Review: Toyota GR Corolla – Is It A Good Family Sports Car?

“They don’t make them live they used to,” that is a sentence that is commonly heard these days. Whether it is in reference to household goods, electronics or even your favourite char kuey teow, it is a sentence that is thrown around a lot these days.

But arguably, nowhere is it most commonly used than in the automotive industry. Whether it is in reference to the quality of a car or motorcycle or to the performance, we could argue till the sun goes down and comes back up again about how cars and bikes used to be better back in the day and how they are today.

However. Every once in a while, we get a car that blows it all away, that makes the world stand up and take notice and makes even those that still live in the past fall in love all over again. Cars like the Toyota GR Corolla.

If you have never heard of it, you are probably thinking that we have lost our minds. How can an everyday Toyota like the Corolla be exciting and remind us of days gone past? Well, except for the assumption that our favourite uncles and their neigbour used to drive a Toyota Corolla, the GR Corolla seen in the photos here is a very different animal. Yes, we used the word animal in the same sentence as the Corolla, now will be a good time to continue reading this article because we are not talking about a regular run of the mill Corolla.

Though the Corolla may be the underpinning car to this model, there is very little that the GR Corolla shares with its comparatively sedate cousin. From the offset, you will notice that the car is wider and looks a lot more aggressive. That may not be a big deal because you can buy such a body kit for a few thousand Ringgits from any of the back lane car shops around the country. But the one on the GR Corolla is a functional one, one that needs to be engineered rather than just fitted.

Every vent, fin and wing you see on the car plays a purpose, either to help cool the car, cool the brakes or help the car stick to the road at high speeds. This is a proper fire-breating sports car that has been purpose made and engineered in detail from the ground up, it is not a regular body kit that you buy from Sunway.

Even back at the factory, the GR Corolla together with its siblings – the GR86 and the GR Yaris, were not built on a regular assembly line. Well, perhaps the donor cars were, but they were soon shifted to a different part of the assembly plant. A top-secret area where engineers have a singular focus on chasing mega performance.

Called the Toyota Gazoo Racing motorsport division, the department is based in Cologne, Germany and supports Toyota’s racing activities in series such as the World Rally Championship and World Endurance Championship. The division also has offices in other parts of the world where it races as well.

But other than developing race cars, the division, also known as TGR or GR, is also responsible for bridging the gap between its racing activities and its road cars. That is where cars like the GR Corolla come from. In essence, the division is quite like AMG from Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s M division or Audi’s RS.

You may already know this, but motorsport is never cheap, whether it is the entry go-kart series or racing in more established competitions around the world, the world of motorsport is for the top one percent. The research and development needed to create a car capable of topflight competition can put a lot of companies out of business, and hence why cars that are born out of motorsport are never cheap.

The GR Corolla costs a staggering RM355,000, which is a lot of money from a Corolla. This writer had a tough time explaining why this car costs so much of money to guests of a wedding in the old mining town of Tanjung Tualang. Everyone who saw the car knew it was something special, but no one could believe the price. It was after all, a Toyota Corolla. I had a tough time explaining that it was not a regular Corolla.

This is a car that needs to be driven to be appreciated, and once you do, you will wish you had that money in your bank. Powering the GR Corolla is a 1.6-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged engine making 300PS and 370Nm of torque. It is the most powerful three-cylinder engine in the world, and it demolishes the charge to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds and does not stop huffing and puffing until it reaches 230km/h.

All the way there, there is that almost inaudible sound of the blow-off valve which enthusiasts will recognise almost immediately. Take your foot off the accelerator pedal and a faint whistle will follow. This allows the boost pressure from the turbo to escape when there is no need to use it, and this is an iconic sound that almost every self-loving car freak will recognise and love immediately. It does not only sound good, but it shows this car means business.

But the GR Corolla is much more than just big numbers, it is about how it delivers them to the wheels and ultimately leaves it to you to exploit. The car also runs on an all-wheel-drive (AWD) platform, and it is not just a regular AWD system, but quite an intelligent one.

While regular AWD systems will distribute power equally between the front and rear axles, the system in the GR Corolla lets you decide how you want the power to be transferred. You can select this by turning a knob located at the centre console, and power can be distributed either 60:40 front back, 50:50 for a more balanced feel or 30:70 for when you want the rear of the car to stick out a little bit.

And this is then further complemented by a Torsen Slip Differential that distributes power to the left and right wheels rather than just between the front and rear axles. This then gives the car huge amounts of grip, and on the right roads such as on Bukit Tinggi where we took it for some back road fun, it was easy to simply point and catapult the car to the next corner by riding the wave of torque.

No squirm, no power lag, no dramas, just your typical point and squirt fun, just like the old hot hatch’s such as the Renault Megane R26, Peugeot GTI or even the Volkswagen Golf R.

But the GR Corolla feels more engaging, it feels like it wants you to wring it by its neck and extract every gallop of horsepower. It is almost impossible to drive it slowly because all you want to do is marvel at all the performance underneath the car.

It also has something called an “Intelligent Manual Transmission” that makes you feel like a driving God every time you downshift the manual transmission. This works by matching the revs to the intended gear so there is no loss of power, and you are always within the right rev zone to maximise power delivery.

However, as quick and effectively the GR Corolla is, it has one little flaw that we feel could have been better – the gear shifter. In the world of manual transmissions, the key to getting it right is a short, precise throw in between gear cogs with a small well-weighted, preferably aluminium knob. The GR Corolla almost has it all right except that shifts can be sloppy; it is not as precise and short as the Honda Civic Type R and that is probably its biggest let down. For us at least. We can forgive the knob but having a sloppy shifter can be scary because you can easily shift into a wrong gear. And that is a very expensive bill.

Everything else about the GR Corolla is perfect. It may be a Corolla, but it can never be a proper family car like a regular Corolla can, as we found out when we had to pack up the car to attend the aforementioned wedding in Perak.

It may have four doors, and it also has all the safety systems you want in a modern-day car, including apative cruise control. It even has ISOFIX mounts for you to lock in a child seat, but it not spacious as far as family requirements go.

But the Toyota GR Corolla is great because it reminds us of how sports cars used to be – fast, engaging with pure unadulterated power. The four-doors are there so that you can tell yourself it is semi-practical, but in fact you just don’t really want to grow up.

The GR Corolla lets you indulge in your childhood automotive fantasies, while the four-doors are a great excuse for you to tell your wife it is a practical car and that it is worth the price. Until she tries to pack all her outfits for a wedding and finds out it isn’t all that.

Engine: 1.6-litre, 3-cylinder, Intercooler Turbo
Power: 300PS @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 3,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual with iMT
Suspension: MacPherson Strut with Stabiliser (Front) / Double Wishbone with Stabiliser (Rear)
Price (As Tested): RM355,000

We like: Driving experience, power and engagement
We don’t like: Sloppy gear shifts

A car stirs the soul, a motorbike is the soul. Keshy has been a motoring journalist for over a decade and has written for and founded a number of Malaysian motoring titles including Piston.my, Bikesrepulic.com, Motomalaya.net and other mass media titles.

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