Toyota made headlines when the automaker dropped its latest Gazoo Racing (GR) product: the 2022 GR Corolla. This stickshift-only hot hatch may have you dreaming of trading in your Outback. And it’s a trade you’d probably never regret. But don’t convince yourself the Gazoo Racing badge makes the GR Corolla trim as capable, or as fun, as Toyota’s purpose-built sports cars.
The all-in-one car is a myth
We automotive journalists may have messed up. We tend to give the “multi-tools” of the automotive world artificially inflated ratings. This is because they are “average” in several categories so, in overall ratings, they soar above vehicles that make major sacrifices.
Take, for example, the Honda Ridgeline. It’s Edmunds’ top-rated mid-size truck and Consumer Reports’ top-rated pickup truck overall. This is because the Ridgeline is “meh” in every categroy without really sacrificing any one category. So people love it, right? Wrong. It’s the worst-selling truck.
The only way you get truly great at one thing is to make sacrifices everywhere else. Want to haul 3,000 pounds of gravel in your truck bed? Kiss ride quality and fuel efficiency goodbye. Love your Miata’s handling so much you want to daily drive it? Great: you can get married or get a dog. But you don’t have enough room for both.
If your design question is “How do I make a four-door, AWD car as fun as possible?” the modern hot hatch is an exceptional answer.
But if your question is “How much fun can I have in a sports car?” you should look hard at front-engine, RWD coupes. There’s a reason they have been the sports car layout of choice for a century.
The GR Corolla doesn’t belong in the Gazoo Racing lineup
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While we’re on the topic of front-engine, RWD sports coupes, I have to say Toyota has the segment on lock. Gazoo Racing re-introduced the Toyota Supra for the car’s fifth generation in 2019. Then it launched the second generation of the 86 for the 2021 model year as the Gazoo Racing 86 (GR86).
Both of these cars are front-engine, RWD coupes. Both are incredibly well-balanced sports cars. The new Supra is a two-seater. It offers a muscular 3.0-liter I6 from BMW that Toyota redesigned for reliability. But don’t worry, it still makes up to 382 horsepower.
The Supra is only available as an automatic. But if you’re a fan of the manual transmission, Gazoo Racing has you covered. The GR86 is Toyota’s version of the Subaru BRZ. It is a 2+2 coupe because of its tiny rear seats. You can get it as either an automatic or a 6-speed manual.
The GR86 comes with a boxer-style four-cylinder developed by Subaru. It only makes 228 horsepower, but straight-line speed isn’t this nimble sports car’s forte anyway.
If you want to go fast, and have a great time doing it, Gazoo Racing has you covered. The proper tool for the job is a front-engine, RWD coupe. And with Toyota, you have two to choose from.
Which Gazoo Racing vehicle doesn’t belong? The GR Corolla doesn’t belong in the lineup of sportscars for enthusiasts willing to make sacrifices in the name of speed.
The GR Corolla’s 1.6-liter turbo leaves no room for tuning
The hot hatch is an exciting segment of the automotive market. From the Mazda 3 to the Subaru WRX STI, to the VW Golf R to the Honda Civic Type R, it has featured many hatchbacks with tuned engines and FWD or AWD. Many of them have also offered a manual transmission option.
The hot hatch was an answer to the tuner car craze of the 1990s. Early tuners turned budget hatchbacks into legendary sleepers. Because these tuned cars were some of the fastest around, automakers began to offer factory-tuned versions of their hatchbacks and the hot hatch was born.
Toyota managed to coax an incredible 300 horsepower out of the GR Corolla’s 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder. But with such a well-tuned output already, there is not much room for owners to improve on it. Ironically, the GR Corolla is not even a tuner car, it just looks like it.
If the GR Corolla was the entry-level Gazoo Racing offering, I could make a case for it. But while the GR86 starts at $27,700, the GR Corolla is expected to start at over $30k–according to Car and Driver.
Previous hot hatches have been a great way for budget-minded drivers who need four doors and AWD to purchase a vehicle with a bit more zip. But they are the DVD/VCR player of the automotive world: in their quest to do everything, they don’t do anything exceptionally well. A hot hatch is not a replacement for more traditional sports cars.