Tested: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Is A Rally-Bred Riot

From the November 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

Toyota wore the stink of appliance-grade transportation with pride for a long time. Reliability is neither sexy nor fun—unless you’re into actuarial science, in which case, are you reading the right rag? But the past decade has been different for Toyota. It introduced two codeveloped rear-wheel-drive sports cars—the GR86 with Subaru and the Supra with BMW, both 10Best winners—plus a rally-inspired GR Yaris for overseas markets. Now we get the Yaris’s larger sibling, the GR Corolla. Are we crazy, or is Toyota the leading enthusiast brand of the day?

The GR Corolla is an absolute beauty. It’s capable of speeds as fast as anyone should feel comfortable going on public roads. The 143-mph governor can be reached on the street, but if you drive that fast on two-lane roads, you probably belong in a cage.

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Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

We tested the mid-grade Circuit trim, which starts at $43,995. A base Core model is $7000 cheaper, and a $7000-pricier two-seat Morizo edition will come later in 2023.

At the heart of the GR Corolla is a 1.6-liter inline-three, a spunky little mill that also powers the GR Yaris. With a 10.5:1 compression ratio and a tiny turbo generating up to 25.2 psi of boost in the Core and Circuit models, it’s not without lag—the GR Corolla’s 5-to-60-mph time is 6.4 seconds—but it isn’t even the slightest bit offensive. A balance shaft cancels the inherent imbalance of the triple, and the passenger’s-side powertrain mount is liquid filled to further quell shakes.

If you’re hoping for the wild three-cylinder wail of a Yamaha motorcycle or snowmobile, you’ll be disappointed. Despite the presence of a two-stage intake and exhaust and the occasional blow-off-valve whoosh, the engine sounds totally normal. It’s more like a four than other automotive threes of recent memory—BMW i8, Mitsubishi Mirage, or Smart ForTwo. When Toyota developed this engine for the Yaris, three engineering teams in the United States, Germany, and Japan worked together using computer-aided engineering to produce a working prototype in six months, about half the time of typical development. In the Corolla Core and Circuit models, it makes 300 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 pound-feet at 3000 rpm. The torque curve stays flat up to 5500 rpm. The Morizo edition gets a midrange bump to 295 pound-feet courtesy of a little more boost.

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Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

The very stout driveline is seemingly impervious to the engine’s best efforts to destroy it. Borrowed from the homologation-special GR Yaris, the all-wheel-drive system and transmission were developed with private rally teams in mind. Following the best-practices advice of Toyota R&D, we launched the GR like a rally car, with lots of clutch slip. The GR Corolla swallowed all the abuse we could throw at it, and we never even smelled the dreaded stink of vaporized clutch material.

For the best launch, hold revs near the limiter and make sure the engine doesn’t dip below 4000 rpm. But the driveline wasn’t developed for reaching 60 mph in second gear. Thus, the 4.9-second 60-mph time doesn’t fully represent the car’s quickness off the line. Eliminate a shift and the GR would run quicker than the manual hot-hatch leader Volkswagen Golf R, with its 4.7-second sprint. The GR makes up some time in the quarter-mile, tying the VW with a 13.3-second run. The prototype we tested came straight from the media launch, and both the second- and third-gear synchros were easily beat. We’re confident our next go with a GR will result in even more impressive test results.

auto, autos, car, cars, reviews, toyota, tested: 2023 toyota gr corolla circuit is a rally-bred riot

Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

And it had better, because 300 horses is the opening bid in this segment. The Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R accomplish this, albeit from larger-displacement engines. The Corolla makes up for lack of a knockout punch by keeping mass trim. The Circuit’s standard forged carbon-fiber roof helps Toyota deliver all-wheel drive in a 3269-pound curb weight. The front-drive Type R, which gets replaced any day (come back next month), is about 100 pounds lighter.

The Circuit’s standard front and rear Torsen differentials maximize grip. Drivers can select from three torque splits for the center clutch-pack coupler, with 70, 50, or 40 percent of available torque driving the rear axle. Toyota says the best performance comes from the 50:50 Track mode.

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Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

Acceleration alone doesn’t make this car wonderful. Even better is its compliance on Michigan’s carpet-bombed roads. Fixed-rate dampers provide a ride-handling balance reminiscent of a ’90s BMW. There are no electronic crutches to toggle the suspension from soft to firm, yet jounce is never so abrupt that it violently tosses your head. The spring and bushing selections seem perfectly matched to the reinforced econocar unibody.

