2023 Toyota GR Corolla
Blog Car Guide

First Drive: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Hatchback Track Test Review

Toyota’s raciest hot-hatch delivers the goods with a 300-horsepower turbo engine, a custom AWD system, dual Torsen axles and push-button access to a performance driving toolkit that’ll support drivers of all skill levels for years to come.

A focused interior, custom feature touches and multiple grades mean the highest performing Corolla ever is built to thrill – and it’s all about the drive. Welcome to your new high-tech new toybox!

Key Features:

  • GR-FOUR AWD system with locking axles
  • Application-specific 3-cylinder turbo engine
  • Manual transmission
  • Wireless Smartphone charging
  • Automatic climate control
  • Dynamic Cruise Control

Direct Competitors:

  • Volkswagen Golf R
  • Honda Civic Type R
  • Hyundai Veloster N

Look, the Toyota Corolla is one of the most reasonable, sensible and level-headed cars on the road. Well-regarded for reliability, residual value and the promise of a fuss-free long-term ownership experience, it’s a popular pick amongst shoppers who place confidence in their purchase decision at or near the top of their wish list.

The Corolla has spent much of its existence being one of the most down-to-earth cars on the road, but with the launch of the new-for-2023 GR Corolla, Toyota has created a highly specialized variant that’ll go down in the history books as one of the best hot-hatches of all time.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla | Photo: Amee Reehal 

Competing with the likes of the refined 2022 Volkswagen Golf R we reviewed here and value-priced Hyundai Veloster N, the Toyota GR Corolla cranks the dial to ‘11’ on performance-boosting hardware, with a list of upgrades and enhancements that reads like an aspiring racer’s Christmas wish list.

With an extensive rework that turns one of Toyota’s most sensible cars into one of their highest-performing, the GR Corolla is loaded with custom hardware and visual touches, exhaustively strengthened, and even built in its own dedicated factory. 

Add it all up, and it’s an enticing combination for the enthusiast driver looking for a new face in the hot hatch universe. If you’re one of them, you’d best make tracks to your dealership as soon as feasible and beg them to take your deposit.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla price and models in Canada

Toyota serves this spicy dish in three intensity levels.

1. GR Corolla Core ($45,490): the top-selling hatch you’ll end of buying

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core | Photo: Amee Reehal 

The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core opens the bidding from $45,490 Canadian loons and kits drivers up with a set of 18-inch wheels, GR Sports seats, an 8-inch multimedia screen, standard-level 6-speaker stereo with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and heated front seats. By the way, that’s about $4,400 less than the opening ask for the slightly more powerful Volkswagen Golf R, also AWD-equipped.

For comparison, the 2022 Hyundai Veloster N delivers value priced thrills from $37,799, though it’s front-drive only, and less powerful than the GR Corolla.

2. GR Corolla Circuit Edition ($53,990): very limited-production model

2023 Toyota GR Corolla: MORIZO Edition (top), Circuit Edition (below) | Photo: Amee Reehal 

The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition will relieve owners of an additional $8,500 ($53,990 in total) for this limited-production model that’s only available this year. The added investment nets a carbon fibre roof, red brake calipers, a vented and bulged hood, rear spoiler, suede-trimmed seats, a heated steering wheel, signature shift knob and upgraded JBL audio system with 8 speakers and an 800-watt amplifier.

3. GR Corolla MORIZO Edition ($59,990): only 10 coming to Canada – so good luck

There’s also the $59,990 Toyota GR Corolla MORIZO Edition, a reference to Akio Toyoda’s racing name. Toyota’s master driver has personally tuned and validated this high-exclusivity model, adding a 20 lb.-ft torque boost to the engine, weight-saving rear seat delete, and upgraded front racing seats. 

A close-ratio six-speed manual is specified, bringing the gearbox into roadgoing racer territory. Don’t miss MORIZO’s autograph on the shift knob. Of the three GR Corolla variants, this one is the closest to a street-legal race car. It’ll also be the most exclusive and difficult to buy.

Toyota GR Corolla interior: straight to the point

The Toyota GR Corolla’s interior makes a hell of a first impression with enthusiast drivers, delivering strong and aggressive visual signals regarding its spirited intentions from a mere glance.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla interior: front cabin with standard manual transmission | Photo: Amee Reehal 

Most of the scenery on board is flat, dark and focused with brightly-colored metallic accents and red graphics peeking out from the darkness to draw the driver’s eye to various signature elements within. 

The six-speed manual shifter takes centre stage, with bright metal pedals down further beneath. The chubby steering wheel has a textured grip surface and a small hub, reinforcing this Corolla’s character from a quick glance or touch.

Drivers may wish for a splash more colour or excitement, though most will appreciate how much of the cabin blends into the background leaving drivers to focus solely on key performance elements – including the all-digital instrument cluster, metal pedals, racy buckets and metal-capped shifter knob.

