I know what you’re probably saying “have you gone mad?”. Comparing Toyota’s “Gazoo Racing” (GR) Corolla with their Corolla Cross compact crossover makes absolutely no sense. However, there is a method to my madness. Which of these $35,000 Corollas, neither of which is actually a Corolla, is best? I’ll run them through a comparison test based on exterior design, interior accoutrement and technology, and how they drive out on the open road. If you want a Corolla that isn’t a actually a normal Corolla, where should you spend your hard earned money?
2023 Toyota GR Corolla Overview
There are three main versions of the GR Corolla, the base Core like our test car, the mid-spec Circuit Edition, and the one Jeff tested, the Morizo Edition. As you can see below, prices escalate quickly from the base price of just under $36,000 up to almost $43,000 and nearly $50,000 to the top trim level. All three iterations have basically the same turbocharged 1.6L three-cylinder that cranks out 300 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque (295 lb-ft in the Morizo). The Circuit gets a carbon-fiber roof, limited-slip diff, and some exterior and interior updates. Meanwhile, the Morizo goes full track-day-bro with only two seats, trim-specific 18-inch forged alloy wheels and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, a stiffer body, revised transmission, and a suede-wrapped wheel.
Our test car added the Cold Weather Package ($500), Supersonic Red paint ($425), the Performance Package ($1,180), Tech Package ($770), and some floor and cargo mats. All that racks up $4,259 in add-ons for an out-the-door (pre-markup) price of $40,159.
2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Overview
While the GR has three trim levels, the SUV version of Toyota’s Corolla has a full six including three regular petrol trim levels and three hybrid versions. Prices for the non-hybrid Corolla Cross start at a reasonable $23,610 while the hybrid version starts at just under $28,000 and goes up to a (still way below average for a new car) $31,065 for the top-spec Hybrid XSE like our test car. I kept things simple below with just a list of the hybrid-powered Crosses.
All Corolla Cross trim levels are powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine mated with a hybrid system for a total output of 196 combined horsepower. They all get AWD as standard and a power goes through a continuously variable transmission. For just under $3,100 the top spec XSE trim is worth it for the interior upgrades alone. Our tester added the Convenience Package for $1,250, $800 for a JBL stereo, adaptive headlights for $610, and two tone paint for $500. Out the door (likely with no markup whatsoever) the Corolla Cross XSE comes in at $35,565.
So, this ridiculous comparison has it’s baseline. Now it’s time to run the non-Corolla Corollas through a battery of extensive tests and see which is best!
GR Corolla vs. Corolla Cross: Exterior
Other than basically being a five-door hatchback with a large gaping black grille, these vehicles don’t have a lot in common on the outside. The GR Corolla is low, squat, and wide. The Corolla Cross is the opposite of that, riding higher than a typical Corolla.
The Crossy is based on the Toyota GA-C platform that also played host to the C-HR (R.I.P., 2018 – 2022) but it’s larger in just about every way. It’s four inches longer, an inch wider, and about three inches taller. I love the ridiculous “Acid Blast” paint color, it makes an otherwise anonymous crossover stand out a bit. Kudos for the non-black wheels as well, the swirly five-spoke design looks solid. Elsewhere there is a lot of black cladding, which is a thing on basically every crossover these days. Ruggedize all the things!
The GR isn’t a particularly attractive car, but it looks purposeful and interesting. The width alone adds to the GR’s presence, it is about two-inches wider than a typical Corolla hatchback. The wheelbase and height are basically identical across the GR and Corolla hatch (and the Corolla Cross), while the GR is 1.6 inches longer than the basic Corolla hatch. While I’m not as much of a fan of black wheels as I used to be (getting old folks) the GR’s fifteen spoke wheels look light and purposeful.
Exterior Winner: The GR Corolla! The Corolla Cross, despite the blazing paint color, looks like every other crossover on the road. Meanwhile, there is no mistaking the GR Corolla, it stands out in traffic. That alone is enough to give it the win in this first category.
GR Corolla vs. Corolla Cross: Interior
The bones of the GR and the Cross are generally from “the “an Corolla”, however unlike in Honda’s Civic and CR-V pairing the lineage isn’t quite as obvious. But if you look closely, there are some similarities. Pay attention to the trapezoidal dashboard vent layout, and the overall shape of the dash itself particularly the area near the screen.
Corolla Cross Gallery
The Corolla Cross has a well laid out dash with physical buttons for all the major things across the HVAC spectrum. I’ll say it again, I absolutely love that there are real buttons, I’m already tiring of having everything moved into a screen. If I have to be critical about a positive thing, the volume knob itself is the same color as the black surrounding material making it very difficult to accurately grab. Plus, it’s a little shallow (aren’t we all) making it even more difficult to grab. On the technology side, you get an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and the full suite of Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0. driver aids.
Like the exterior, there is some playfulness to the interior as well. I dig the fun stripey pattern in the seats, it’s more interesting than a plain color. Unsurprisingly, the Corolla Cross is pretty practical for people and things. With seating for five, the Cross has 32-inches of rear legroom and 39 inches of rear headroom.
From a cargo perspective, the Cross has 21.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. That should be plenty for the average small family to live life without much compromise.
GR Corolla Gallery
Meanwhile, the GR is a bit more function over form. The largest changes compared to the Corolla Cross have to do with the fact that it’s got a manual transmission and a real emergency brake handle. The e-brake offsets the cupholders a bit, but overall the GR is pretty easy to live with from an ergonomics perspective. Odd enough, when I reached for the volume knob, I actually got the HVAC button. Kind of funny since the GR has a chrome surround for the volume knob where the one in the Cross is all black. But again, at least there are buttons and knobs. For now at least.
