly roomy with ample seat adjustment, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, excellent head, leg, hip and shoulder room. Again, there's no rear seat to this four-door hatch and the rear-door windows do not operate remaining in the closed position.

The infotainment screen is small, basic and not the most intuitive to use. Thankfully voice recognition while a bit slow to respond is spot on and performed flawlessly. There's a 12.3-inch virtual gauge cluster behind the steering wheel that operates with variable and changeable functions with information programmed for details and information for track day. I thought the seats were surprisingly comfortable and supportive but accompanying faux metal  and hard plastic trim pieces while durable left the interior on the staid side with little to brighten up the otherwise drab cabin.

Overall the GR Corolla MORIZO has a street tuner and unrefined feel that is exactly what you want if you like this sort of vehicle. I found the constant volume of the exhaust, the pounding ride and non-stop shifting to find the right gear more work than pleasure for my taste. But this car already has a huge fan base with a "sold out" status into the foreseeable future.

Toyota says each dealer may get "about three" GR Corollas to sell. There are around 1,500 U.S. Toyota dealerships meaning less than a 5,000 run and they're reporting they have a long list of buyers waiting to buy with some reporting as much as a $15,000 market adjustment to the full MSRP. Demand is so strong Toyota is asking dealers to stop taking orders because they cannot be fulfilled.

It isn't because Toyota can't build more, it's because like exotic supercars, keep demand high by building fewer. Dealers will be unable to order specific trim and color models for sold customer orders but will take what is sent to them with some dealers possibly not even getting one.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $36,995 to $50,325
Price as Tested: $52,640
Engine/Transmission: Inline 1.6-Liter turbocharged 300-horsepower, three cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed manual transmission and all-whe drive
Fuel Economy: 21/28/24-MPG City/Highway/Combined
Where Built: Motomachi, Japan

Crash Test Safety Rating: 2023 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and highest possible 5 star safety rating from  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:         
Honda Civic Type R
Hyundai Elantra N
Subaru STI
Volkswagen Golf R

Quick 300-hp Turbo-three engine
Triggerfish cornering grip and handling
Serious Tuner Car design
Desirably unrefined

Non-stop pounding ride
Sold out status with no orders being taken
No center console armrest

— Jim Prueter