During the Gazoo Racing track day experience, we had the chance to drive the long-anticipated Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition at Zwartkops Raceway as part of its local launch. In the driver’s seat was Siya Mbaduli, who put the model through its paces.
What are we driving?
After experiencing the six-speed manual, rear-wheel-driven GR Supra moments earlier and familiarizing myself with the track, I transitioned to the turbocharged 1,6-litre 3-cylinder GR Corolla Circuit Edition. It’s distinct from its two-door siblings, positioned between the GR Yaris and GR Supra.
Toyota appears to have achieved a well-balanced offering with its new hatchback. The GR Corolla Circuit is an absolute riot to drive and its AWD proposition provides loads of confidence with every shift, every blip of the throttle and every turn of the steering. From the onset, it constantly reassures you that you’re in control and it is just there to follow orders.
The chassis and suspension of the GR Corolla Circuit are world-class, taking a page out of the works WRC team’s book, ensuring the wheels stay grounded optimising grip when chasing lap times. Its optimal performance lies between the third and fourth gear, where it delivers its power and torque in a grin-inducing fashion. Although quiet when trundling around, the triple exit exhaust tips produce a more notable note during this experience.
Also read: Review: 2023 Toyota GR Supra MT
Why is the GR Corolla Circuit Edition Significant?
This latest edition to the GR family promises enthusiasts something truly special. For starters, it’s a collaboration between two of Toyota’s most respected divisions, Gazoo Racing (GR) and Toyota Racing Development (TRD). These two entities have worked together to create a vehicle that is truly special, offering a unique blend of performance, style, and exclusivity.
The GR Corolla Circuit Edition packs a punch. The vehicle is powered by a 1,3-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces an impressive power output of 221 kW and 370 N.m of torque. This is more than its little GR Yaris sibling which boasts the same motor and despite the extra size, the model feels as nimble, balancing its weight courtesy of the stiff suspension. Full driver engagement exists in the form of a six-speed manual transmission which not only invites enthusiastic driving but provides a superlative three-pedal experience, with crisp and precise shifting.
What’s new on the GR Corolla?
The first of its kind, the GR Corolla Circuit Edition stands out with its striking exterior design which immediately differentiates it from the more mundane FWD people-mover which wears the same moniker. The front fascia features a bold and aggressive look, highlighted by a blacked-out grille and sleek LED headlights. The redesigned lower front bumper enhances aerodynamics, while the rear boasts a distinctive diffuser and a unique exhaust setup. As expected with the stiffer suspension, the car sits lower to the ground than the standard Corolla which also pulls the centre of gravity closer to the tarmac.
Inside, the GR Corolla Circuit Edition impresses with sports seats adorned with red stitching and GR badging, complemented by a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The infotainment system gets an upgrade with an eight-inch touchscreen display, and a premium JBL sound system is also included. The real music, however, comes from the sweet 1,6-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, which delights with its performance every time you hit the accelerator.
What does the new GR Corolla cost?
After the official launch of the GR Supra and GR Corolla at Zwartkops, the Corolla variants experienced a R25 000 increase from their original price which sees the hot-hatch now requiring an outlay of:
- GR Corolla 1,6T Core: R841 000
- GR Corolla 1.6T Circuit – R902 400
In terms of value for money, the GR Corolla is beaten in price only by its smaller GR Yaris sibling when looking at AWD hot hatches available locally.
What are the GR Corolla’s rivals?
That brings us to the topic of its rivals. The GR Corolla can easily be pitted against the Audi S3 Sportback and Volkswagen Golf R as AWD competitors while Hyundai’s i30 N and the new Honda Civic Type R despite their drive configurations, still compete in the same ballpark when comparing prices.
I consider myself one of the lucky few who got the chance to experience the GR Corolla Circuit Edition on track and I must say, during the session, I found it surprisingly civilized – not the animal I expected to encounter. While I found the gear level to be less tactile than the one in the GR Supra, it still offers a short throw and is easy to manage in both spirited and relaxed driving conditions. However, to maintain its performance and prevent bogging the three-pot, you’ll need to keep the car in the right rev range, which means you’ll be working your left foot and left hand regularly when convinced to experience the full potential of the car.
Achieving the right balance of gear, throttle, and steering angle brings genuine delight. The GR Corolla feels planted and instils confidence, even in a scenario of a cornering error. Similar to how we found the experience in the GR Yaris, the same traction system enables driving beyond skill level with the assurance of the AWD system able to prevent going off the black stuff and into the gravel patch.
Is it a better bet than its smaller GR sibling? Both offer impressive value for money as four-wheel driven hot hatches but the Yaris is hindered by the limited practicality of passenger hauling with two doors and a minuscule compartment labelled as a boot. Think of the GR Corolla as Toyota’s solution to that; fun, yet practical. Both boxes ticked!