How could the GR Corolla not be great? It is a widebody hatchback with a 300 horsepower inline three that is mated to an advanced four-wheel drive system. It’s the kind of raw car we’ve longed for since the WRX STI hatch went out of production. More hot hatches are always a good thing, and one like that – backed by heavy investment from Toyota – is really great.
There’s just one problem: this isn’t the Toyota hot hatch we were looking for. The rest of the world will get the GR Yaris, a supermini homologation specifically designed to allow Toyota to use a small three-door hatchback in the World Rally Championship. The homologation Yaris essentially shares nothing but badging with the five-door Yaris, one of the best-selling small cars in the world.
The American community’s initial outburst of longing for the GR Yaris was enormous. When the car was announced, petitions immediately surfaced to tell Toyota there was a market for the GR Yaris in America. Admittedly, petitions like this are largely meaningless. Wanting something is one thing, writing a check for it when it comes in is another. Toyota could have ignored it and been fine. Still, the company took it seriously and announced that it would indeed bring a GR-brand hot hatch to the US. Just not the Yaris.
Of course, B-segment vehicles — the class of small cars that the Yaris is a part of — aren’t as popular in the United States. The last Yaris we got in the US was a Mazda2 with rebadges, a car that is completely different from the Yaris available in the rest of the world. Most other cars in that segment, such as the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic and the Mazda2 itself, have long since left our market due to a lack of sales. That means we won’t get the beautiful Fiesta ST anymore, and it also means that the GR Yaris was never a lock to come to the US.
Still, in an interview with R&T, Jack Hollis, Senior Vice President Automotive Operations at Toyota Motor North America said, “When you say ‘Have we considered? [the GR Yaris]† we consider everything† It was just that we knew GR Corolla would fit our market… Doesn’t mean the GR Yaris couldn’t come here eitherit’s just that GR Corolla is what we’re committed to.”
Emphasize mine. While the Yaris was never a lock to come to America, Toyota could have brought the car we’d all been asking for little hatch nutjobs for. But Toyota was committed to the Corolla instead. We’re missing something.
The GR Corolla version of the G16E-GTE inline-three has 32 horsepower more than the Yaris to make up for its extra bulk and weight. The Corolla’s bodywork has been reworked to look more aggressive. It uses the same advanced drivetrain, as the GR Yaris also rides on the Corolla platform, which gives the Yaris that stocky, aggressive stance. The GR Corolla is even built at the Motomachi factory, just like the GR Yaris. Motomachi produces Toyota’s most ambitious products, such as the Mirai with hydrogen fuel cells, the electric bZ4x, the luxury car Crown, the tiny city car C+pod, the Noah and Voxy vans and the two GR hatchbacks.
Toyota, as one of the world’s largest and most profitable automakers, can build cars such as the LC, GR Yaris and Mirai as exhibits for its technology, design and engineering. While they won’t necessarily be the biggest money makers, they show Toyota’s might and brag about others in the industry. Building the GR Corolla at Motomachi shows how serious the company is that this isn’t a Corolla hatch with a heated drivetrain and badging it doesn’t deserve.
Still, there’s something about the Yaris that the Corolla lacks. First, the size. The last fast car we had in this segment was the front-wheel drive Fiesta ST. The Yaris has no less than 70 hp more and is four-wheel drive. Second and foremost, the GR Yaris is a true homologation special, an essentially new car that shares a Yaris badge, allowing Toyota to legally use a three-door hatchback in the World Rally Championship. Homologation specials used to be quite common, with manufacturers building road cars so they could race a unique race car. Now manufacturers are modifying road cars to compete. No other team in the World Rally Championship had to build an entirely new version of a car to compete. Look at the GR next to a normal Yaris. The essence is there, but it is lower, wider and more focused.
On the other hand, while the Corolla’s engine and drivetrain are innovative and fantastic and stemmed from motorsport, the idea isn’t exactly new. There have been similarly sized hatches and sedans with small turbo engines, manual transmissions and four-wheel drive on our market for over two decades. The GR Yaris feels fresh and exciting, a new idea and a model with a unique story among the cars on sale today. The GR Corolla has things we love, but knowing it doesn’t the car hurts.
None of this is to say that the Corolla is bad. Toyota owed us nothing and had no real reason to make the GR Corolla other than that they wanted to. But Akio Toyoda himself called the GR Yaris a real Toyota sports car and broke all of his company’s own rules to build it. It has a unique story that shares no parts or engineering with BMW or Subaru. It’s a shame that Toyota’s best example of homologation engineering and Akio Toyoda’s pet project isn’t getting a chance on American roads.
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