When the 2024 GR Corolla got dropped off at our offices, it took me all of a hot second to realize that this wasn’t some lame, tarted-up Corolla with an ugly body kit, five extra horsepower, and a GR badge affixed to its ass. No, this was an honest-to-God effort to build and offer something most auto executives would NEVER dream of signing off on for fear of career-suicide. It’s one of those rare once-in-a-generation shoot-for-the-moon products that actually pays off.

While based on the lowly Corolla platform, this ain’t no lowly Corolla. This car isn’t meant for the menial tasks of commuting, hauling groceries, and stopping at garage sales in search of second-hand dishes and furniture. No, this Corolla has another purpose. And while it can do all those things we just listed, it has a whole other side to its personality and that side is called “Performance.”

Say what?!

You heard me.

The GR Corolla started as a base Corolla but Toyota decided to pull out the merely adequate 2.0L four-cylinder engine that makes 170hp and 151lb-ft. They replaced it with a 1.6L turbocharged three-cylinder that makes 300hp and 273 lb-ft of torque at 25 lbs of boost. They they decided to hook up the back wheels to the driveline, making it AWD. Then they added locking front and rear differentials to make better traction. And added bigger brakes, bigger wheels, and stickier tires. And seeing as how that made the GR Corolla look a little odd, they widened the body with some aggressive-looking bodywork to cover the wider wheels. It’s covered with vents and scoops. The result is an aggressive looking hot little hatch that growls when you start it, snarls when you goose the throttle, sighs when you let off the throttle, and snaps and pops on overrun.

This seems promising enough, but lets climb inside and see what else the GR Corolla offers drivers. There are three drive modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. You’ll find yourself in Sport most of the time. There’s a six-speed manual transmission waiting for your guidance. There’s a dial on the console labelled “GR-Four” that allows you to select how you want your power delivered: 60/40 front/rear, 30/70 front/rear, or 50/50 front/rear. Wild, huh? In a Corolla! There are cloth seats to keep you from slipping around, and they’re bolstered enough to keep you in place while flogging it through a series of tight esses.

Honest-to-God, all that’s missing is a giant “HOONIGAN” sticker in the rear window.

We couldn’t wait to climb behind the wheel and try it out. So we didn’t. Start it up and it sounds…not like any Corolla we’ve ever been in before. There’s a threatening growl to it. You can immediately sense that this ain’t your sisters Corolla hatchback. Rev the engine and there’s a definite snarl to it. Something animalistic that wants to run free. Latch your seatbelt, shift into first, let out the clutch aaaaand away we go. Good acceleration. Quick. Plant your foot a bit more and it whooshes away quicker and quicker. Shift and you hear the loud sigh of the wastegate blowing off pressure. Plant the throttle and the GR Corolla pushes you back in your seat as it accelerates like a missile launching from an F-22. It’s darned quick. It’s not GR Supra quick, but you still realize you’re in something special here.

Flying down the road, it tracks straight and true. The ride is firm but not harsh. You don’t feel the car lean in corners, it just goes where you ask it to, the AWD making sure you have plenty of grip everywhere you go. Bumps come through the suspension but never in a harsh manner. Let’s go fast again: Downshift and stomp the throttle and the GR Corolla launches up the country two-lane road we’re on like a rally car out for a championship win. With such a potent motor, you sometimes find yourself gaining too quickly on lesser traffic but the large red brake calipers grip the enormous brake discs like they’re trying to choke the life out of them and they modulate well, doing exactly what you ask of them. They have a very natural, intuitive feel to them that generates confidence.

The brakes are large, filling the large 19” wheels. The tires are no less than Michelin Pilot Sport 4’s – sticky rubber to safetly keep all your hooning in check, or raise the bar for performance several notches.

We went searching out every fun stretch of two-lane blacktop and dirt road we could find and the GR Corolla didn’t disappoint. It flew through tight S-curves, glued to the road. It slid around dirt corners, it’s tires scrambling for grip. It’s engine revved, we shifted, and it’s wastegate sighed, sometimes violently. The clutch was light, the gearshift smooth and notchless. We wanted to keep driving it, exploring other roads we knew, but time was against us and we sadly had to give it back to Toyota as our time with the GR Corolla ended.

Toyota claims it’ll do 0-60 in about 5 seconds and top out at 143 mph. I don’t doubt these numbers at all, especially the 5 second 0-60 time. It’s QUICK.

The EPA says it’ll get 28 mpg on the freeway and 21 in the city. That sounds about right unless you drive it the way it begs to be driven – then you’ll get substantially less.

The price of entry is $36,000, but the one you want is $40,000. Which feels like a lot for a Corolla, but when you realize exactly what you’re getting, it’s seems perfectly reasonable.

It’s called the GR Corolla but it’s not any Corolla you’ll recognize. Maybe the body style is reminiscent of a hotted-up Corolla, but underneath it’s a whole other car. A BETTER car. It’s the first car with a “Corolla” nameplate that we’d want to own.

Performance: 7

Handling: 7

Design: 7

Interior: 6

Infotainment: 3

Sound: 8

Fun: 9

Overall: 7

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