The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Is So Good, I Want One

2023 Toyota Gr Corolla Featured Image. Photo: Toyota
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Featured Image. Photo: Toyota

How good is the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla? It made me believe it has racing DNA.

Whenever a car company comes out with a new “track-focused” car, my first response is skepticism. For most people, a “track car” is a regular production car with aggressive styling, slightly bigger brakes and a slightly stiffer suspension. But because I race cars, I know these adaptations are not completely true to what a track car is. There are lots of other components to making a track car fast and fun. Often, these features are part of the car’s inception. So when I found out I would be driving the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla on a track, you can imagine where my low expectations came from. 

To be clear, I wanted something different, but I wasn’t hopeful. However, my skepticism lifted a little when I learned the initial design plans for the new GR Corolla were sent back to the drawing board by Toyota Chief engineer Naoyuki Sakamoto. He said the Corolla needed to be “wider and wilder.” I love that phrase. And let me tell you: what I experienced shocked me. Toyota DID IT.

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Lofty Claims, Toyota! Photo: Annika Carter

Lofty claims, Toyota! Photo: Annika Carter

How did the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Change my Opinion?

I think I have now established that I was biased heading in to drive the GR Corolla. I expected a slightly spicy Corolla that simply tolerated a race track. As it turns out, the GR Corolla is not your average Corolla. Rather than just getting by, it managed to shine on the track.

Powered by a 1.6L 3-cylinder turbocharged motor making 300 horsepower, the GR Corolla is a completely different beast. Toyota’s engineers reviewed every component of the standard Corolla hatch to revamp into the GR Corolla. They even added 349 more weld points to the frame and additional bracing to stiffen the chassis. All these changes culminate in a Corolla with a wildly different personality than what we are used to. No longer an economical commuter car, the GR Corolla feels like it was a race car from the start.

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Red 2023 Toyota Gr Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

Red 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

Dazzled by What’s Standard on the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

The 2023 GR Corolla will be offered in three trim levels: Core, Circuit, and Morizo. The “base” trim level called Core starts at $35,900. However, I hesitate to call it the “base” trim level because there is nothing basic about it. Even at its entry trim, the GR Corolla comes standard with a sporty 6-speed manual transmission (and a manual transmission only!) paired with Toyota’s advanced GR-FOUR all-wheel-drive system. The GR-FOUR system has selective drive modes to change the drive bias. Drive bias is the amount of power divided between the front and rear wheels.

Cockpit Of The Gr Corolla. Photo: Toyota

Cockpit of the GR Corolla. Photo: Toyota

For standard driving, you can select the default 60-40 front bias, sending 60% of the power to the front wheels. If you want the rear of the car to slide a bit, you can choose a 70-30 rear bias, with 70% of the power going to the rear wheels. However, I don’t see any reason to change from the default track setting on asphalt. The 50-50, true four-wheel-drive is just so good. The Core does come standard with open differentials, which I personally would opt to upgrade with the Performance Package. 

All three trim levels come with four-piston front brakes and two-piston rear brakes. This provides more than enough braking power for a 3,200-pound car. The brakes on the Circuit and Morizo are painted red with the GR logo, an option added to the Core trim with the Performance Package.

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Brakes! Photo: Annika Carter

Brakes! Photo: Annika Carter

The gauges of the GR Corolla are shown on a 12-inch multi-information display. Among other things, it also displays turbo pressure, AWD mode, gear shift indicators, scheduled maintenance, outside temperature and a compass. Despite all this information, I didn’t find it to be too busy.

However, the GR Corolla does not come with a heads-up display. The GR Corolla has a simple 8-inch touchscreen that handles the multimedia system. It also has Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility.

Blind-spot monitoring is standard on all trim levels of the GR Corolla, as is Toyota Brake Assist and rear cross-traffic alert to help you avoid incidents on the road. Still, don’t expect all the bells and whistles of other modern-day $36,000+ cars. The “luxuries” in this car are in the engineering, not in the amenities.

Also, car enthusiasts alike will be overjoyed to hear that Toyota incorporated a true handbrake that disconnects drive to the rear wheels when pulled. Handbrake turns abound! 

Related: Performance Driving on a Track: You Simply MUST DO THIS!

Manual Transmission And A Handbrake! Photo: Toyota

Manual transmission AND a handbrake! Photo: Toyota

Different Trim Levels of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Cater to the Most Die-Hard Drivers

Inside the GR Corolla, Toyota provides us with just enough modern amenities. As a car “born on the track,” as Toyota says, we can’t expect too much luxury. It’s just enough to keep us comfortable.

The Core Trim Level

Starting at $35,900, the Core trim GR Corolla is adorned with most of the same aggressive styling cues as the higher trim levels. It has functional venting and aerodynamic elements. The exceptions are the hood vents and larger spoiler available on higher trims. However, the Core actually has one more functional vent than the Circuit and Morizo. The larger spoiler on the higher trim levels forced Toyota’s engineers to block off the front vents for the sake of aerodynamics. With or without a larger spoiler though, the wide, angular fender flares give this Corolla a whole new look.

The Core comes standard with fabric manually-adjustable seats. They have enough bolstering to keep you secure and a wide backrest to keep you comfortable. The Circuit and Morizo have leather trim. Still, the center panels are cloth to hold you in place during sporty driving.

