Track Testing Toyota GR Sports Cars

Justin Pritchard
by Justin Pritchard

Mom was perplexed.

I was telling her about a recent assignment, where I’ll spend a day at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit track testing a Toyota trio of spicy sports car offerings. “I didn’t know Toyota made sports cars”, she said. After all, Toyotas are largely sought out by shoppers after safety, sensibility, residual value and a fuss-free long-term ownership experience. The brand’s sales center around crossovers. pickups, and sensible compacts.

Cars are not dead at Toyota though. While leveraging some six decades of sports car history, the automaker now offers three thrilling sports models with 3 pedals, six manually-shifted gears, no electrification, and that all-important driver-to-car connection that lets owners jump in with both hands and both feet.

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Each of these three models wears Toyota’s ‘GR’ badge, short for Gazoo Racing. This motorsports and performance sub-brand builds and tunes the fastest factory Toyotas. Each one wears the badge as a seal of approval that it has been created for maximum thrills.

All of Toyota’s new or refreshed GR sports cars hits 2023 with a distinctive character. The intention, to draw its target shopper in for a closer look. Below, we’ll dive into the drive, hardware, tech and personality of each to explain what makes them tick, and ultimately, to help you make the best purchase decision possible. And of course, we are track testing this Toyota GR lineup to see how much fun they are when pushing their limits.

Track Testing Toyota GR Supra Manual


Toyota reincarnated the Supra for model-year 2020, calling the nameplate out of retirement after nearly two decades. The Supra is Toyota’s top sports car model, and the best machine on the page for the driver after a road-going athlete that can handle touring, a track-day, and anything in between.

For 2023, the Supra’s 3-litre straight-six turbo engine develops 382 horsepower and can be specified with a six-speed manual transmission connecting those to the rear wheels. The engineers worked extensively to optimize this gearbox for the engine’s torque curve, while also striving for an ideal action and placement of its gear shifter in the most ergonomic and pleasing position for the driver’s right hand.

Now with a Manual


The clutch features a tightly-sprung action and hinge arc that generates a heavy but precise feel under the left foot. This hefty feel is a strong and sporty signal to the enthusiast driver that communicates a sense of capability and control. It’s a heavy and dense clutch action, which makes many a commuter car’s clutch pedal feel like a bag of boiled spinach.

SEE ALSO: 2023 Toyota GR Supra Manual First Drive Review: Sticks the Landing

The shifter is similarly engaging. The stubby, suede-wrapped assembly has a heavy but precise action and ‘flick-of-the-wrist’ throws that had me thinking ‘Porsche 911’ the first time I gave it a workout.

It sucks drivers into the experience of manually controlling the pitch and volume of the under-hood soundtrack: a quivering, smooth howl that furiously floods the cabin (and nearby scenery) while growing in intensity as the revs climb. There’s about 6,500 RPM to play with, the engine smoothly singing from idle to redline as torque output grows and builds on a constantly-swelling wave.

The soundtrack is sensational: especially when the highly vocal straight-six briefly pauses for a breath while you shift. It provides a moment of quiet to separate each gear, before the music starts over.

At Home on the Track


Go with the manual six-speed, and a shorter final drive ratio means higher cruising revs but easier access to the meatiest bits of the engine’s power curve, more of the time. There’s even a recalibration of the Supra’s traction control system for manual-equipped models. It capitalizes on the new final drive ratio, and allows more left-to-right wheelspin in certain settings, including via a function called HAIRPIN+. This relaxes traction control interventions in a track setting on the tightest bends, allowing drivers to more easily and confidently steer the car with the throttle if that’s thier sort of thing.

In a track setting, the Supra is easy to drive smoothly, a key to boosting confidence and skill levels for more novice drivers learning their performance driving basics. Of all the cars on this page, the Supra is the smoothest when driven fast. It’s got the creamiest engine, the shortest shifter, and the most refined feel– even in high speed driving.

Surprisingly Civilized

The 50/50 weight balance helps ensure stable and predictable handling. From the driver’s seat? Expect a car that feels naturally athletic, capable, eager and predictable when driven hard. The Supra is also the best car on the page for cruising home from a weekend track day, where most drivers will find a ride that’s more comfortable than the sporting intentions lead on. It’s a relatively quiet-for-a-sportscar drive too, provided you’re on smooth pavement.

High performing tires are standard of course, meaning that cabin noise levels are at the mercy of the specific pavement surface beneath. On smoothly-textured surfaces, it’s a quieter and gentler ride than I was expecting, though tire noise levels can spike rapidly on more coarsely-textured pavement.

