Time magazine labelled 2020 as the “worst year ever” for most of us alive today. We witnessed the widespread cancellation of gatherings, global lockdowns, and the far-reaching consequences these had on the economy. Our lifestyles have probably been changed as well.
It’s a year to forget for many, but in the midst of all of it, the automotive world was gifted a rally homologation special – the Toyota GR Yaris. It was a car that made zero financial sense. Toyota, as a company, could’ve carried on in prosperity without its existence.
And yet, then President and CEO Akio Toyoda wasn’t bothered by the cost of development as it was a passion project of his. Rare are the heads of car manufacturers who put their words into action quite like Akio Toyoda, but his conviction towards making ever-better cars was apparent.
The Toyota GR Yaris turned out to be the best car this writer had driven in 2022. It’s a car that prioritised driving experience rather than outright lap times or an insane spec sheet. Even from the first hundreds of metres upon driving it, you can tell the work they’ve put into it.
Everything that a driver interacts with has been honed to its finest – the weightage and feedback from the steering, pedals, and gear shifter. It takes off like a fly strapped onto a missile, grips like there are spikes on the tyres, and should the devil’s horns fully develop, pulls off rally-style slides via the mechanical handbrake.
Being such a fantastic little machine meant that those on the other side of the world watched in envy. If the GR Yaris were to be homologated on American soil, it would’ve cost Toyota simply way too much, and that's on top of what they’ve already spent on development. Even for a massive company such as Toyota, it just wasn’t a viable option.
But all hope wasn’t lost for them as Toyota began its cryptic teasers for what will be eventually revealed as the GR Corolla. Unlike the GR Yaris, the GR Corolla is a global model with no cap to its production number.
Its recipe is basically a grown-up GR Yaris. It gets the same G16E-GTS 1.6 litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine albeit fettled to produce 300 PS and 370 Nm, paired to a 6-speed manual gearbox and sends power to all four wheels via the GR-Four all-wheel drive system. A mechanical handbrake is present as well. They don’t make them like they used to? Not Toyota.
In practice, the GR Corolla is one of those cars that you can be quick in virtually no time. Get in it and you’d immediately feel comfortable with its spot-on driving position. Clutch in, put it into first, gentle revs, set off, and you’ll realise how easy it is to operate the GR Corolla.
Pick up some speed and you’ll soon find out that the mind-bending grip levels from the GR Yaris has been translated in to the GR Corolla, and then some. It just eggs you on to go faster. A bad influence, like the ones you’ve probably had at the club, but you’re there to have fun, aren’t you?
Though if ultimate fun (on wheels) is what you’re after, then nothing beats a traditional rear-wheel drive two-door coupe, and you’re in luck because there’s the Toyota GR86. Why is it the ultimate fun? Well, it’s all down to the fundamentals – a lightweight, low centre of gravity, naturally-aspirated, rear-wheel drive sports car.
There’s a sense of purity about the GR86. Everything in the cabin is designed in such a way that lets you focus on driving. No reflective surfaces, no gimmicks, and everything you need is easily reached.
It highlights any flaws as a driver and is incredibly rewarding when you get it right. You can choose to be precise for a fast lap or be a hooligan and go sideways everywhere, it will happily oblige.
More importantly, the GR86 addresses pretty much all of its predecessor's deficiencies without taking away what made it so lovable - the level of engagement it provides and its playful yet forgiving nature. It may not be built by Toyota, but it embodies the philosophy of kaizen since the first-generation 86 in 2012 with its continuous refinement.
Between the GR Corolla and GR86, there is no right or wrong choice, only one that's tailored to your needs. The GR Corolla is a car that can do it all: track days, gymkhanas, rallying, school runs, grocery runs, etc. But if you want something purer, more focused, then the GR86 will be up to the task. Either way, you’ll have a blast driving.
Looking at the current automotive landscape, it is at a pivotal juncture. Many are convinced that full electrification is the way to go, but Akio Toyoda believes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of sustaining traditional engines through carbon-neutral fuels, he's all in.
Now with Koji Sato, who was previously responsible for leading the Gazoo Racing department, at the helm, we hope he echoes the same sentiment because the GR Corolla turned out to be Akio Toyoda's last gift to enthusiasts before taking on chairman role.
Also read: Review: 2023 Toyota GR86 - The 'L' license car for keen drivers
We don’t know for sure how long these pure combustion engine GR cars will stick around, but we are certainly grateful for their existence. They’ve silenced the sceptics who deemed them creator of borings cars, we’re confident they can show the world that five solutions are better than one.
Also read: Review: The Toyota GR Corolla is the result of when heart and soul meets science