DETROIT – I twist the GR-Four knob over to the 30:70 mode, get some revs going, and gun it. The front-end sticks and pulls while the rear performs a tidy arc as soon as I begin to dial in some steering. “Would you look at that? A Corolla that will actually go sideways!” I think to myself. How novel.
This sideways act is possible in any GR Corolla, though. I happen to be in the driver’s seat of the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Morizo Edition, which is the hottest and most-special version of this hot hatch. Toyota’s only making 200 of them, and predictably, that’s sent prices skyrocketing high above the already-steep MSRP. Frankly, the limited quantity is a shame given how much effort was put into improving the Morizo over the already-superb Circuit Edition.
If you prefer your special editions to not shout their specialness to the universe, then the Morizo is your cup of performance tea. Countless folks came up to me over my week with the car assuming it was a Circuit Edition after looking at the forged carbon roof and hood ducts that are shared between the two versions (and how you tell they’re not a Core). The one obvious giveaway to know you’re looking at a Morizo Edition would normally be the presence of matte gray paint. However, my tester is painted in the only other paint available for the Morizo: Windchill Pearl. This white paint can be had on the non-Morizo models, making it a perfect under-the-radar spec. A pro identification tip beyond the paint is to take a good look at the wheel and tire package. All Morizos come fitted with matte black BBS forged wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that are 10 mm wider than the standard tires.
Of course, if you’re close enough to read the tire model name, you’ll also be able to look through the rear windows to notice the lack of rear seats. Yep, Toyota removed the rear bench to save weight (but strangely kept the rear floor mats). Engineers also removed the rear window regulators, rear door speakers and rear wiper blade/motor. In total, Toyota says it removed just under 100 pounds from the car versus the Circuit Edition, resulting in a curb weight of only 3,186 pounds.
In case it wasn’t obvious, chucking these parts largely nullifies the GR Corolla’s usefulness as a daily driver. I took one evening drive in the rain, and the immovable water on the rear window makes everything behind you a blurry mess, especially when there are headlights adding to the glare effect through the glass. Not being able to roll the rear windows down isn’t the end of the world, but the odd-looking GR plastic pieces that are placed on top of the would-be switches are comical. And lastly, the audio system suffers from its lack of speakers. Combine the loud engine, exhaust, tire and road noise, and you need to have the volume pegged to hear a podcast or radio talk show.
Thankfully, the Morizo is capable of providing more than enough on-road entertainment itself. Everything else about this special Corolla is a hoot and a holler. The 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder is re-tuned for additional torque, as it produces 295 pound-feet of it instead of the usual 273. Horsepower remains the same at 300 ponies, but acceleration for the Morizo is a smidge peppier than the Circuit thanks to the extra torque, weight loss and closer-ratio six-speed manual transmission. Peak torque comes on later and tapers off sooner — 3,250-4,600 rpm — than the standard GR Corolla, but the engine’s character is retained, and driven back-to-back, the Morizo feels just a little more eager to respond to throttle inputs. This is a turbo that you need to wind out and get the revs up. Driven below 3,000 rpm, the GR Corolla is rather tame outside of the booming exhaust. Build boost, and this engine will happily spin up to its 6,500 rpm redline all day long and sound great doing it. Just like Senior Editor James Riswick did in our Type R vs. GR Corolla comparison test, I spent a day driving alongside a brand-new Civic Type R, and neither of us could get a step on the other in straight-line acceleration. Even in extra-hot Morizo trim, these two hot hatches are a perfect match.
Where the Morizo Edition surprises is in its suspension tuning and ride. Toyota uses unique monotube passive dampers that are tuned “for a precision driving feel fit for racing.” A pair of structural support braces where the seats used to be span that open area, too, adding further rigidity to a car that’s already considerably stiffer than the humble hatchback it’s based on. We were all expecting an unforgiving, hard-as-a-rock ride and a chassis that doesn’t even have “body roll” in its vocabulary – after all, Toyota didn’t let anyone drive one on a city street during the track-only first drive. To the contrary, the Morizo’s suspension doesn’t beat you up or brutalize with stiffness. That gives the GR Corolla a sense of playfulness and whimsy as you whip through corners, which isn’t the expectation for a car so serious that engineers felt the need to remove the rear seats.
Don’t think that just because the Morizo doesn’t bust your back on poor roads means it’s a poor handler, though. The way it transitions from corner to corner is brilliant, predictable and makes you just want to keep going left-right-left-right-left- … and so on. As we discovered when driving it
The steering wheel itself is covered in suede-like cloth, which is less preferable than leather, but the rim is a perfect width. You can simply hammer the throttle through corners and let that AWD system evenly pull you through without any torque steer disturbances. The Sport Cup 2 tires afford so much grip that the dual limited-slip differentials hardly need to work. A racetrack is where the shorter differential gears for the Morizo would really shine, so it’s a good thing they’re present. Those super-grippy tires are ironically a deterrent to fun when they get toasty, too. While the GR Corolla is thrilled to go sideways on colder pavement with cold tires, it’s a real chore to get any kind of slip angle out of the car when it’s hot out (which is why there was no such fun to be had out in Utah and California during our previous drives on track and in the mountains). Throw some Prius tires on it á la GR86, and you’d have yourself a sideways smoke show.
Rowing through the gears is always entertaining, though, as medium-length throws allow you to really chuck the notchy shifter around with enthusiasm. The shifter is suited perfectly to the car’s personality. It’d be great to have an armrest to get the ergonomics of your elbow and forearm in a more natural position, but then, we wouldn’t have the proper handbrake Toyota added to the GR. The Type R doesn’t have one of those.
The minimalist (and cheap Corolla) vibes permeate the entire cabin. Small splashes of red accents help to subtly improve the cabin’s aesthetics, but there’s no questioning that Toyota opted to push more money into performance extras than cabin amenities. Those giant bezels around the little touchscreen are painful to look at, and the same goes for the miles of boring black plastic all across the dash. That said, the digital gauge cluster and Morizo plaque (visible when you open the door) present well.
The extra charge for the Morizo Edition brings the price all the way up to $51,420 if you go for white or $52,640 if you prefer the matte gray — that’s $7,000 more than the already-pricey Circuit Edition. You can probably forget about getting one for the bargain that is a $50,000+ Corolla, though, as the cheapest ones listed on Autotrader are hovering around the $76,000 mark. There’s little doubt that the Morizo is already a classic and may just be the most serious GR Corolla Toyota ever makes, but anything over its sticker price is an absurd amount of money for the driving experience on offer. Similar to a low-volume model like the Civic Type R Limited Edition from the previous generation, the GR Corolla will be coveted by Toyota enthusiasts for ages, and for good reasons. For everyone else, the Core and Circuit will be more than enough GR Corolla. Plus, you’ll be able to bring your friends along for the ride.