Grrrr… Toyota launches two new racers — the GR Supra Manual and GR Corolla

Grrrr… Toyota launches two new racers — the GR Supra Manual and GR Corolla
The new and speedy GR Corolla. (Photo: Toyota SA)

There are two new speedy Toyota beasts in town, adding even more adrenalin to the company’s fast-growing Gazoo Racing portfolio.

Forget all you’ve ever thought about the Toyota Corolla. If you’re anything like me, up until last week, the Corolla badge represented reliable, safe and dare I say, somewhat boring.

Over the years, manufacturing company Toyota has not always been obviously associated with adrenalin-inducing cars — think the Etios, the Camry, the Aygo and of course their bestselling, super-reliable Corolla.

I for one didn’t realise until quite recently how deep Toyota’s racing roots are, with more than 60 years of competing in various forms of motorsport. But with the introduction in 2016 of the GR badge, which stands for Gazoo Racing, the advent of a specialised sports division has put paid to the label of bland.

With products like the GR Yaris, the GR 86, the GR Supra and the just-launched GR Corolla, the Gazoo Racing brand is fast gaining credibility and stealing thunder from iconic speedsters like the VW R, the BMW M, the Audi RS and Mercedes AMG divisions.

Akio ‘Morizo’ Toyoda

The man driving Toyota’s racing aspirations is none other than the chairperson of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda, who ardently believes that the Japanese mobility company’s mission is to make “better-driving cars”. 

toyota racers akio toyoda

Chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation and champion for motor racing Akio Toyoda. (Photo: Toyota SA)

Toyoda is an interesting guy with a real love for speed. He himself has raced in Toyotas and Lexuses — primarily in rallies that have taken place on public roads. In 2009, he drove in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, an iconic race held annually where more than 200 cars and 700 drivers participate in a Touring and GT endurance event. However, not wanting to attract too much attention as a chief executive of TMC, he entered the race under the name of Morizo Kinoshita.

In 2016 he gave the thumbs-up to the first GR project, the hot hatch GR Yaris and during its development he was one of its initial test drivers, again driving under the name of “Morizo”. He crashed the first test car, and as he alighted from the wreck is alleged to have said he did not “like the feel of it”. Adjustments were made.

Born in 1956, the 67-year-old is part of a long line of motoring royalty in Japan as the grandson of the founder of Toyota Motors, Kiichiro Toyoda. He has always maintained that by taking to the road and handling the vehicles himself, he is able to hone his special knack for building the kind of vehicles he loves and that embody Toyota’s philosophy of “Roads build people, and people build cars.”

I recently got a taste of two of Toyota’s latest GR demons on the Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng — the revised GR Supra MT (now with a manual gearbox) and the all-new GR version of that once run-of-the-mill Toyota Corolla. 

GR Supra Manual

toyota racers supra

The new Toyota Supra 6-speed manual on track. (Photo: Toyota SA)

The Supra, a sports coupe, has been around since the late 1970s and sold well until the 1990s, when big SUVs appeared on the scene and caused a waning interest in sedans and sports cars. In 1998, Toyota decided to discontinue production of their once iconic racer.

However, under the leadership of Akio “Morizo” Toyoda, the Supra was revived in 2019, but this time with a Gazoo Racing badge. But there was a catch. Because Toyota no longer built straight inline-six engines, suitable for the new Supra, BMW was approached as a partner. Of course, all the know-it-all, petrolhead couch potatoes were up in arms, calling the new Supra a Z4, decrying the obvious German influence on a car that had once been pure Japanese. 

toyota racers

The Toyota Supra was relaunched with a BMW engine in 2019. (Photo: Toyota SA)

Whatever the critics had to say, it was hard to find fault with the new rear-wheel drive demon and its turbocharged inline-six engine which is good for 285kW and 500Nm in the 2023 derivative.

While its six-speed auto transmission did the job with aplomb, the GR Supra screamed for a manual gearbox. Toyoda clearly listened and so last week I got to take the MT derivative around the Zwartkops Raceway for a few hot laps.

toyota racing

The 2023 Supra now has a manual transmission. (Photo: Toyota SA)

Built from an amalgamation of ZF and pure Toyota parts, the GR Supra’s gearbox is short shifting but thrillingly tight. On the track, I managed to do most of the circuit in second and third gear with plenty of power on hand at hair-raising speeds. The sports coupe fires up and roars with adrenalin-inducing acoustics, but it’s never brash or belchy.

Inside, it’s all leather and Alcantara upholstery, with creature comforts such as heated seats and dual-zone climate controls, coupled with all the latest tech. While we mainly drove it on track, which most owners will probably never do, it seamlessly adjusts to everyday driving. 

Competing with the likes of the Porsche 718 Cayman S, BMW M2 Competition and Audi TT RS, with its thrilling handling, snazzy aesthetics, gorgeous acoustics and premium comfort, the Supra more than holds its own in this niche premium racing segment. 

GR Corolla

But at the end of the day, much to my surprise, it was the GR Corolla,  globally launched in early 2022, that really captured my heart. The last time I was in a Corolla was in the back seat of an Uber. What a total contrast. The GR looks nothing like its sedan sibling. 

toyota racing

The GR Corollas 18-inch wheels frame aluminium monobloc red callipers. (Photo: Toyota SA)

The GR Corolla is eye-catchingly badass, with an imposing stance brandishing large fenders which house GR Racing cast aluminium 18-inch wheels, made even more appealing by aluminium monobloc red callipers. A rear diffuser surrounds a triple-exit exhaust system that adds an edge to its sporty vibes but it’s not just for aesthetics — the system also helps to reduce exhaust back pressure and improve engine output.

Like its other sibling, the GR Yaris, the new GR Corolla employs a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, good for 221kW and 370Nm, sends power to all wheels via a six-speed quick-shifting manual gearbox and makes use of the “GR-Four” all-wheel drive system.

It shares its platform with the Corolla hatch as well as much of its interior, although in the GR, there are sport bucket seats, a special digital instrument cluster which changes according to your drive mode, as well as a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel.

And lest you think the GR Corolla is a mishmash of other Toyota cars, it’s a  unique beast.

Especially on the track. At Zwartkops, it was an ace at executing tight corners, aided by oodles of roaring speed in track mode. I found the manual clutch easy to use once I got to grips with it. 

Competing against the likes of the Golf 8R, the Hyundai i30N and the Honda Civic Type R, the GR Corolla has definitely thrown some spokes into the hot hatch segment.

While the Golf R may be faster on paper, with its DSG auto gearbox, it lacks the fun-filled hooliganism of the manual Corolla. And while you might be hard-pressed to choose between the front-wheel drive Civic Type R and the AWD GR Corolla, the Honda is significantly pricier. Mind you, the i30N is also a beaut.

In the present climate where there’s an ever-pressing drive to go hybrid and fully electric, and with SUVs and crossovers dominating the market, sports cars that don’t completely break the bank are a dying breed. Both the Ford Focus ST and the Subaru WRX STI have been sent to the car cemetery.

The GR Corolla, which is a thoroughbred hot hatch with proper rally tech and a superb rally-derived AWD system, encourages those who still have speed and petrol coursing through their veins to not just salivate, but to own one.

I will certainly never see the good old Corolla in the same light after whizzing around corners, shifting gears and reaching breakneck speeds in its royal GR relative that would make Akio — I mean Morizo — smile. 


Toyota GR Corolla Core: R840,000.
Toyota GR Corolla Circuit: R902,400.
Toyota GR Supra MT: R1,488,400.
Toyota GR Supra Auto: R1,524,000. DM


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