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Toyota Corolla GR Sport review

04/01/2021 We’re testing the most powerful Corolla on sale in Ireland this week – the UK manufactured Toyota Corolla GR Sport hatchback. When we reviewed the new Corolla hatch back in May 2019 we said that the hatchback was our least favoured body form of Corolla after the estate and saloon. The GR Sport hatch looks more purposeful but can it change our minds. Our test car is a hybrid and powered by a four cylinder 2-litre petrol engine with an additional electric motor and battery pack. The family hatch pushes out a healthy 181hp yet produces a relatively low 120g/km of CO2 emissions. It may have ‘GR’ in its name but it is not a fire breathing full-on Gazoo Racing model. Toyota says the GR Sport model ‘injects some of the passion’ of Gazoo Racing into the family favourite.

Our 2 litre’s performance is adequate rather than thrilling with a modest 190nm of torque. A less powerful 1.8 litre petrol/hybrid GR Sport with 122hp and 113g/km CO2 is available for a few grand less. As the Corolla is a petrol hybrid (HEV) it uses a CVT automatic transmission to deliver power to its front wheels. As you know CVTs deliver a harsh sound when accelerating – similar to foxes mating! That said the 2 litre manages the 0-100km/h sprint in an impressive 7.9 seconds, albeit without a sporty soundtrack to match. Top speed is an autobahn friendly 180km/h. Fuel consumption is quoted at 5.3l/100km, which isn’t bad for a two litre petrol hybrid. The fuel tanks is modest at 43 litres.

Our test car looks sharp and sporty despite very little being altered. There are big 18 inch alloys and some bumper styling and roof colour trickery that give the car a better stance on the road. Under the skin there are no suspension changes or other racing ‘dark arts’ modifications, just the standard Corolla bits and pieces. Outside compared to a regular Corolla you get: a new front grille with a dark chrome finish, unique lower skirts, side rockers and rear diffuser. The grade also adds bespoke 18” machined alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, fog lamps, LED headlamps and a dedicated exterior colour Toyota calls ‘dynamic grey’ that features a bi-tone execution. Toyota is pitching the GR Sport at a younger buyer but ironically it will most likely be bought by buyers with a more than a few grey hairs as it is very pricey. Regular Corolla hatchback pricing starts in the mid twenties – our GR is €35K.

Inside you get: GR sport seats as standard with black fabric with faux leather bolsters. Black and red stitching features too on instrument panel, steering wheel and shifter. The front seats are great but bulky and rob the rear of cabin of precious space. Access to the back seats is tight and tricky too. Thankfully the Corolla’s infotainment system is brought up to date with CarPlay etc. featuring. This makes a big difference next to the first Corollas of this generation that didn’t have it. Surprisingly there is only one USB – yes just 1, Un, Uno, Ein USB – in this day and age this is pretty poor. While some surfaces are soft to the touch there is far too much hard plastic on display e.g. where you’d place your phone in the console. The Corolla’s large centre touch screen display now makes sense with the addition of CarPlay.

As a compact hatchback, the 2 litre is lacking in the cargo department with a tiny 313 litre boot. The boot is very small for a family car. Under the boot’s high floor you’ll find its 12-volt battery and a tyre inflation kit. Toyota quotes a drive by noise figure of 67dBs but inside the car is extremely loud. On one phone call I was asked if I was on a mountain side – such was the cabin noise. Sound proofing and lots of it is much needed in the 2 litre GR Sport. The large wheels and low profile tyres can take some of the blame but really the cabin was far from serene by the class standards.

On the road the GR Sport drives well with little or no vices (CVT aside). The sports seats are great and very supportive and comfortable – often a hard act to achieve. Auto-hold and intelligent adaptive cruise control deliver relaxed stop start town use and effortless cruising. Auto headlights, reversing camera, Lane keeping and other ADAS all contribute to a feeling of security behind the wheel. The Corolla GR Sport, like all range topping grades, is unlikely to sell in big numbers. Luna is the hatch entry point (€26,430) with Luna Sport (€29,610) and Sol (€29,995) the next two grades along, then comes GR Sport from €30,950 (1.8) and €34,400 (2.0).

So back to the burning question… does the 2 litre GR Sport hatch change our mind about its 3rd place in ranking behind the estate and Saloon in the Corolla family? No. Michael Sheridan

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Michael Sheridan
Michael Sheridan
Michael Sheridan is a senior and highly respected motoring journalist based in Ireland. He is a frequently heard voice on motoring, transport and mobility matters and has multiple credits on national television, national print media, national and local radio and other outlets. Michael Sheridan has been a Car of the Year Judge for more 25 years (& a similar time as a Van of the Year judge). Michael is also an award winning filmmaker. He has produced and directed many international and national motoring TV programmes and documentaries both on cars and motorcycles - including four films on the iconic Route 66. Michael Sheridan is a former Chairperson of the Association of Professional Motoring Press and is a member of the MMAI (motoring media association of Ireland).
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