Blog home Autos Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition (2023) Review, Pricing, and Specs

Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition (2023) Review, Pricing, and Specs

In the GR Gorolla, Toyota has released an impressive pure performance hot hatch with a turbocharged engine and manual transmission.

People often like a specific car because it captivates them somehow, maybe through its overall drivability, available features, outright performance or just because it looks great. And because we all like different things, we like different cars for different reasons.

The Toyota GR Corolla, though, will appeal to a niche group of people for one simple reason: it’s an unconventional, purist performance hot hatch, and by that, we mean it doesn’t have a smooth shifting automatic gearbox or the latest gadgets. Having cars do the gear changing for the driver has become an overwhelming preference, so when people hear that a performance car has a manual gearbox, it’s often overlooked.

Japanese automotive engineering has been a step ahead of everyone else for decades, and what powers the GR Corolla is a prime example of this. The party piece is a turbocharged 1.6-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that produces maximum outputs of 221kW and 370Nm. Power is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission that allows it to run from 0 – 100km/h in 5.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 230km/h. The GR-Four all-wheel-drive system is configurable from a dial inside the car.

Core vs Circuit differences

There are two models: Core and Circuit, and there are a couple of differences that make the Circuit stand out against the Core. From a mechanical point of view, both versions come with the same powertrain and are identical in terms of power, but the Circuit benefits from a Torsten limited-slip differential that aids with better off-the-line traction. The brakes are the same on both cars: 356mm ventilated two-piece disc brakes in front and 297mm ventilated discs at the rear, which look good too with GR badging.

Visually, the Circuit gets a gloss black front grille, air vents on the bonnet and a carbon fibre roof. Customers can also choose between three body colours – the unit we had on test was coated in Glacier White, which really makes the black 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels pop and grab attention. Compared to the normal run-of-the-mill Corolla hatch, the GR comes with wider front and rear bumpers and a rear diffuser that houses a triple exhaust layout. We suspect that with the lighter roof and limited slip differential, the Circuit will come out on top in a straight-line race.


The Golf 8 GTI might be the assumed rival by many but it’s actually not if you are comparing drivetrains. The GR Corolla is not going to rival the Golf GTI in terms of sales, because the former is a special edition model built in limited numbers. Comparing apples to apples, the Golf 8 GTI isn’t a recognised rival to the GR Corolla, which is more aimed at the Golf 8 R and Honda Civic Type R. The Honda Civic Type R is one of the few performance models still available with a manual gearbox. The GR Yaris could also be considered a rival but there’s no sense comparing siblings in this instance.

Just so you know, the Type R is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre, VTEC engine with figures of 235kW and peak torque of 420Nm. It is considerably more expensive than the GR Corolla, priced at R999 999. Once upon a time the i30 N was also available with a manual gearbox but the switch has been made to dual clutch. For reference, the Korean hatch is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 206kW and 392Nm of torque, with pricing starting from R827 900. 

A common denominator between the i30 N and Civic is that they both have bigger engines than the GR Corolla, which also has a cylinder ‘missing’. The GR Corolla holds up well against the Type R despite being slightly less powerful – we feel the Toyota has the bigger presence and exclusivity factor.

The drive

First off, it’s very tough to drive the GR Corolla slowly or at a constant pace, because 1) people on the road want to see how it goes; 2) the turbo whistles are so nice to hear; and 3) it flies forward on a stretch of road the minute the throttle is depressed. Cape Town has some of the most picturesque winding roads, and what better way to test the GR-Four system. It’s a case of shoot and point when entering a sweeping or sharp bend at speed because there’s grip for days and no play from the chassis. The GR Corolla’s system is very balanced, even when Track mode is engaged.

The six-speed intelligent manual gearbox comes with rev-matching that can be activated with a button just above the driver’s right knee. The interior is not going to wow as that of an Audi or Mercedes-Benz would, but it doesn’t need to and still has some great features, like an infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a wireless phone charger. We kept music to a minimum while driving so that we got to enjoy the analogue driving experience in an era where everything is quiet and removed from the driving experience.

The GR Corolla doesn’t have that deeper pitch like a 2.0-litre would have higher up the rev range and it’s only there where you can hear it’s a three-cylinder engine. The redline is limited to 7 200rpm and has a soft limiter set at 4 000rpm, so no going crazy and prematurely popping the engine.

We had two passengers in the rear and a test drive was uncomfortable for them, not because of seating space but because of how they felt when the car let rip.

The only real downside to the GR Corolla is that it’s way out of most people’s price range, which is a shame. It’s clear that there’s still a market for cars like this, and Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division is flying the flag high for enthusiasts everywhere.

Spec, pricing and aftersales

Core – R841 000
Circuit – R902 400

A nine-service / 90 000km service plan and a three-year / 100 000km mechanical warranty are provided. Customers can also purchase extended service plans via their Toyota dealer.

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