March 2023 GR Corolla Launch Toyota Fest and GR Sport Hilux


Did you know that one in every four cars on New Zealand roads is a Toyota? It’s hard not to deny the impact this brand has on Kiwi motoring. Toyota New Zealand’s efforts to “Kiwi-ise” the Toyota brand over the last few decades has created a single level of passion from Kiwis from all walks of life. From commuters, to keen drivers, off road enthusiasts and tradies, we all know someone who owns a Toyota.

This brings me on to Toyota Festival. Held since 2013, the festival sees the coming together of some of the most passionate Toyota fanatics from around the country. Now into its 10th year, this year’s festival took place at Highlands Motor Sport Park in Cromwell. Toyota New Zealand got in touch and asked if we would be interested in flying down to spend a couple of days soaking it all up, oh and to drive the new TGR Corolla. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait.

After landing in Queenstown, we made our way to GWD Toyota for lunch and a first look at the new GR Corolla. There are probably a few out there wondering what the GR stands for? Well, it’s the initials for Toyota’s Motorsport division and performance arm, Toyota Gazoo Racing, GR being the last two words, naturally.

Following on from the superb GR Supra and GR Yaris, the $74,990 drive-away GR Corolla completes the full-on performance trifecta from within the Toyota range. It has been sometime since we had a hot Corolla of any description so Toyota have gone all out to make out for lost time.

Under that vented bonnet sits a 1.6L turbocharged three-cylinder engine chucking out 221kW and 370Nm of torque. This unit is essentially the same found in the GR Yaris but the Corolla gets a power hike of 21kW over the Yaris.

As far as the transmission goes, you would think the GR Corolla gets a six-speed manual, and you would be right. The six-cog intelligent manual transmission will send that turbocharged poke to the pavement via all-four wheels thanks to Toyota’s GR-FOUR AWD system.

Throw all this together and you have the first production Corolla capable of reaching 100km/h from a standstill in 5.2 seconds while returning combined fuel consumption figures of 8.4L/100km.

The GR Corolla has muscles to flex while standing still too. While still a Corolla underneath, its TNGA-C platform has a wider front and rear track, and the addition of a set of 18-inch matte black GR alloys, wheel arch flares, a carbon rear diffuser with triple exhaust tips, those aforementioned bonnet vents, revised front grill and oodles of scoops and ducts to improve aerodynamics, it is easily the “meanest” looking Corolla yet.

Inside its very much Corolla but the addition of a GR leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, a new look digital instrument cluster, hip hugging GR embossed leather seats and sports pedals continue that sporting theme. It was also nice to see a manual handbrake a not a toggle switch or button which we see so much of now.

There are a good number of toys thrown in for good measure too. Things like a booming JBL 8-speaker sound system, an 8-inch touchscreen with sat nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and wireless charging to name a few. Plus, the GR Corolla also features the latest rendition of Toyota’s Safety Sense system with features like Pre-Collision System, Lane Tracing Assist,

Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam headlights.

With details like this, its small wonder the hype for this latest of GR products has been considerable. The first ballot for buyers to bag one of the first 150 cars has now closed but the second one is now officially open as I write this.

Despite the main drawcard for this weekend being the chance to sample this latest hot Corolla, Toyota also decided to further whet our appetites for performance by also giving us a look at the 10th Anniversary edition of the GR 86. This special edition to commemorate 10 years of the Toyota 86 sports car, the 10th Anniversary GR 86 is limited to 150 cars worldwide and just 10 have been allocated for New Zealand.

While still very much the new GR 86 underneath, it still has the same 2.4L boxer four-cylinder engine with 174kW and 230 Nm of torque with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Where things differ for the 10th anniversary is its solar orange paint scheme, orange interior stitching, accents, black instrument detailing and 10th anniversary logo embossed door trim. It will set you back $59,900 TDP but due to its limited numbers, collectors better get in quick to get the last cars available.


