Despite pH request selling the Corolla GR in Europe hasn’t had the desired effect, we’ve managed to get a unit on the Yaris GR’s big brother in the US To cut right to the chase, you may feel annoyed that it doesn’t seem destined for success here.
It’s hard to argue with success, and Toyota’s No. 1 global status means there must be some internal logic to creating two closely related but separate models, each targeting different sides of the Atlantic. If the GR Yaris were just an upgraded version of the standard car it would make sense, the supermini is no longer sold in the US. But the Yaris actually sits on a bespoke platform that uses a significant amount of Corolla underpinnings. Similarly, the Corolla is far from just a body kit and a big engine: the casing has a lot of extra gussets and has been modified to carry what is basically the suspension of the GR Yaris.
Anyway, back to basics. The Corolla is obviously bigger and heavier than the Yaris, its overall length of 4410mm is a substantial increase from 415mm – just over four packs of cigarettes in the old-fashioned vernacular. The difference in wheelbase is much less, with the Corolla’s axles sitting 80mm further apart with 2640mm between axle centers, giving the larger car much more substantial overhangs. According to Toyota numbers, the Corolla is also 200kg heavier. The big difference to the regular Corolla is width, with the GR’s 58mm increase in track covered by plastic arch extenders. (These look a bit stuck up close.) Up front, the toothed radiator grille looks great, giving a view of the intercooler behind. At the rear, it gets a bit silly with the unlikely sight of three distant extended tailpipes, two smaller ones on either side and a larger one in the middle.
But while the GR Yaris is effectively a 2+2 frankencoupe, with narrow and limited rear access, the GR Corolla is still a five-door Corolla, with a cabin almost as practical as lesser versions. It also feels equally sensible, with the same dark, durable plastics common to almost everything else Toyota has made. Beyond the custom GR graphics for the digital dash and the new powertrain select controller, the most notable differences are the Alcantara sport seats and the same foam steering wheel as the GR Yaris.
While the base powertrain is the same in both cars, the Corolla gets more power. Toyota has increased the boost pressure for the 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine to a maximum of 25.2 psi, making 300 hp, accompanied by 273 lb-ft of torque. (Morizo’s next hardcore version will get even more boost to increase torque output to 295 lb-ft.) That’s some serious specific power for any engine, 185hp/litre, and there’s never any question of the forces involved in getting that much out of such a small engine, with an unconventional buzzing idle and plenty of induction noise and valve flutter. download. .
Power gets to the wheels through the exact same transmission as the GR Yaris, a six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox with a torque-split coupling that varies the amount of effort sent to both axles, this is adjusted via the small circular controller next to the gear lever. The standard split is 60:40, but the rotary control on the center console allows the balance to be reversed (more than) to 30:70, while pressing it to select Track mode converts the split to 50:50. Front and rear limited-slip differentials are optional on the US-spec base model and standard on the most advanced track edition I’ve driven in the States.
The engine is as effervescent and exciting as in the Yaris. There’s a lot of lag, as you’d expect given the boost pressures involved. Move the throttle below 2000 rpm and you can count the time it takes to build momentum in Mississippis. But the revs get it right, and the GR is one of those cars that always prompts you to push harder, grunting louder as the revs pick up. It starts to feel a bit tight just before the 7,200-rpm limit, but it’s still happy to get to this. The slowness of the gears also contributes to the speed at which ratios are gobbled up: the second one wears out shortly after 60 mph. Despite the added mass, Toyota claims the Corolla is slightly quicker, citing a 0-60 mph time of 5.0 seconds.
A couple of weaknesses of the GR Yaris have also made the transition to the new car. The Corolla’s throttle and brake pedal are poorly positioned for the kind of heel-and-toe revs that match this kind of car that’s surely built to celebrate. Of course, there is a switchable automatic alert system called i-MT and it is activated by a button hidden in the lower dash. It works clean and well, but it would be nice to also have the opportunity to do it yourself.
Subjective call, but I also left my driving wanting a little more natural feedback from the steering. The rack has a lower gear than most hot hatchbacks, though the Corolla’s reactions are sharp and linear once a bit of lockup is applied. Once loaded into a corner, the steering feels properly dialed in, holding onto the front wheels even as lean angles begin to form. But there’s very little of the kind of off-center chatter that something like the previous generation Civic Type R excelled at. Driving the GR back-to-back with a Golf R (the Volkswagen rarely stands out as a steering-feel model) proved that the R was definitely richer in feel.
But that clears the deck of substantive criticism. The rest of the GR driving experience is seamless. It’s definitely best thought of as a compact car with all-wheel drive superpowers rather than a modern equivalent to earlier rally proxies like the Lancer Evo or Impreza STI. Toyota’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires generate plenty of grip, but even with the maximum amount of torque sent to the rear, the handling balance always felt tilted forward on dry roads.
It’s definitely not one of those Velcro performance cars. Pushing hard on the GR leads to slight understeer, even in the fastest corners. But this is just an opening tactic: releasing the throttle slightly immediately tightens the line, and a larger lift can cause the rear to open up more. At this point, in a longer or tighter corner, it is possible to get the power back and start using the throttle to adjust and accommodate the attitude of the car. This is not lush oversteer – the only place I got the GR to yaw properly was on gravel. But it makes the car feel compelling and exciting, both edgy and confident.
Suspension settings are also very flexible for such a senior hatchback. The Corolla stays impressively flat even under heavy cornering loads, but it also uses its suspension travel to soak up bumps well. Even being thrown down a bumpy, curvy road didn’t affect the shocks, keeping the GR’s body mass under tight control. In fact, it seemed to ride a little better than my memories of the lighter Yaris GR. While the compliance of the composite chassis may not seem particularly exciting, the engine provides more than enough sound and fury to make up for it. It also means the Corolla handles cruising speeds well.
Toyota’s logic of maintaining an ocean between the GR Yaris and GR Corolla suggests that they think the two cars are too close together to share the same market, despite clear differences in both size and dynamic purpose. With the proviso that I don’t work in automotive product planning, I honestly wonder if that’s really the case: I think the Corolla GR could easily appeal to a different demographic in Europe without cannibalizing sales of the smaller car.
Even with near-record lows for the pound against the dollar, the GR Corolla also appears to be good value for money. The base car is $36,995 in the US before sales taxes (which vary from state to state), the Circuit adds a carbon fiber roof, larger rear spoiler and smart differences for an additional $7,000. And the Morizo, which will strip down and lose its rear seat to save 100 pounds, will cost $50,995 and be limited to an initial run of just 200 cars. All of those prices are almost guaranteed to have additional dealer markups, something allowed in the US Don’t be surprised if the first Morizos change hands for over $100,000.
But regardless of all that, it’s necessary to restate the obvious: It’s not too late, Toyota. Bring it.
Specification | Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Pack
Engine: 1618 cc three-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300 to 6500rpm
Torque (foot-pounds): 273 at 3250rpm
0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
Maximum speed: to be confirmed
Price: $43,995 (£38,550)