The Circuit Edition’s suede-trimmed seats provide added grip against the driver’s clothing, though watch for wedgies; these seats have a way of grabbing and shifting looser-fitting pants and undergarments on entry as you rotate into position. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla interior seats | Photo: Amee Reehal 

From there, common control positions are easily identified and memorized, and in about 2 minutes, drivers will have the lay of the land. 

Rear seats and cargo capacity aren’t generously sized, but they’ll handle two pairs of adults and their gear just fine, even without excess room to spare. The presence of a usable rear seat and cargo area make the GR Corolla an everyday-usable pocket-rocket with room to keep up to a busy family. 

That is, unless you go for the MORIZO version where the back seats are fully removed. That’s even more room for your spare tires for track day.

Corolla hatchback performance: the real reason you want Toyota’s new track-built GR pocket rocket

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition | Photo: Amee Reehal 

The engineers have whipped up quite the recipe to create the GR Corolla, and the result is a delicious combination of hardware and reflexes that intend to get enthusiast drivers salivating.

A Toyota Corolla hatchback capable of 300 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft of torque – paired with a 6-speed manual transmission

Here’s the setup: under the hood, a 1.6-litre 3-cylinder turbo engine cranks out 300 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft of torque; make that 295 lb.-ft for the MORIZO Edition. The application-specific engine was built especially for the GR Corolla to help reduce weight and remain compact while packing a punch: we don’t see a lot of engines today with 100 horsepower per cylinder.

The sole transmission option is a six-speed manual, with no automatic offered. The gearbox sends power to the custom-built GR-FOUR AWD system, itself fitted with Torsen limited slip axles both front and rear as standard kit on all grades sold in Canada. 

This is Toyota’s first high-performance AWD system in nearly 20 years

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition | Photo: Amee Reehal 

Torsen axles are motorsports proven, and use a specialized construction and design to mechanically bind the rear wheels together to battle wheel slippage, boosting left-side to right-side traction without relying on electronic interventions from the throttle, brakes or traction control. This rally-bred hardware means that the GR Corolla can grip harder in extreme driving without any need to cut engine power or slow the car down.

Further, drivers can dial in their preferred torque split between the axles with the flick of a console-mounted dial, their choice referenced in the cluster display. Choose front-biased, rear-biased or an even 50/50 split of power between the axles, and that selection becomes permanent until changed by the driver: the system doesn’t readjust the torque split on the move.

GR Corolla driving impressions

Traction for corner exit is mighty, tidy, and aggressive. The sensation of Torsen differentials biting into the pavement in a track setting on corner exit practically dares drivers to get onto the throttle earlier and earlier, the car positively flinging itself out of bends. 

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core | Photo: Amee Reehal 

This setup amplifies the reasons some drivers prefer an AWD sports car: point and shoot grip. With smooth inputs and your performance driving basics committed to memory, there’s no need to even turn off the traction control system, you’ll almost never feel it working.

Fast, sharp steering allows the driver to flit the GR Corolla from one bend to the next with minimal inputs at the steering wheel. At track day, you steer this car with your forearms, not your shoulders.

Similarly small pedal inputs are required to effect a big reaction from the car: brakes bite confidently from an initial press, even when hot, and their performance and precision feel builds and grows the harder they’re worked.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core | Photo: Amee Reehal 

There’s a similar effect from the throttle, where the turbocharger gets whistling almost immediately, a big torque shove coming online a split-second later to rocket the GR Corolla along. Whistling, hissing and other turbocharged soundtrack elements are highly apparent if drivers go listening for them.

While some drivers will wish for a few more revs to play with, the Corolla delivers strong and immediate pulling power that continues to build en route to its 6,500 RPM redline.

Verdict: Toyota’s track-bred GR Corolla hatchback puts on a hell of a show

When driving the Toyota GR Corolla as intended in a closed-course setting, one word kept popping into our heads more than all of the rest.

That word? 


2023 Toyota GR Corolla MORIZO Edition | Photo: Amee Reehal 

It takes little throttle, braking or steering input from the driver to make the GR Corolla slow down, speed up, or rip through sequences of bends with a smile on its face. Little bothers the car. Novice drivers will find it forgiving, a solid learning machine, and one that entertains with its sounds and sensations, regardless of skill level.

The brakes feel well matched to the power output, that well matched to the handling and steering feel, and all of those attributes are calibrated against the size, weight and character of the car. 

Add in the torque-rich thrust and pleasing turbo sound effects, and you’ve got a machine that’s built to put on a hell of a show while giving experienced track-day drivers a high-precision dance partner, and more novice drivers years of capability to grow into.

Ready to buy a used 5-door hatchback car?

View our current inventory of pre-owned hatchbacks here. Every vehicle from Canada Drives has completed a 150 Point Inspection, comes with a no-charge 30 Day / 1,500 km warranty, and is covered by our 7-Day money back return policy.

More content about

The Easiest Way to Buy or Sell a Car