With the reveal of the GR Corolla, Toyota has cemented their place as the poster child of accessible high performance that isn’t from something Europe. Launched on April 1st, seemingly intentionally, the factory-modified 300hp all-paw hatch makes its rivals look a little foolish for dropping the ball.
In one swift stroke, Toyota’s Gazoo Racing just became the eminent Japanese high performance brand, at least insofar as cars that are not purpose-built supercar-slayers like the Nissan GT-R or the resurrected (and US-built) Honda NSX are concerned.
Corolla Is Cool Now
It’s true, especially so given the recent news last month that Subaru won’t be pursuing a hotter STI version of the second-generation (VB) WRX. At the earliest, we’ll have to wait for for them to figure out how to make their rally-bred AWD nutter electrified, which could take until their next full generational step.
In the same arena, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has long been in comatose, handing arch-rivals Subaru an uncontested slice of the market that was dominated by this duopoly for almost two decades. But who knows, their new Renault-Nissan bosses might the 'Evo' name from the dead as an SUV. How sad would that be?
In their absence, it looked almost too easy for Toyota to scoop up all the limelight for itself. And so they did, taking the relevant bits from the excellent GR Yaris to craft a hot hatch that ticks all the performance boxes in a larger, more daily drivable 5-door format.
It’s definitely not as bespoke as its smaller sibling, though, meaning it will be much less expensive to build and sell, though no pricing has been confirmed. While the GR Yaris is almost unrecognisable under the skin to the base car, this is still most definitely a Corolla. Toyota claims that it does use a specially constructed “high rigid body”, however.
Since we already have that smaller car as a benchmark, expectations are high that this larger, newer one will deliver the same kind of undiluted thrills. Its main ingredients are promising: a 1.6-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder and tickled to yield 300hp (up from 268hp in the GR Yaris) and 320Nm that’s hooked up to Toyota’s clever GR-Four all-wheel drive system via a rev-matching 6-speed manual transmission. Want an auto? Too bad!
Cars specified with the optional Circuit Edition will also be equipped with a pair of Torsen differentials for even better grip and cornering response. Serious stuff.
It definitely looks the part too with properly flared arches to fill its widened track, unique 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, and even a very cool looking triple-exist exhaust system that, along with the new “multi-oil jet” piston cooling and other intake system upgrades, Toyota credits with hitting its increased power and torque figure.
The automaker has not made specific mention of performance stats such as acceleration and top speed but expect a sub-5.0 second century sprint and around 250km/h flat out if gearing permits.
Rivals - Dead, Alive, Or Knocked Out
As far as current cars from Japan go, only the (FK8) Honda Civic Type R poses any in-category threat to the GR Corolla with a few more horses being squeezed from its 2.0-litre VTEC Turbo four-cylinder (306hp). It even brought that tri-exit exhaust layout back into the mainstream.
While definitely fast and engaging, the FK8 might start to trail the Toyota over multiple laps of a circuit where its front-drive layout could sacrifice valuable tenths to the grippier and more sure-footed GR-Four all-wheel drive system. That said, Honda is well into development of more potent successor based on the 11th-gen Civic, so keep an eye on that.
Obviously, the Subaru WRX still looms large but without an STI to top off the range, its 2.4-litre turbo flat-four will only yield 270hp from factory. More damning is its non-negotiable pairing with a CVT and the fact that, unlike the Toyota and Honda, it’s only available as a four-door sedan.
Oddly enough, the Hyundai Veloster N and the i30N are both very Asian and very good hot hatchbacks, but doesn’t exactly square up with either of the Gazoo Racing products in terms of drivetrain layout. Like the Honda, they’re front-drive only.
Over in Europe, the pool of contenders gets substantially larger but also more scattered. At the forefront sits the reigning (AWD and FWD) hatch king in the form of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R (together with its Audi counterpart, the S3) both powered by a venerable 2.0-litre EA888 turbo-petrol. The Focus RS was an equally excellent AWD hooligan, but Ford has so far shelved it after 3rd-generation car was phased out. Then there's the Renault Megane RS, but again it's only in FWD.
Mercedes-Benz, without going into completely OP (over•powered) territory with the A 45 S, offers the tamer A 35 while BMW will happily take any positive attention the non-RWD M135i can get.
That said, that would mean wandering into the ‘premium’ tier of cars. The whole point of GR Corolla is to make high performance accessible and fun, an intention not unlike the BRZ/86 twins that were introduced 10 years ago, speaking of which……
A Toyota-Led Revival For The Subaru STI?
Anyone else see an uncanny resemblance between the new GR Corolla and the Impreza WRX STI from about 15 years (and a few generations) ago?
Back in 2007, Subaru introduced their then-latest evolution of an AWD rally-bred beast as both a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatch. The car, ironically designated GR within its brethren, was an alternate two-box take on the fire-breathing Impreza.
After a production run of 7 years and the automaker distancing that nameplate from the Impreza family via its follow-on, referred to as the first-generation WRX, Subaru would abandon the hatchback form factor and keep those cars and its controversial 2021 replacement strictly as sedans.
What a shame, too, since Toyota have now made a car that’s so similar in its technical foundation which has been so enthusiastically received by the car community. So far, the GR Corolla looks like a win for Toyota. If so, it’s rooted in a the untapped potential that other automakers - namely Subaru, Ford, and Mitsubishi - left behind.
That said, Toyota and Subaru do have pretty close ties and have not shied away from selling re-badged versions of each other’s cars as their own - just look to the aforementioned co-development of the 86 (+ newer GR86) and BRZ or the fully electric Toyota bZ4X coming to market simultaneously as the Subaru Solterra.
Could it be beyond reason to think that the next WRX STI could be staring us in the face, disguised for now as this Toyota GR Corolla?