Skip to main content

The Toyota Corolla is one of the best-selling cars in the world. The automaker doesn’t have to build a faster, more exciting version to sell more of them. But the Corolla has a legitimate high-performance heritage if you look back far enough. They were even rear-wheel drive, once upon a time.

With the latest Corolla hatchback, there’s an excellent foundation for performance, but US versions thus far have been decidedly unexciting. Turbocharged powertrains now exist that would transform it into something truly special. Toyota could build a legitimate Volkswagen GTI killer. If adequate support is behind the project, it has the resources to build something that would rival or even beat the Golf R.

What is the GR Corolla?

2019 Corolla hatchback at the New York Auto Show
The 2019 Toyota Corolla after its unveiling at the 2018 New York International Auto Show | Angerer via Getty Images

Since its release in 2019, the latest Toyota Corolla has exemplified mediocrity. Aside from a few sporty colors and the available six-speed manual, it’s a disappointing drive from an enthusiast’s perspective. The naturally aspirated 168-hp engine is woefully inadequate for 2021 and the driving experience is not engaging or thrilling in the least.

With the GR Corolla, Toyota presumably intends to change that. GR or Gazoo Racing is the firm’s performance and motorsports subsidiary. GR just won the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans for the fourth time in a row. The outfit is also in charge of performance road cars like the GR86 and Supra. When the racing-inspired GR Yaris was released, but not allowed for sale in the US, enthusiasts weren’t happy. In response to the uproar, Toyota committed to developing a hot hatch that will be sold stateside.

How fast will it be?

Lexus TA24 turbo engine
The wild card option – Lexus’ TA24 2.4-liter turbo engine | Toyota

If Toyota sticks with the 1.6-liter inline-three cylinder turbocharged engine from the GR Yaris, it could produce anywhere from 250 to 300 hp. While that would be mildly entertaining in the heavier Corolla, it’s unlikely to break any performance benchmarks. At that power level, the car would hardly stand up to the VW GTI, much less a Golf R.

However, there’s another option in Toyota’s parts bin, thanks to Lexus and the public’s voracious apetite for small SUVs. The new NX350 uses a larger version of Corolla’s TA-series engine, displacing 2.4-liters and blessed with a turbocharger. It would be capable of at least 350 hp in stock form and should fit in the Corolla chassis as well. The larger engine would give the VWs, and possibly the Subaru WRX STI, some true competition.

Will the GR Corolla be AWD?

Lexus NX350 turbo all wheel drive system
Lexus NX350 turbo all-wheel drive system | Toyota

That’s an excellent question, and nothing is certain. Speculation over the past year suggests that it might be. The Toyota GR Yaris has all-wheel drive, which could presumably be transplanted into the Corolla’s larger chassis. If the automaker intends to make a statement with the GR Corolla, all-wheel drive would be a smart move and guarantee the best possible acceleration.

The Lexus NX350 also has AWD, paired with the aforementioned 2.4-liter turbo engine and 8-speed transmission. In the off-chance that Toyota chooses that larger engine, at least the hardware exists to make an AWD version happen. Even if downsizing of certain components was required, it’s an interesting possibility.

Final thoughts

Regardless of how many cylinders it ends up with, as long as the GR Corolla has a turbocharger, it should be a massive leap forward. That said, if Toyota wants to rekindle its image in the minds of enthusiasts, they should hold nothing back on this one.

Collaborating with Subaru and BMW on previous sports cars may have saved time and money. But at the end of the day, they’re not really Toyotas. A class-leading AWD GR Corolla, with a turbo four-cylinder engine, will show the world Toyota can still make a high-performance car on its own.


Easy Mods That Make Your Car Instantly Drive Better