2023 Toyota GR Corolla First Drive: Play With Your Toys

I think we all grew up with a friend who got all the cool toys we coveted. While Saturday morning cartoons urged us to "collect 'em all," the likelihood that our parents would spend more of their not-so-disposable income on yet another martial arts-themed reptile doll was slim, even if it was the purple one. This wasn't the case with that friend, who inexplicably had a complete set of all the latest figures, and while you might've been invited over to see them, they weren't to be touched. "These are collectables," they'd say, as you stare at the hands-off tableau of plastic playthings, frustrated and confused.

"What's the point of having cool toys if you're not going to play with them?" you ask yourself through gnashed teeth on the dejected skateboard ride home. Fast forward to now: you've grown up, but so have the toys. And while that kid is still out there somewhere, hoarding fun stuff and sticking it in a garage to gather dust, nowadays, there are more like-minded enthusiasts like you out there. For instance, there's this one guy, they call him "Morizo." He might not be your friend, but he's been building quite a collection of toys, and he wants everyone to play with them. In fact, he just added the GR Corolla to the mix. Are you ready to have some fun?

Toy Chest

The GR Corolla is the latest edition to Toyota's GR performance lineup, currently made up of the Supra, GR 86 and the GR Yaris, the brand's overseas-exclusive sporty hatchback. While North American enthusiasts have had the Corolla SE to satiate their playful hatchback desires, the GR Corolla takes the car to the next level, escalating taking it beyond a fun daily driver and turning it into a full-on track-ready performance car.

No half measures were taken, either. The car's GR conversion was spearheaded by none other than Toyota president Akio Toyoda, who carefully scrutinized its development and even handled much of the real-world testing until it received his stamp of approval. A prolific racer in his own right, Toyoda-san races under the not-so-secret name of Morizo, which is the name of the GR Corolla's limited edition top-tier model. Beneath the Morizo are two other versions, the Core and the Circuit edition.

Potent Powerplant

Bigger and beefier than the standard Corolla, the GR hatchback kicks things off by replacing the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 1.6-liter 3-cylinder turbo. This lighter and more powerful engine is the same one found in the GR Yaris, though tuned to deliver a higher power output. In the Core and Circuit iterations, the engine produces 300 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque while in the Morizo, it churns out 295 pound-feet of torque at around 3,000 RPM.

Power is sent exclusively through a six-speed manual gearbox fitted with rev-matching software to support smoother gear shifts. Before you ask, yes, it can be manually disabled. An all wheel drive system routes power to the back and front axle, though drivers can select the ratio they desire with a twist of a dial. The Core has an open differential as standard, but can be equipped with front and rear limited slip diffs with the inclusion of a performance package. These are included with the Circuit and Morizo editions.

All told, Toyota claims the Core and Circuit GR Corolla can sprint from 0 to 60 in 4.99 seconds, while the Morizo manages a 4.92-second run. All versions top out at 142 mph.

Rigid And Ready

To support the boost in power along with being put through the wringer by enthusiastic drivers, the GR Corolla has been reinforced with additional structural support, increased joint rigidity and adding 349 more spot welds than the standard version. Reducing weight has been an essential part of the equation, with the use of lightweight materials in areas where strength and safety wouldn't be compromised. In the Circuit and Morizo editions, the roof is made of forged carbon, which is light but rigid, shaving off a few extra pounds while also lowering the Corolla's center of gravity. Morizo takes things even further, axing the rear seats in favor of extra support braces and trimming around 100 pounds of accessories that aren't needed for track use.

In the images, you might've also noticed the aggressive front end, the triple-exhaust in the back — which, incidentally, contributes a great deal to the small engine's power delivery — along with other sporty touches like the wide fender flares, spoiler, and the bulged, vented hood on the Circuit and Morizo editions. The whole package sits on a MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone multilink rear suspension. All versions ride on 18-inch wheels, with the Morizo is treated to a 10-spoke, matte black forged alloy set.

Bare Necessities

The inside of the GR Corolla is understandably reserved, sporting the bare necessities while still keeping up with the times. Behind the steering wheel is a 12.3-inch multicolor screen that displays things like the current drive mode, boost pressure, and the current gear, along with the speed and tachometer gauges. In the center console is an 8-inch touchscreen for navigation and entertainment functions. This is powered by Toyota's multimedia system that comes with a number of conveniences such as Bluetooth device pairing, voice commands, 4G-powered Wi-Fi connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Beyond that, it's the basics: a wheel, three pedals and a stick. The latter is flanked by the drive mode select and the all-wheel drive adjustment knob. Black and silver details match the fabric sport seats in the Core edition, while the Circuit's interior has black and red trim and a leather-wrapped shift knob with the "Morizo" brand, if you manage to snag this year's launch edition. Morizo once again ups the ante with an ultra-suede wrapped steering wheel, leather-trimmed sport seats and, naturally, its own Morizo branded shifter.