After a brief welcome and first-class lunch, we were ready for the first leg of this Toyota odyssey. A run from Queenstown to Cromwell, via Wanaka. Leaving GWD Toyota, we headed out of Queenstown. I found myself behind the wheel first not of the GR Corolla or GR 86, but in the Yaris Cross GR Sport.

With more sporting suspension tweaks over the standard Yaris Cross, it was a decent way to begin the journey. The jaunt out of Queenstown was a pleasant one. The scenery so typical of this part of New Zealand was just delightful, however things got even better once we sauntered up the Crown Range.

Probably one of the most stunning and engaging roads in the country, the Crown Range’s sharp hairpin bends and sweeping straights are sure to give any keen driver the warm fuzzies, but throw in a beautiful autumn day and it’s possible to achieve driving nirvana.

Once we reached the summit lookout, it was time to park up and admire the views. It was also the chance to snap up a few shots of the GR Corolla and GR 86 against the rolling hillsides and snow-capped mountain ranges. Far in the distance you could even see Queenstown itself.

From here we carried on some more stunning road building till we reached Wanaka. Here we had afternoon tea by Lake Wanaka itself. The lake was a millpond and with the sun out, it was a picturesque moment.

Then it was time to head to our accommodation, Lake Marsden Resort just out of Cromwell. It was also time to sample the GR Corolla. Jump in and those GR embossed sports seats are some seriously supportive chairs. The driving position I reckon is pretty much perfect and that bolt action rifle like six speed manual box is perfectly positioned. A quick press of the starter button and your immediate surroundings are engulfed by the sweet burble of three cylinders under forced induction, very much like a GR Yaris come to think of it.

Moving off through Wanaka township, the GR Corolla does not bounce around like you think sporting focused hot-hatch would. Sure, it has racing and rallying DNA underneath, but it’s still very much “Corolla-esque” to drive in town. The ride isn’t soft by any means but its certainly pleasant and visibility is pretty good too.

While quite symphonic at idle or moving off, things quieten down in Normal mode when you are sauntering along in urban traffic. Its docile and restrained, but it only takes a flick over to Sport mode to let the GR Corolla get into its stride.

Apply the merest suggestion of the go-pedal and that turbo pressure builds, barrelling you forward. Its feels angry and eager, very much like a hungry terrier pulling at the lead while out for a walk. The GR-FOUR AWD system is clever, allowing you to drive along with traction split 50/50 front to rear. However, if you so desire, you can change this to 30/70 front and rear. The difference between these two modes is profound, you can actually feel the traction being heaped up at the front or rear depending on which mode you are in.

My first drive in the GR Corolla was brief, but it left a big impression. As we made our way to our overnight stop and went out for dinner, I was dead keen to see just how far one can push this new hottest of Corollas, but that would be at Toyota Festival 2023 the next day.


An early start. Arriving at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell at around 7:30am, countless members of the Toyota faithful were already arriving. The line up, even at the early hours was staggering. Corollas, Starlets, Celica GT4s, Cressidas, Land Cruisers, MR2s, Coronas and many Supras and an original Lexus LS400. Lexus is Toyota too remember?

There was also a big turnout of that staple of Kiwi motor culture, the Toyota Hilux. Everything from mint well maintained examples to the most rugged and modified examples out there were out in earnest.

Talking of the Hilux, Toyota New Zealand also used the festival to unveil a new version of the current Hilux. Dubbed the Hilux GR Sport, this special edition, as the GR name suggests, is more performance focused when compared to the standard Hilux.

The 2.8-litre engine has a revised turbocharger and fuel injection control to give 165kW and 550Nm of torque, a 10 per cent hike over the regular car. Underneath it gets a new automatic-limited slip differential and active traction control to give a sportier drive and sharper responses both on and off the beaten track. There are also revised spring rates and wishbones to aid in this. It also looks like a rally raid truck thanks to its muscular new nose, arch flairs and other GR Sport visual upgrades. Inside there are sports pedals, leather and lots of GR badges. All in all, it does looks pretty good. Yours for $74,990 drive away.