When it comes to technology, all versions of the GR Corolla will come with two USB-C charging ports for your smart phone. Moreover, the Technology Package on the Core and Circuit trims come with Qi-compatible wireless charging. The audio system is relatively basic, with a standard 4-speaker system in the Core trim (available to upgrade with the Technology Package), an upgraded 8-speaker system in the Circuit trim. On the other hand, the Morizo has a bare-bones 2-speaker audio system.

Dash Of The 2023 Toyota Gr Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

Dash of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

The Circuit Trim Level

The Circuit trim of the GR Corolla is a special edition for the 2023 model year. Starting at $42,900, it will have the same drivetrain as the Core but weighs a little less. Also, it comes standard with red-painted brake calipers and Torsen limited slip differentials. On the exterior, the Circuit, like the Morizo, comes with vents in the hood, a larger spoiler on the rear, and a forged carbon fiber roof.

Inside, the Circuit is the most luxurious version of this car. Of course, calling it “luxurious” is still a stretch. The Circuit comes standard with the upgraded 8-speaker audio system with available Sirius XM and heated front seats and steering wheel. Even with the upgrades, though, it still has a very basic interior. The GR Corolla isn’t a car you buy for the interior or the luxury, though. It is a car you buy for the performance. 

Back Seat Of The 2023 Toyota Gr Corolla. Photo: Toyota

Back seat of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Photo: Toyota

And the Morizo!

That is where the Morizo comes in…my favorite! Starting at $49,000, the Morizon is stripped down almost to bare bones. It has just enough luxuries to keep you comfortable on the way to the track. Well, you and a friend. But only you and a friend, because the backseat has been removed. The rear windows do not roll down, and there is no rear windshield wiper.

The sound system has been pared down to the bare minimum. Don’t worry, you still have Android Auto/Apple Car Play and USB – C charging ports. The steering wheel and shift knob are ultra suede-wrapped. This is a nice sporty touch, although I am always concerned about the longevity of ultra suede on high-touch surfaces. While it provides great grip on the wheel during performance driving, it looks like it’ll soak up all the oils from your hands, though it is designed to be cleaned.

No Back Seat In The Morizo! Photo: Toyota

No back seat in the Morizo! Photo: Toyota

Performance-wise, the Morizo is almost 100 pounds lighter. It comes from the factory with 1psi higher maximum boost pressure, increasing torque over 20 lb-ft and lowering the 0-60 time by just a touch. With a shorter final drive ratio, you will find yourself shifting through more gears to reach the same speed as in a Circuit or Core. The Morizo also comes with special Morizo Edition matte black 10-spoke forged wheels with slightly wider Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. These have more grip than the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 4s available on the Core and Circuit. 

Red 2023 Toyota Gr Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

Red 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

Putting all these Performance Pieces Together is a Huge Success

Enough of the statistics, though. How does it drive?

The GR Corolla exceeded my expectations. I left wondering how I can get my hands on one (a Morizo Edition, to be specific). Toyota claims the GR Corolla was “born on track.” Let me tell you, they’re not bluffing. It just felt at home on the race track.

In track mode, with differentials set in the 50-50 equal bias, the GR Corolla goes where you put it. It loves the corners and sings on the straightaway. While it isn’t the most powerful car in production (not even close), it makes more than enough power for immense amounts of fun. The transmission feels precise, and the auto-rev match feature is excellent. For once, I was driving a street car on track that didn’t feel simply like a street car tolerating the track. The GR Corolla felt like a true track car. 

Me At The Track! Photo: Toyota

Me at the track! Photo: Toyota

What if I Don’t Know How to Drive on a Track?

Well. Toyota is putting its money where its mouth is. Toyota provides one free track day with the National Autosport Association with the purchase of the GR Corolla. Even if you have never been on a track before, I encourage you to attend. You will have a certified instructor to educate you on track driving techniques and keep you safe. You will have the opportunity to try out your new car in its natural habitat! 

In the last few months, Toyota has been in the crosshairs. A social media post went viral where a Toyota dealership initially refused to warranty a motor in a GR-86 after finding posts on the owner’s personal social media of him driving the car on track. GR owners were enraged — if Toyota is going to give them a track day with their new GR car, how can Toyota not warranty the car after said track day?

Toyota-USA did confirm that “responsible driving on track” is warrantied on all their GR cars, emphasizing that all situations are unique. As a side note, the original poster did eventually have his car repaired under warranty.

The Super-Fun 2023 Toyota Gr Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

The super fun 2023 Toyota GR Corolla. Photo: Annika Carter

It’s not for Everyone, but Everyone Who Drives it With Purpose Will Love It.

To be perfectly clear, the GR Corolla is not the car for everyone. It rides rougher than the standard Corolla hatchback because the suspension is stiffer. It gets significantly lower fuel mileage, too, at about 24 MPG combined. And it doesn’t come with any fancy options — no leather seats, no adaptive cruise control, no heads up display, no name-brand stereo upgrades, no automatic transmission, and no power seats.

Toyota really put their heads down and focused on making the GR Corolla one thing: an enthusiast’s car, designed and built by enthusiasts. It has just enough of the everyday luxuries to make commuting or running errands comfortable. However, for the non-car enthusiast, it would be a tough car to live with day to day, especially for the price. To my friends in the car enthusiast community, if you can get your hands on one…do. I haven’t loved a car directly off the factory floor this much in a long time. 

Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest for this test drive. Travel, accommodations and track time were provided, but all opinions are my own.

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Annika Carter has over four years of performance driving experience, both with and without professional instruction. She has driven... More about Annika Carter