Toyota's compact Corolla dives into the 'hot hatch' segment with the 300 horsepower GR model

Dave Kunz Image
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Toyota's Corolla dives into 'hot hatch' segment with GR model
The popular Toyota Corolla is getting a big performance boost. Here's how the budget car is now a budget hot rod.

A little-known facet of auto giant Toyota: an in-house performance division called GR, for Gazoo Racing.

Developing cars for both the track and street, you'll find the GR name on hot coupes like the GR Supra, and GR 86. Each a blast to drive, but not especially practical for all drivers.

Now, the GR engineers have turned their attention to one of Toyota's oldest model names. Introducing the GR Corolla, a handy five-door hatchback that really shines when driving fun is in order, and for a starting price of about $36,000.

There's more than ample power under the hood, though one spec there may surprise you. Not four cylinders, but three! Yes, a three-cylinder engine making the power of a six or even an eight. Turbocharging and other advanced engineering lets this little screamer produce 300 horsepower, and making a distinctive sound doing it.

Can't drive a stick? Sorry, another hallmark of the GR Corolla is the 6-speed manual transmission. This sends the power to all four sticky tires via a rally-inspired all-wheel drive system. For the right buyer, this all adds up to more fun than its humble Corolla roots could ever suggest.

The GR Corolla falls into a category called "hot hatches." Hot, as in sizzling performance. And hatch, as in five-door hatchback, one of the most versatile body styles ever created.

The stalwart of the segment is the Volkswagen GTI. VW practically invented the hot hatch more than four decades ago, and it's now in its eighth generation.

Honda is staying in the game with its latest Civic Type-R, all-new for 2023, and calling it "the fastest Civic ever."

But other hot hatches have arrived and departed from the US auto market. Hyundai had a little-known performance model called the Elantra GT N-Line. It was quietly discontinued a couple of years ago, leaving only a sedan version.

Ford went from three hot hatch models to zero. The strong performers were victims of the company's plan to favor SUVs and pickup trucks. So, the Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS are no more.

And while Subaru used to offer its rally-bred WRX model as a five-door, these days there's only a WRX sedan.

Sure, the GR Corolla isn't for everyone. But for those who desire a car that could tear up a race track on weekends, then easily do commuting and shopping duty during the week, this tidy package is a combination with a lot of winning going on.

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