Still wondering if the days of big-block V8s and muscle car bulk are over? Toyota says yes––emphatically and unequivocally––and the proof is stealthily lying in wait, poised to pounce, at your closest Toyota GR Corolla dealership. The Japanese automaker just pounded the final nail in the coffin of Detroit’s dominance over gritty street racers, then dropped the mic before hitting send on a press release announcing the all-new three-cylinder 2023 GR Corolla.
Three cylinders? It’s automotive blasphemy, say the old guard lovers of beefed-up muscle cars, with their 4-on-the-floor, 4-barrel-Edelbrock-carburetor excess. These days, eye-watering speed, agility, and performance come by way of ultra-efficient featherweight engines and turbochargers that pass the EPA’s increasingly stringent emissions standards without leaving drivers longing for more. A three-cylinder turbocharged Toyota-designed motor is all you need for track dominance.
The 2023 GR Corolla is the brainchild of Toyota’s performance division, Gazoo Racing (get it? GR), and a product of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s unyielding standards. The goal: design a (barely) street-legal hot hatch capable of drifting like a ballerina and tearing up the track with equal fervor. Goal achieved. Here’s the tea on Toyota’s modern street racer, how it went from concept to reality, and when you can expect to see it at Toyota dealerships.
The Boss Man Said So: How Akio Toyoda Channeled His Inner Frankenstein
Current Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda isn’t your stereotypical pedigreed white-collar executive with a law degree and an MBA. Though he is pedigreed––his grandpa founded Toyota––and he does hold a law degree and an MBA, he’s also an accomplished race car driver. His passion for racing led to the birth of the GR Corolla’s predecessor, the GR Yaris, for which Akio Toyoda served as a test driver. It’s not often to find a CEO and a race car driver in one man, but Akio Toyoda is that person.
Though the GR Yaris never made it to American dealerships, Akio Toyoda’s next baby, the GR Corolla, is headed this way. It’s just taken a bit longer than expected because, after taking a test drive of the final GR Corolla prototype, Akio Toyota demanded that chief engineer Naoyuki Sakamoto go back and try again. This, Toyoda’s team reports, is classic Akio. His relentless pursuit of perfection is the gift that keeps on giving for future GR Corolla owners.
Toyoda assumed the top role at Toyota in 2009 while continuing to pursue his double life as a race car driver. On the track, he operates under the pseudonym “Morizo” and has competed in several high-profile races, including the grueling Nurburgring 24 Hours. Toyoda earned style points at the GR Yaris’ launch event, emerging from the driver’s seat of the test car as it drifted to a stop amidst a throng of automotive journalists who had just witnessed the car ripping it up, doing donuts, and shredding rubber around the track. Not your typical CEO.
The GR Corolla is a Master Class in Efficient Output
Who knew a three-cylinder engine would one day outperform Detroit’s meatiest big-block V8? Toyota has done it with the GR Corolla’s 1.6-liter turbocharged marvel. It kicks out 300 ponies and 273 lb-ft of torque, pairing nicely with the GR Corolla’s standard GR-Four all-wheel drive system to deliver precise cornering and plenty of traction. Yet, thanks to a manually-adjustable drivetrain, the presence of an AWD system doesn’t preclude a little drifting.
The engine is tuned to tap into peak torque at 3,000-5,500 RPM, giving drivers a thrill on tight turns and during acceleration in low gears. The six-speed manual transmission––the only option on the 2023 GR Corolla––gives drivers full control, as does the all-wheel drive system’s selectable power distribution feature. Choose 60/40, 50/50, or 30/70 front/rear torque split to enhance efficiency, optimize traction, or perform drifting maneuvers, respectively.
The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla features the same aerodynamic hatch styling and architecture found on the GR Yaris (not available in America) and sits on Toyota’s TNGA-C platform. Optimal engine output is aided by the GR Corolla’s efficient three-piece exhaust system. Though the public doesn’t yet know just how quickly this race-inspired GR Corolla can get you to 60 mph, we expect it to be in the mid-five second range. Small, speedy, and stealthy aptly describe the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla.
Trims and Availability
Two trims are on offer for the 2023 model year: the Core and the Circuit Edition, the latter of which is a special edition version with limited availability. The Core comes with red, black, or white exterior paint, along with infotainment technology that includes an 8-inch touchscreen and a 12.3-inch driver display that houses key GR-related data, such as gear position, power distribution settings, and more.
The limited-run Circuit Edition receives more stylistic touches that also serve a purpose, namely, a prominent (translation: tall and glossy black) spoiler and a series of hood vents. Only 1,500 units are promised for the American market, so finding one might prove challenging. Lucky buyers can select white, red, or matte gray exterior paint, all of which blend nicely with the forged carbon-fiber roof and the pops of red accenting the cabin. The Circuit Edition unapologetically embodies old-school street rally cars.
Every Circuit Edition includes an autographed shift knob. Whose signature is it? Morizo’s, of course (a.k.a. Akio Toyoda). The GR Corolla Circuit Edition also includes heated sports seats with suede accents, a heated steering wheel, and an upgraded premium JBL audio system. Both trims receive a plethora of standard driver-assist safety systems via the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite, as well as 18-inch wheels and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires for maximum grip. Expect to see the first models hit Toyota dealerships in the Fall.
The Competition Should Be Worried
While the 2023 GR Corolla technically competes with such nameplates as the Hyundai Veloster N and the Subaru WRX, performance comparisons indicate that Toyota’s scrappy GR Corolla can chew up the track better than all of them. The clever three-door Veloster N achieves just 275 hp, while the WRX comes in at only 271 ponies, a dealbreaker for track drivers, for sure. In this segment, it’s all about optimizing speed and output.
As the hot hatch market heats up, all eyes are on the GR Corolla. Because it shares the same engine as the GR Yaris, a global phenomenon, there’s already plenty of buzz among automotive enthusiasts and journalists. Add to that Akio Toyoda’s fervent, almost maniacal devotion to building a perfectly tuned, track-ready machine, and it’s not unreasonable to believe the 2023 GR Corolla is the hot hatch to beat. After all, it’s not often a modern automaker builds a vehicle specifically designed for drifting.
It’s a good time to get to know your local Toyota dealer since demand is sure to be fierce. Get on the list to lock in your 2023 GR Corolla and be part of a select group of enthusiasts who can say they owned one of the first-ever GR Corolla hot hatch models. This is the car the editors at Car and Driver called “a little terror” and MotorTrend dubbed “feral,” reminding readers that its motor is “the most powerful production three-cylinder in the world.” While that might have seemed like a left-hand compliment before the GR Corolla was unveiled, Toyota has shown the world that a three-cylinder engine can be something special.