Feature article

GR Corolla NZ Review: Buying Guide

During the Corolla’s sixty-year life span, there have been a few sporty models. But the GR Corolla is a different beast.

Last updated: 9 July 2024

During the Corolla’s near sixty-year life span, there have been a few sporty models. But the GR Corolla is a different beast. The GR Yaris garnered such rave reviews in Europe (and here too, we named it our Performance COTY) that Toyota simply had to adapt the formula for the Corolla, giving them an AWD GR rocket to sell Stateside. And luckily, they make a few for RHD markets too. Is it quite the firecracker that the Yaris is? Or is the larger, five-door model more simmering than sizzling?

What’s the new GR Corolla about then?

A few of the specs then for those that haven’t been paying attention. While there are three trim levels available in other markets, here we get the Circuit Edition, the middling model. And as the name suggests, it’s a bit more hard core with track time in mind.

So cue front and rear Torsen limited-slip diffs, the 18-inch cast alloys, forged carbon-fibre roof, the bulging bonnet with functional vents and a rear spoiler.

The power plant is the same little three cylinder from the Yaris that is bursting with both power and character. The hand crafted G16E-GTS 1.6-litre turbo produces 221kW and 370Nm at 3000-5500rpm. That’s a bit more than the Yaris, conjured up thanks to new pistons, larger exhaust valves and a ball-bearing type turbo.

There’s a better zorst system too, with three outlets. Like Yaris, you can only get it with a six-speed manual and there’s the same GR-Four all-wheel drive system with three selectable torque split modes: Normal 60:40, Sport 30:70, Track 50:50.

They’ve stiffened up the chassis (more welds and adhesives) and lowered it on better dampers and springs, with beefier sway bars. There are better stoppers too with 356mm slotted rotors and four pot calipers on the front. It’s said to weigh in at 1480kg, over 210kg heavier than the smaller three door Yaris.

Still a Corolla but ah?

Before we get into how it goes when you’re going all out, what about the other 98 per cent of the other time when you’re not?

While the triple is highly strung (outputting 185hp per litre, or more than an AMG GT Black Series, Ferrari F8 Tributo or the Porsche 911 GT2) it’s perfectly fine on the daily. It’s easy to get off the mark, and responsive if a little grumpy if you let it labour down low, and so it likes to be kept around the 2000rpm mark. That’s where it’s perky, and ready to go. It’s not great on fuel around town, where it hoovers through premium at a rate of almost 13L/100km, though this figure will settle to around the 10L/100km mark with more motorway miles.

In the Normal driving mode, the steering is lightweight and throttle response is more traffic friendly/less racy. The clutch pedal has a measured weight to its action, but it’s no work out. The gearbox slots itself easily around the gate, even when cold. Weird how you have to opt in for the iMT function however.

That’s the Intelligent Manual Transmission, the thing that blips the throttle for smoother, rev-matched downshifts. So it would be better then if the button wasn’t hidden out of the way on the lower dash. Conveniences like a hill holder also make it no sweat in traffic, there’s even active cruise (although being a manual, it has its limitations) and there’s lane keeping and other minders to keep you safe. Some hot hatches have terrible turning circles, but not this one and it doesn’t have hissy on full lock either.

The GR Corolla has a much better driving position than the GR Yaris, being that bit lower and making you feel more at one with the car. It has the same seats, and comfortable they are, as while it has abundant bolstering, these wings are of the cushy kind and no hindrance to entry or exit. After longer stints at the wheel, you’ll feel it lacks for lumbar support however. They are manually adjusted, but it’s really no biggie.

It’s a Corolla, so there aren’t any ground clearance issues, but the ride quality sure is sporty. The fixed rate dampers don’t have a button to set them gooey and soft, so progress is always fairly rigid. But as the dampers are quality, when they do hit a bump, it’s quickly sorted and any harshness isolated.

The Yokohama Advan tyres can make a few interesting noises on different surfaces, and do make a rumble at speed. Toyota cabins are well screwed together usually but, because this one rides a bit harder, (and has been subjected to a few hard sessions) there were a few squeaks and rattles evident.

The triple has a unique note. Sometimes it sounds like an old Daihatsu, but the turbo whistle and wastegate melody will be welcomed by retired boy-racers. The pipes are pretty loud first thing in the morning on startup too.

Being a five door, it’s the most practical GR yet (LandCruiser aside). It might not be the most spacious hatch, but the kids will fit fine in the back, and there are three seat belts back there, and Isofix too. Boot space is not a Corolla strong point and you can’t lower the high set load floor here either as they’ve relocated the battery to the boot and there’s no spare wheel.

So the GR Corolla goes alright then?

That it does. Find yourself freed of the city limits and this thing delights. The GR is quick enough without going berserk. Just how fast we can’t confirm as our timing gear had one of its off days, refusing to come online. We didn’t bother then checking out the Launch Control, as it’s easy to get firing off the line, the triple obliging and the traction sorted. While the roar of the tyres cancels much of the engine note, you can hear the induction when you stretch it.

And we like how this engine pulls so happily to its 7000rpm redline, while the response above 3000rpm is delightfully sharp too. The six-speed’s shift action is decent, we only fluffed the occasional second to third shift, while the auto blipper is handy too. It’s not that hard to do it yourself, even on the brakes, with well placed pedals. On the stoppers, they are into their work quickly with a meaty pedal feel and when you really need to stand on them, they haul things up in a composed fashion.

Unflappable sums up the suspension tune too. They maybe firm, but the dampers are largely unfussed by bumps. When the road gets rough, they come into their own, nicely managing the weight transfer as you turn in while keeping the rear end calm. The steering’s well assisted with a little extra heft in Sport mode, the rack quick enough and obedient. It rounds up bends nicely, although there is some understeer to manage. It’s more of a weight distribution thing: the GR will run out of front end grip in the tricky bends.

But it’s not a deal breaker given the feedback from the chassis that signals the grip limit is nigh while the faithful controls; the brakes, the steering, the throttle all let you just hold it there and wait for the exit. Then you can give it some, the four-wheel drive eliminates any torque steer or tram lining, as you gas it off the turn, and there’s no power-on understeer to contend with. We liked the rear bias for the torque distribution, just because really, and it always delivers the traction.

Satisfying then?

Yes, once you get over that initial disappointment regarding a bit of push, it’s a fine driver’s car. 

It might not be quite as special as the little GR Yaris on road, but it’s still a pleasure to drive. 

While still in limited supply, the pricing has eased. While not great news for those early adopters that paid the initial RRP of $74,990, it’s much better value now at Toyota’s no haggle mark of $65,990 (on the road). 


Kyle Cassidy
Kyle Cassidy
Editor NZ Autocar magazine - autocar.co.nz

Kyle has been reviewing cars since starting at NZ Autocar magazine in 2003 and has been editor since 2009. In that time he’s become an expert on what makes for a good vehicle while also gaining insights into the local automotive industry.