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2023 Toyota GR Corolla: The U.S. Finally Gets a Proper Hot Hatch

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Competes with: Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Elantra N, Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX

Looks like: A European rally car for the street

Drivetrain: 300-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine; six-speed manual transmission; standard adjustable all-wheel drive

Hits dealers: Late 2022 for the Core Edition; 2023 for the Circuit Edition

Some of us are old enough to remember when Toyota made some pretty kick-ass sports cars. The Supra used to be a pure Toyota effort, not a rebodied, rebadged BMW. The Celica was around, too, featuring some stylish, front-wheel-drive fun. There were several generations of the MR2 mid-engine sportster that we miss as well. And while the latest GR86 is indeed a good time, it’s really more Subaru than Toyota. Well, the head of Toyota, Chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda, is not just a racing fan, he’s also a racing driver of some considerable ability, but even he can’t magically make new sports cars appear. He can, however, create some fun variants of existing products using the company’s Gazoo Racing effort, which has become the brand’s de facto motorsports division (notice that its current performance cars are called GR Supra, GR86, etc.). Here’s the latest one: the new 2023 Toyota GR Corolla.

Related: 2021 Toyota Corolla Apex Edition Review: Why Put Track Shoes on an Accountant?

Exterior

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The GR Corolla is based on the Corolla hatchback, not the sedan, but it gets some extensive body changes that differentiate it. Two versions of the GR Corolla will be offered: the less-expensive Core trim arriving this year and the more extreme, limited-production Circuit Edition coming in 2023. Both cars share similar bodywork, with obvious front and rear fender flares extending the width of the car to cover some serious 40-series Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires on 18-inch wheels.

Front and rear canard wings channel airflow down the sides of the vehicle while a functional rear spoiler adds downforce and grip. The hood, fender and rear bumper ducts are also functional and add additional downforce while a flat underfloor reduces drag, according to Toyota.

Both the Core and Circuit Edition get many of the same styling cues but vary in their gloss- or matte-black application. All models get aluminum hood and front door panels, but the Circuit Edition gets a forged carbon-fiber roof instead of a steel one to save weight and lower the car’s center of gravity.

Colors will be limited as well. The Core is available in white, black and Supersonic Red with a color-keyed roof and gloss-black spoiler. The Circuit Edition comes in white, Supersonic Red and Heavy Metal (dark gray) with a matte-black spoiler.

Interior

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Inside, the new GR Corolla is a somber affair, meant to convey the serious business of racing instead of something a bit crazier, like the Honda Civic Type R’s outlandish colors. You can have any interior color you like — as long as it’s black. The Core gets silver trim details, while the Circuit Edition goes for red trim around the door handles, center console, steering wheel and side air vents. The Core gets black fabric sport seats with gray stitching. There’s a 6-way manual adjustable seat for the driver and a 4-way adjustable seat for the passenger. The Circuit Edition’s seats get a little fancier with Brin Naub suede and synthetic leather coverings with red mesh inserts.

Both models get a new 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with a “GR meter” that displays  four-wheel-drive mode, turbo pressure, gear-position indicator, tachometer and specific start-up animation. All vehicles get standard push-button start, aluminum pedals, two USB charging ports, lighted footwells and the new Toyota Audio Multimedia system with an 8-inch center console display. Standard on the upmarket Circuit Edition will be automatic climate control, heated front seats, premium audio with eight JBL speakers and a heated sport steering wheel with audio controls. A signed Morizo shift knob will also come standard — but only on the launch-year production of the Circuit Edition.

Powertrains and Performance

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The best bits of the new GR Corolla are under the skin, however. It starts with what promises to be a stunning powertrain: a standard turbocharged 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine making 300 hp and 273 pounds-feet of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission (no automatic will be offered) and routed to all four wheels via a sport-tuned AWD system. This is going to be a rev-happy motor; it produces its peak torque between 3,000 rpm-5,500 rpm and peak horsepower at a lofty 6,500 rpm, according to Toyota.

The AWD system is pretty novel as well, featuring a driver-adjustable power distribution: 60/40 for normal driving, 50/50 for balanced track driving or 30/70 for sporty rear-biased driving for back roads or perhaps even drifting. The base Core car features standard open 4WD differentials on the front and rear, but a limited-slip differential set is available with the Core Performance Package; the Circuit Edition features standard Torsen limited-slip differentials.

There have been extensive changes to the GR Corolla’s structure versus the standard Corolla as well, with Toyota boosting the car’s rigidity through the use of significantly more spot welds to strengthen joints and extensive use of structural adhesive. The front suspension is a sport-tuned MacPherson strut design, while the rears use a double-wishbone, coil-spring setup. Brakes are fixed-caliper, four-piston front units with ventilated, slotted discs measuring 14 inches by 1.1 inches; they’re two-piston calipers in the rear with 11.7-by-0.7-inch ventilated rotors. The Circuit Edition wears standard red calipers with a GR logo.

Pricing and Release Date

Toyota has not provided any performance estimates for the new GR Corolla, nor any pricing — those will come closer to the car’s on-sale date later this year. The automaker did announce that the Core model will have three possible option packages: the Performance Package with front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials; a Technology Package with upgraded audio, navigation and wireless smartphone charging; and a Cold Weather Package with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

The new GR Corolla seems to be a pure Toyota-engineered sports machine like we used to see from the biggest carmaker in the world. Here’s hoping that it’s a better sorted machine than the current “sporty” Corolla, the Apex, which we did not enjoy. The GR Corolla seems to be a far more sorted, better-engineered effort; our hopes are high for this one.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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