The Toyota GR Corolla took a very, very long time to come

Image for article titled The GR Corolla has been so long in coming

Picture: Toyota

Like many of you, I look forward the Thursday reveal of the GR Corolla, mainly because it’s the closest thing to the GR Yaris in much of North America. (I say “a lot of” because you could, in fact, buy a GR Yaris in Mexico.) I would prefer the Yaris, as it is a bonafide special homologation; nonetheless, the Corolla will reuse the Yaris’ powertrain in a bigger package, most likely with more power. Still, it’s a pretty solid consolation prize.

The GR Corolla was also slow to arrive. Sure, “Corolla” may be synonymous with efficient, unassuming transportation in much of the world, but it also has a sporting history that we all take for granted. And I’m not even talking about the AE86’s mandate in drift and touring car racing.

In the late 90s, Toyota campaigned with a Corolla in the World Rally Championship to replace aging, cheating Celica ST205. The team won the constructors’ title in 1999, with Carlos Sainz (Senior) driving the lead car. Sainz would have also won the driver’s title in a Corolla the year before, if not for one of the most infamous and unexpected upheavals in the history of motorsport. A very different step The collapse of Toyota at Le Mans 2016Ironically.

Either way, that familiar bug-eyed, bulldog-faced Corolla on the WRC stages is very unfamiliar to us Americans. The Corolla was one of those nameplates that belonged to very different cars in each of the territories where it was sold, much like its closest rival, the Civic. When Toyota rallied the Celica, they sold a kind of special homologation model in Europe and Asia – the Celica GT-Four. But when he campaigned for the Corolla, no such vehicle existed for public consumption. The closest was the G6 series of the Corolla three-door hatchback and the limited-edition G6R and G6S.

The Corolla G6

The Corolla G6
Picture: Toyota

The Corolla G6 was no hot hatch at all, with just 106 horsepower from Toyota’s 1.6-liter 4A-FE inline-four. However, with a six-speed manual, it was the most fun Corolla you could buy at that time and in that body style, in Europe. A spicier version — the emphasis is on the “look” — named the G6R reached a few countries, in limited quantities in late 1998. The G6R added larger alloys, side skirts, stabilizer bars, disc brakes at all corners, and a lighter aluminum hood. It looked a little more like the rally car in appearance, but was still quite different in terms of performance.

Germany and Germany alone got the best flavor from the E110 Corolla – the G6S. It was basically a G6R with all the Toyota dealership aesthetic and performance options fitted, like a more prominent front spoiler and bumper plus a Remus exhaust, per car accelerator. It also wore a Toyota Team Europe badge, evoking the Corolla WRC, and rode on a set of the marque’s stunning 17-inch Grandstand rims.

Again, make no mistake – these were still relatively tame, lightly tuned versions of front-wheel-drive econoboxes, unlike the Celica GT-Four, GR Yaris or GR Corolla. There has never been a road version of the European Corolla E110 that has been closer in spirit to its rally counterpart, such as the Impreza WRX STI or the Lancer Evolution. This is because with the transition from Group A regulations in the early to mid-90s to the era of world rally cars just before the turn of the century, manufacturers no longer needed to offer homologation specials to the public, so just about everyone stopped. This block of text from Wikipedia explains it well:

The base model did not need to have all the characteristics of the WRC car, as evidenced by cars such as the Peugeot 206, 307, Citroën Xsara and Škoda Fabia, which during this period did not have a variant of road car with a turbocharged gasoline engine or four-wheel drive. One of the requirements was a minimum length of 4000 mm; the standard Peugeot 206 had an overall length of 3835 mm, so Peugeot had to produce at least 2500 units with extended bumpers to comply with the required dimensions.

All that to say, we’ve never had this Corolla that truly honored the nameplate’s rallying heritage—until now. The GR Corolla brings out the off-road potential that’s always been inside Toyota’s compact sleeper, and it’s about time.