Hot Wheels

Putting the full lineup to work on Utah Motorsports Park reveals that the different versions aren't simply the same car with increasing levels of glow-up. The base Core model speaks volumes for the potential of the GR Corolla. It's the version that will likely see the most use, both in its stock condition and as a "clean slate" for the modding community that Toyota has been keen to support, an attitude made particularly clear when it released the latest GR 86 coupe.

The Core and Circuit share similar specs and are shod in the same Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires on their 18-inch wheels. The Morizo edition sports grippier Pilot Sort Cup 2 kicks and receives the aforementioned boost bump, among other changes. All versions make use of an all-wheel drive system with three fixed presets. Regular driving sends 60 percent of power to the front, with the remaining 40 sent to the rear. Track mode gives the GR Corolla an even 50-50 split, while the third setting gives the hot hatch a 30-70 rear bias split. We call that the fun one.

In the 50-50 track setting, the GR Corolla is all business, keeping drama to a minimum and favoring a more technical performance. The 30-70 split would be the way to go for those wishing to steer with their right foot, but on our sun-baked track and the Morizo's sticky Cup 2 tires, it took great effort to influence car rotation. It was easier with the Core and Circuit's tires, but the result wasn't a series of power slides, the vehicle simply tracked out a bit farther on corner exit.

Performance Pal

Out of the gate, the GR Corolla's small but mighty engine whirs to life and give the car what I'd call sprightly enthusiasm. It won't throw anyone into the back of their headrests but it's zippy enough to get up to the playful speeds it's designed to deliver.

While it may not be a straight-line screamer in its stock form, the GR Corolla puts its best foot forward when the road ahead bends. There are many lines to take through a corner, even though one is often the most ideal, and depending on the car and track conditions, missing it is either slow or risky. The GR Corolla is beatifically forgiving of a driver's imperfect corner entry, offering up control and stability like an overeager dinner host to make sure the person at the wheel gets through the other end, pointing the right way in time for the next bend.

It's a level of control that fortifies the driver with enough confidence to push their abilities further, braking later, flattening the throttle, and hitting apexes at speeds they'd normally shy away from, rewarding them with quicker lap times as they further master each one. And we haven't even started talking about the track-ready versions of the car.

Core Competencies

Though otherwise mechanically identical to the Core, the Circuit builds on the Core's foundation. Changes to the Circuit edition (lightness, LSD, etc), add up to provide a palpable improvement in performance. Driven back to back on the same course, the Circuit felt more limber, maintaining the control the Core delivered, but with a few extra degrees of agility. It's the difference one hopes they would feel after tuning a stock vehicle up for better track control, Toyota just went the extra step and provided it outright. All told, the enhanced cornering and power distribution make the Circuit the satisfying middle ground for those seeking a track-ready GR Corolla that still offers some level of daily utility.

The Morizo does good by its namesake by being the sportiest version of the bunch. Shedding the backseat for more weight-saving, it also gives way for more structural supports for added stiffness. More substantial is how it delivers more torque and does so much earlier in the rev band. With all of these tweaks, the Morizo almost feels like a different car, which is reassuring: it's not simply a glossy limited edition to lure in collectors, it's a true-blue track-ready iteration that's demonstrably better than the other models.

The extra upfront torque means the Morizo gets up to speed very quickly, which is advantageous off the line, but more to the point, it delivers on power when you need it to pull it around a turn. Given enough room, more powerful cars would understandably catch up with it, but its deftness around corners give it the ability to dart out of danger like a speedy mouse around living room furniture.

Fellow Hatchlings

With hot hatches being such a rare treat these days, the GR Corolla's main competition comes in the form of the stalwart Volkswagen Golf R and the latest 2023 Honda Civic Type R, with the details for the latter recently coming to light, much to the excitement of enthusiasts everywhere. Its rivals are few, but they are heavy hitters in the segment.

What may give the Corolla — and, more to the point, Toyota — the upper hand in this area is strength in numbers. The GR Corolla slots neatly into a growing family of attainable performance cars with each bringing their own unique characteristics to the table. From the beefier street-smart Supra, to the playful GR 86, and now the rally-inspired GR Corolla, Toyota has set itself up to be the one-stop shop for buyers looking for a performance plaything.

Catch That Hatch!

The Core grade will hit dealer lots this November, with an asking price starting at $35,900, though with the addition of performance and technology packages — not to mention the current trend of notorious dealer markups for hotly anticipated cars — calling the GR Corolla "attainable" might be stretching it. Circuit and Morizo arrive in the Spring of 2023, with an asking price of $42,900 and $49,900 respectively, again, subject to the same market forces that will make this a tough-to-get toy.

That last bit raises concerns for the Morizo. This limited edition will be a highly coveted treat, which means those who have the scratch to get one likely won't get much use out of them, which is a shame. The Morizo does distinguish itself from the rest of the pack with superior capabilities and isn't meant to sit unused in a collector's display. If the GR Corolla is a car you seek, be it Core, Circuit or Morizo, make sure you take it out and enjoy it. It'll make the actual Morizo happy, it'll make me happy, but more importantly, it will make you happy.