LOWS: Econo-grade interior, some might want a stiffer chassis, limited availability will likely drive up transaction prices.

To get a Corolla body up to GR status, Toyota adds nine feet of structural adhesive and a whopping 349 additional spot welds, not to mention additional underfloor bracing. The result is a firm but not overly stiff structure. An Audi RS3 feels like granite in comparison. There is a little, tiny, minute bit of chassis flex—not nearly as much as in a Mazda Miata—that is a boon to feel. Toss the GR into a corner and you can practically sense the load travel up its path from the tire’s contact patch.

Michelin Pilot Sport 4—not 4S—tires provide 0.94 g of grip and a healthy dollop of understeer on the skidpad, although they feel much stickier on the road, and the car is more neutral. Other manufacturers should benchmark this brake pedal: It’s resolute underfoot and responds perfectly to small changes in pressure. Stopping from 70 mph in 167 feet isn’t great for this segment, but at least it’s without fade.

auto, autos, car, cars, reviews, toyota, tested: 2023 toyota gr corolla circuit is a rally-bred riot

Marc Urbano|Car and Driver

One of our few gripes is the pedal placement. With such a firm middle pedal, the accelerator is almost out of reach for an easy heel-toe downshift. Fortunately, a modified pedal is about the easiest alteration an owner can make. Hidden behind the steering wheel is the iMT button that activates rev matching, but why muddle this car with computer assistance?

Other complaints are more aesthetic. The interior is that of a car that starts at $22,645. There is no center arm rest. The infotainment screen is barely bigger than some smartphones, and its interface seems PalmPilot inspired. But it does have wireless Apple CarPlay and an inductive phone charger. And how many rally cars have a heated steering wheel?

VERDICT: As close to the perfect blend of livability, affordability, and fun that is available today. And it’s a Toyota?

Possibly the worst news for prospective buyers is that Toyota plans to build just 6600 GRs for the U.S. market this first year. The car has already achieved cult status and hasn’t even rolled off the showroom floor. You may not get one the first year, but you will be able to eventually. It’s worth the wait.


At one point, I wanted a 1988–89 Mazda 323 GTX something fierce. That car was a rally-inspired special, built on the lowly Mazda 323 but priced twice as high as a normal 323 hatch. It had a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, a five-speed manual, and an all-wheel-drive system with a lockable center differential giving a 50/50 torque split. The GR Corolla follows a similar blueprint, but with loads more power and sophistication. Driving the Gazoo is a riotous good time, and I’m determined not to miss out again. —Dan Edmunds

I’ve always thought the latest Corolla had a decent chassis. What rendered it uncompetitive against the Civics and Mazda 3s of the world was, well, pretty much everything else—but mostly its powertrain and interior. Now that the folks at Gazoo Racing have installed this high-strung turbo three, I don’t care so much about the graining of the plastics. The GR is pure fun thanks to lively throttle response, an eagerness to change direction, and prodigious grip. It’s great that such a single-minded machine exists at all, let alone that it was born of such humble origins. —Joey Capparella



2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

PRICEBase/As Tested: $43,995/$44,420
Options: Heavy Metal paint, $425

ENGINEturbocharged and intercooled inline-3, aluminum block and head, port and direct fuel injection
Displacement: 99 in3, 1618 cm3Power: 300 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm

6-speed manual

CHASSISSuspension, F/R: struts/multilinkBrakes, F/R: 14.0-in vented, grooved disc/11.7-in vented, grooved discTires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4
235/40ZR-18 (95Y)

DIMENSIONSWheelbase: 103.9 inLength: 173.6 inWidth: 72.8 inHeight: 57.2 in
Passenger Volume: 85 ft3
Cargo Volume: 18 ft3
Curb Weight: 3269 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS60 mph: 4.9 sec100 mph: 12.1 sec1/4-Mile: 13.3 sec @ 105 mph140 mph: 29.7 secResults above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.4 secTop Gear, 30–50 mph: 8.5 secTop Gear, 50–70 mph: 7.1 secTop Speed (gov ltd): 143 mphBraking, 70–0 mph: 167 ftBraking, 100–0 mph: 329 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.94 g

Combined/City/Highway: 24/21/28 mpg

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