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First Drive: 2024 Toyota GR Corolla Premium – The Spiciest Corolla Yet

by | May 21, 2024

2024 Toyota Corolla GR Premium shows that the company doesn’t need the help of others to produce budget performance

2024 GR Crolla front view

2024 Toyota GR Corolla proves that it doesn’t need partners to succeed

When one thinks about world-class performance models, chances are good that the bulk of buyers probably would not even consider the Toyota Corolla to be worthy of being included in the same category as the Volkswagen GTI and other performance compact vehicles. The Corolla was always about being a compact model that delivered strong value and impressive fuel economy from its small engine and the company was eager to preserve that recipe by not offering U.S. buyers a performance version.

However, Toyota has been recently working on improving its credentials in the performance car segment and while the Toyota Supra and GR86 coupes were good spearheads in this effort here in the U.S. the company knew that it needed to do something that it could build from scratch with no outside help. This quest to show its independence has arrived in the form of the 2024 Toyota GR Corolla which finally gives U.S. buyers a glimpse into the Corolla’s hidden wild side. But is it a good enough package to truly stand out against some of the segment’s best?

Toyota is playing it solo with GR Corolla

2024 GR Corolla rear view

GR Corolla wisely sticks to its hatchback looks with no sedan version planned

The Toyota Supra and the GR86 are potent performance vehicles in their own right, but both of them are the final results of partnerships that the company has entered with other firms in recent years, with BMW and Subaru providing the platform, powertrains, and the bulk of the equipment for the Supra and GR86 respectively. This time around, Toyota decided to fly solo and built the GR Corolla in-house without any involvement from outside partners which helps give the model a unique edge.

The GR begins life as a standard Corolla hatchback but Toyota engineers have given it a massive suite of upgrades to help boost its performance credibility. The core exterior styling for example retains the basic Corolla DNA, but the front fascia gets a larger front grille to help improve airflow to the engine while the reworked front bumper gets functional vents that help channel cool air to the front brakes. Larger wheel flares accommodate stylish 18-inch wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires and the larger side sills enhance the hatchback’s profile even further. The rear bumper is also reworked and in addition to getting a bigger rear diffuser, it also gets a triple exhaust system that comes with three fully functional tips. The center one in particular helps reduce backpressure which improves engine performance.

While some elements of its exterior presentation feel like Toyota copied and pasted pages from the playbooks of some of its rivals, the GR Corolla is still a stylish yet purposeful hatchback with the spunky Toyota having more personality than the Volkswagen GTI and even the Hyundai Elantra N.

GR Corolla interior is a mixed-bag

GR Corolla interior

GR Corolla interior maintains family link but spices it up with sporty upgrades

The interior of the GR Corolla is largely shared with the standard hatchback model which means buyers will still get a space that features high-grade materials, good build quality, and plenty of standard features. The dashboard is still as dull looking as ever but that’s understandable since Toyota had to keep many of the core pieces intact for the sake of production simplicity.

Instead, the company chose to focus the bulk of its efforts on enhancing the finer details with all GR models getting racier trim pieces and front sport seats that have enhanced amounts of bolstering. Base Core models get fabric-covered seats while Premium and Circuit Edition models get faux leather seats with Brin Naub suede accents infused into the seat to help keep occupants firmly in place. Aluminum pedal covers are standard and the headrests for both seat choices get the GR emblem embroidered into them. Higher trim levels get automatic climate control, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel standard. The rear seats in our Premium grade tester were tight and are best left either folded down or reserved for small children. The recently axed Morizo Edition removed that problem completely and pitched the aforementioned seat, the rear speakers, and the rear wiper to help cut excess weight.

An 8.0-inch infotainment system is standard on all GR Corollas and not only does the system come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but it also incorporates Amazon Alexa capability to control certain vehicle functions and Amazon smart home devices. The system is easy to use and while the software did a good job delivering a smooth operating experience most of the time, we wished that the wireless Android Auto system would do a better job maintaining a steady connection with a paired phone. We noticed that when listening to tunes through the stereo system where our music would occasionally go in and out whenever the infotainment system lost connection with our phone.

Turbocharged three-cylinder is potent trump card

GR Corolla engine

The heart of the GR Corolla comes from the GR Yaris but this three-cylinder has pop

All GR Corollas get their performance from a 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder which is shared with the international market GR Yaris. Unlike the Yaris, the Corolla makes more power with the company saying it produces an impressive 300 hp. That’s 43 hp more than what it makes in the Yaris and this beefed-up power is made possible with the help of several engine upgrades as well as a revised turbocharger. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available but the GR is also the only Corolla to get all-wheel drive standard. When those two items are combined with the engine, they all allow the GR Corolla to make the sprint to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.

This figure is slightly quicker than rivals like the Golf R, and while the Corolla’s advantage in that regard is small, a win is a win. In addition to going fast in a straight line, the GR Corolla can also dance with the best of them thanks to suspension upgrades that improve high-speed handling behavior and greatly reduce body roll. Our Premium tester also arrived with front and rear limited slip differentials that allow owners to customize how much power is sent to the front or rear wheels. This feature is standard on the Premium, Circuit Edition, and Morizo Edition models. Buyers looking to add it to a base Core variant will have to add it on as an optional extra due to that model not making it standard to help keep the price down. Due to its performance hardware remaining unchanged across the entire trim lineup, all GR Corollas get the same fuel economy figures with the EPA saying the model can get 21/28/24 mpg in city/freeway/combined driving. That’s noticeably lower than other Corolla models but the GR is all about having fun and that means putting fuel economy on the back burner.

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Value Play

GR Corolla gauge cluster

2024 GR Corolla is a great performance bargain but buyers will have to search for one

Pricing for the 2024 Toyota GR Corolla starts at $37,795 which includes the $1,095 destination fee. A mid-range Premium model like our tester bumps the starting price up to $41,415 while the Circuit Edition returns for a second year, and bumps up the price of admission to $46,235. This pricing is on par with others in its segment but Toyota’s insistence on building a limited number of GR Corollas each year will force buyers to do some searching to find the one that’s right for them.

But if you’re willing to make the effort to shop around, the 2024 Toyota GR Corolla will reward you by offering a performance car experience that’s worth every penny. The six-speed manual transmission is the best gearbox Toyota has ever equipped to the Corolla and the all-wheel drive system does a good job of managing the engine’s power, while also giving the GR enough poise to handle unexpected weather events should they occur.

1 Comment

  1. “Corolla Premium” is like saying “diet cheesecake.”


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