On the technology side, things are similar to the Corolla Cross. The GR also has an eight-inch screen with Apple and Google connectivity, but has a bit less when it comes to the driver aid side of the house. It still gets blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assistance.
The GR has massive bolsters on the front seats, which isn’t all that surprising considering the cornering speeds this thing can handle. They are firm, but pretty comfortable and weren’t bad for an hour-plus drive. However, unlike the Cross, there is no center console or armrest which can cause issue on longer drives since you don’t have anywhere to, well rest your arm. The interior feels like a Corolla, which is problematic for a vehicle that can hit $50,000 before options. Room up front is pretty similar to the Corolla Cross, however you lose about two inches of legroom in the GR compared to the Cross, while rear headroom is about 1.4 inches less.
Cargo capacity in the GR is a still reasonable 17.8 cubic feet, which was enough to (mostly) tackle hockey practice for my youngest. Although I had to put the stick up on top of the cargo cover since the width and depth weren’t enough to get it in the boot.
Interior Winner: The Corolla Cross! The top spec XSE starts at just over $31,000 and even in our as-tested version is $35,565 out the door. That’s cheaper than the GR Corolla’s starting price, which means you just get more for less in the Crossy. It’s more comfortable, has more room, and has more standard features on the comfort and convenience side. In this case, bigger is better.
GR Corolla vs. Corolla Cross: On the Road
OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road. Literally. I’m a firm believer that you buy a vehicle to drive it, not just as a conveyance appliance. So, I’ve got a lot more to say about these two non-Corolla Corollas in this section.
First up the Corolla Cross! It’s…not all that quick. The sub 200 hp engine rating isn’t bad, but it’s a full 400 pounds more than a Corolla hatchback and about 200 pounds more than the GR. Not a bad number considering it’s bigger, but when you pair all that with a CVT transmission it takes close to eight seconds to get to 60 mph. Ride quality is great, and lateral grip isn’t bad either, the AWD system scrambles around on-ramps with reasonable capability. The seat bolsters are decent for a small crossover and seat comfort was quite good. The safety nannies weren’t bad either, it was easy to quickly mute the parking sensor in stop and go traffic by pushing a quick button on the steering wheel.
And now the GR. Oh the GR. I love that it exists. I love that Toyota engineers decided to build it and that the accountants and Toyota leadership approved it. Naturally, it has great acceleration, hitting 60 in around five seconds. That means one…two…three, as you read this it represented the gap between the GR passing 60 mph before the Corolla Cross gets there. Considering it’s roots, the GR has a fun set of driving modes. The GR-FOUR AWD system has three power settings that can split front and rear torque distribution. Toyota says that 60:40 for everyday driving, 50:50 is for track and maximum stability, and 30:70 for more torque off the rear wheels. It is all good fun.
Overall it sounds great but it does lack a bit of the theater that cars like the Veloster N have. The lack of pops and crackles is a bit more grown up I suppose, and the exhaust note has some nice bass. Push the “iMT” button and you get a pretty impressive rev matching function. Speaking of gears, the acceleration in fourth gear through sixth gear is excellent. Out on the highway it’s very easy to build speed, but at said speed you get some noise vibration at certain RPMs. I noticed that after a longer drive the kids got annoyed by it. It also doesn’t ride particularly well, regardless of driving mode.
Driving Winner: The GR Corolla! It wasn’t really close, the GR isn’t perfect, but it’s a blast to drive. Despite the noise and ride quality, it put a smile on my face every time I drove it. Really the Corolla Cross is just “an car” and when it comes to driving experience it just isn’t anything too interesting.
GR Corolla vs. Corolla Cross: And the winner is!
By a 2-1 margin, the 2023 GR Corolla Core wins this incredibly stupid contest. That’s not really the end of this article though, sorry. I know, I’m at 2,000 words already, but I have some more to say. I found myself wondering something strange, who is the GR Corolla actually for?
It’s sort of like the final boss in the Corolla level of a Toyota-themed video game (made you think about what that would be like). It’s the daddy of the Corollas, but do other Corolla owners care? I doubt any Corolla owners actually noticed the GR during my week with it. At a gas station a chap came up and said “that looks like a really fun daily driver”. Which is technically true, or is it? I’m curious if the positives outweigh the negatives to make that a true statement as an owner? The ride isn’t all that great, so I’m not actually sure it would make a great daily driver, at least not for the people that can afford one. Back when I was younger, commuting across DC in autocross-prepped daily drivers, I likely wouldn’t have cared. But I also couldn’t afford a GR Corolla at that point in my life. Now that I’m in my 40s, and I can, but can’t see myself having it as an only car. As a second fun car, maybe?
Plus, there is a some competition at the moment. The Civic Type R is brand new (I get it next week), Hyundai’s performance cars like the Veloster N are continually getting better and better, and the used market has things like the Focus RS that still exist, and are very good. Before I close out my thoughts on the GR, I did get a great piece of advice from one Jeffrey Glucker – “Drive it like you hate it”. That simple phrase did up the enjoyment level of the GR Corolla. If you drive it hard, the point starts to become apparent.
As far as closing out this crazy comparison overall, perhaps if you randomly had, oh I don’t know, say $75,724 to spend on two vehicles, this just might be a great two-car solution!