After a welcome from a variety of personalities including Rugby icon, TV personality and Toyota NZ ambassador Mark Ellis, it was time to get stuck in with the day’s activities. Toyota Festival catered for everyone. There were even a kids drawing table, racing simulators and a Toyota 86 pitstop challenge which saw competitors try and change a tyre in the quickest time possible.

First up for us was the chance to drive a section of the Highlands circuit. Jumping into the new GR 86, the fun began. This was the first time I have driven the new GR 86. I had been a big fan of the 86 for some years but always felt it could do with a bit more grunt. The new 2.4L boxer GR 86 fixes this and as a result, shows itself to be a quicker and more involving drive. Pushing hard into each corner, the 86 corners well and true, the extra power comes in low down in the rev range too, giving you more oomph out of each bend.

It just feels much meatier than its predecessor. The six-speed manual box is so engaging too and perfect for some heel and toe shifting. The GR 86 is just a load of fun and with that extra power, it really is fab.

Next up was a fun gymkhana with the Toyota GR Yaris. The idea of a gymkhana is to negotiate a set course with cones and other obstacles in the fastest possible time. We had to helm the GR Yaris though a section of sharp hairpin corners marked by cones before coming to a complete stop in a cone box. Although there were probably many a keen Toyota owner who were faster than me, it was certainly a blast. Mind you, any activity which involves the uber fun GR Yaris hot hatch is going to be entertaining.

While this was going on, many Toyota owners were already doing their laps around Highlands Park. All manner of engine notes were echoing throughout the area. V8s, twin cam fours and turbocharged straight sixes all came together to create a symphony of horsepower. Heck, there was even a young guy driving his Toyota Hiace van around the track with speakers blasting! Good on him.

Those not doing laps were letting their pride and joy bask in the Otago sunlight as part of the Toyota Festival Show and Shine. As mentioned, there was no shortage of cars from Toyotas past and present on display, but one that caught my eye was a mint New Zealand New AW11 MR2. With a manual transmission and the subject of a recent restoration, I had to resist the urge to contact the number on the “For Sale” sign on the dashboard.

Anyway, back to reality. After a lunch break, it was time for the main event. Track time in the new GR Corolla. This time we would have the entirety of Highlands Motorsport Park to play with. Having been rather impressed during my brief stint on the road, it was time to select track mode and fully unshackle the GR Corolla to find its limits, within reason of course.

Accelerating hard out of pitlane, the GR Corolla darts forward. From 2500rpm up, it really is a fast car. The GR-FOUR AWD system is also feels as well sorted on track as it does off. Setting the traction bias to the rear, you can coax the rear end around without it feeling like its coming away from you. You are also able to corner at some hefty speeds. For example, the bottom sweeper at Highlands between 140 to 150km/h is not something which fazes the GR Corolla.

The three-pot turbo engine, just like in the GR Yaris, sounds raucous and mechanical. Plus there is a hint of turbo and induction noise to make even the most seasoned car enthusiast giggle. When you want to bring things to a stop, those 358mm discs with four pot GR callipers do a grand job with no fade. It wasn’t long before I was braking later and getting on the power sooner. The GR Corolla does inspire confidence. While there was an iron clad rule of no passing during our laps, I have no doubt the GR Corolla would pose a bit of a threat to those with twice the power.

There was a great feeling of “everyone is welcome” at Toyota Fest. Because it didn’t matter whether you owned a brand-new GR Supra sports car, or a well driven Starlet hatch which has been to the moon and back again in terms of mileage, the passion for Toyota united all present. This was even more obvious when all 170 cars attending were invited to drive onto the main straight for an epic group photo.

While I had to return to Christchurch that afternoon, the next day’s activities were of a more rugged nature with owners of Hiluxes, Land Cruisers and other Toyota off roaders spending the day roughing it high up in the barren landscape of the Otago Mountain ranges.

As far as an experience goes, Toyota Festival 2023 is up there with some of the best events I have attended. As for the GR Corolla, needless to say it’s a pretty epic bit of kit and I am very much looking forward to driving this newest and hottest of Corollas on Canterbury roads. Bravo Toyota New Zealand.

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