Not for the first time has Toyota, notionally the world’s biggest carmaker, hinted at a new model sure to turn desire to ’11’ on the dial, highlights Iain Robertson, only to restrict the markets into which it would retail and, in the case of the Gazoo Racing Corolla, which uses the rally-ready Yaris GR as its base, we are denied access to its excellence.
We have history, Toyota and me. I respect the brand totally, even though I have not been its greatest fan over the years. In fact, my list of disappointments with it has grown like Topsy at times. As a leading carmaker, it has innovated on occasion…just not very often. It has produced some genuine corkers across several classes, including the late-1980s Supra, the mid-1980s Corolla GT, the Celica of a decade later and, more recently, the small-but-perfectly-formed Yaris GR. It can boast real classics in its line-up, such as the rare 2000GT, while resilience and reliability are central to its indomitable worldwide brand reputation.
Top Gear tried everything, including drowning and blowing up a high-mileage Hilux pickup truck, only for it to remain driveable (after some practical repairs were completed) and part of that TV show’s stable of retained models. My Corolla GT hatchback (AE86) was acquired following the media launch drive event held in Portugal, covering over 120,000mls in the following three years and remaining as punchy and fun to drive as any 1.6-litre hot hatch I have ever owned. I even bought a 1974 Celica ST as a modern classic, selling it at a modest profit two years later. Much of Toyota’s volume sales success over the decades has arisen from its relative style conservatism, its only average perfomance statistics and its unfortunate state of ordinariness…it seems that some car buyers only want a mode of transport and Toyota has been a master at servicing those needs.
In many respects, the reason that I can recognise so few stars in Toyota’s total range lies with my personal desires. I love accessible but not excess power. I revel in fine handling characteristics. Yet, I appreciate low running costs and dependability. However, when Toyota manages it, it creates a world-beater without contemporary rivals. The current Corolla model, despite carrying a model name that has been at times maligned for its tedium, is probably the best it has ever been. It is an undeniably handsome compact family car and one that I had considered eminently suitable for my own needs (albeit wearing a Suzuki Swace badge), were it not for the loss of my left leg, a factor that left me slightly conflicted about accessibility. Yet, I still like the car immensely.
When I drove the most recent Yaris GR, which is the road-going version of what is currently Toyota’s world rally weapon, I was drawn to its three-cylinder, tuirbocharged petrol engine that developed a cool 300bhp and was hooked up to a 4×4 system and ‘flat shift’ manual gearbox (no need to dip the clutch pedal on rapid upshifts). It provided one of the most exciting drive experiences that I have had in more than twenty years. Rare enough to ensure that even if I had the spare ackers to acquire one, I was unable to, as each of the UK allocation was sold, reduced my desire not one drop, although living with it would probably exhaust me.
Now consider the ideal blend of the slightly larger Corolla utilising almost identical underpinnings. Benefitting from less frenetic handling, thanks to the larger dimensions and lazier wheelbase, but no less capable of turning a cute ‘heel’ and misbehaving like the best of today’s ‘drift-orientated’ hot hatches, the Corolla GR makes the maximum use of its 1,618cc, three-pot petrol-turbo engine, which emits the most delighffully busy thrum on full chat. The ingenious application of a forged carbon-fibre roof panel helps to keep body weight and centre of gravity low, while the use of aluminium for bonnet and front doors lops off the pounds for a better power to weight ratio. The rest of the high tensile steel frame features additional welding points for enhanced structural rigidity, a key factor in improving all dynamic responses (brakes, steering, handling, roadholding) to fresh and enticing peaks.
In fact, keen dynamism is what the Corolla GR is all about, from its four-pot front brake callipers operating on large diameter aluminium rotors, the 18.0-inch diameter gloss black spoked alloy wheels, to the drive flexibility and driver four-way adjustability of its rally-bred 4×4 system. Suspended by McPherson struts at the front and a multi-link system at the rear, carefully chosen spring and damper rates ensure taut and engaging handling on demand, although the ride comfort is firm but still comfortable for those times when haring around the back doubles is not a primary request. A three-pipe exhaust (one at either end and another in the middle of the rear bumper unit), plenty of aerodynamic fillets, intakes and strakes, allied to stylish wheelarch extensions and an interior designed for bolstered purpose, with a large touchscreen in the top dead centre of the dash and plenty of high-quality suede and fabric trim highlight the rally-bred nature of the Corolla GR.
Conclusion: It amazes me that neither the UK, nor Europe are considered as suitable markets into which to sell the Corolla GR, especially as they are the hotbed of rallying activities. It is sad, because Toyota is giving Ford the ‘drift king’ nod and even a potential £44k price tag would not dissuade buyers away from the Toyota. If you want one, I would advise making your demand sooner, rather than later, being aware that you still might not get one.