Whether on road or track, the Supra has a refined, dialed-in and premium feel fitting of its price tag. Toyota says the average Supra shopper plans to use this car as a sort of reward– an exciting and special driving experience intended to be a sort of special occasion for the driver and one lucky passenger whenever desired.

High on Refinement, Low on Space

All said, this 2-seat, 3-pedal, 6-cylinder rocket has the look, feel and sound of a high-end product designed to engage and excite in a wide range of settings. Of course, the limited storage and trunk space, as well as the lack of a rear seat may strike the Supra off the list of some shoppers from the get-go. For others, it’s a car impractical enough to make its use extra special.

Don’t miss the Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT) system, which can be activated to fine-tune the engine’s torque output at the precise moment of clutch engagement, electronically smoothing out gearshifts, and rev-matching automatically on downshifts for a smoother and more stable drive. Enthusiast drivers will likely switch this function off once they get into the rhythm of the clutch and shifter, though the function easily reduces the driver bandwidth required for smooth shifting, especially for more novice stick-shift enthusiasts.

Track Testing Toyota GR86


The new-for-2023 Toyota GR86 has the most furious engine on the page. The 2.4-litre flat-four cylinder unit spins up 228 horsepower that really come to life in the high end of its power curve. Without turbocharging to boost low-rev power, the GR86’s engine does its best work when spinning fast, and positively sings as the digital tachometer closes in on the 7,500 RPM redline.

SEE ALSO: Toyota GR86 vs Subaru BRZ vs Mazda MX-5 Miata: Simple Pleasures

This engine is appealing to fans of a naturally-aspirated (aka ‘all motor’) powercurve with lots of revs to play with. Keep the RPM’s up to see the GR86’s best work, where a strong sensation of rising action comes from the swelling power curve and enraged, highly-mechanical soundtrack.

More Mechanical, More Practical

The GR86’s shifter isn’t as smooth or short as the one you’ll find in the Supra, and the clutch is softer, but still highly satisfying. Throws are short enough to handle with your wrist or a few fingers, though the gearbox rewards quick shifting and clutch work with engagement that’s remarkably smooth when drivers feel like ripping some gears and getting their biceps involved a little.

With two doors, three pedals, four cylinders and six manually-shifted gears, the GR86 also features a tiny back seat, and comes only in rear-wheel drive with a standard Torque Sensing (aka TORSEN) differential between its rear wheels.

This mechanical limited slip differential allows the rear axle to transmit more power to the ground in more situations with near-nil intervention from the traction control system, if any at all. This setup means that rear-end traction in extreme driving is the responsibility of the mechanicals and less by the electronics.

Put another way, the Torsen differential boosts rear axle traction mechanically, rather than by applying single-wheel braking or cutting engine power, which slows the car down. The result, from the driver’s seat, is a feeling of more grip, more confidence, added stability, and a near-nil sensation of the electronics fighting against your pedal inputs when throttling the car out of a fast corner.

A True Driver’s Car, Not a Cruiser


The GR86’s screaming revs, eager rear axle and light-at-the-controls feel work with a clutch and shifter that reward your quickest gearshifts. This pulls some seriously sporty signals into the enthusiast’s daily drive, while use in a track setting ignites the car’s character and brings it all to life at the tips of your fingers and toes.

Of course, there are a few compromises: highway cruising range is relatively low thanks to a small-ish fuel tank and high cruising revs with the manual gearbox, cargo and rear seat space are limited, on-board noise levels are elevated in some situations, and the racy seats did see your writer requiring an occasional upper-back stretch on longer drives.

Still, as a machine designed as a sports car from the get-go, the GR86 has massive appeal for fans of a high-revving, lightweight, all-motor thrill ride and sets up an athletic driving experience that’s virtually unmatched for the dollar.

Track Testing Toyota GR Corolla

The GR Corolla is a highly-specialized version of Toyota’s popular hatchback. Largely hand-built at Motomachi assembly facility by expert builders, it employs an application-specific engine like all GR models. In this case, a power unit dubbed “G16E-GTS” by the engineers.

It’s a remarkable turbocharged three-cylinder of 1.6 litres displacement, generating 300 horsepower and up to 295 lb.-ft of torque. That’s routed to all four wheels via a custom-developed all-wheel drive (AWD) system called GR-FOUR, which allows drivers to select from three custom torque-split settings on the fly.

Differentials Make the Difference

A twist of the console-mounted dial engages either the front-biased (60/40) torque split setting, the rear-biased (30/70) setting, or an even split (50/50) setting. The selected torque split is permanent: once selected, power is divvied as selected between the axles with no further electronic adjustment.

SEE ALSO: 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Review First Drive: Sporty Toyota International

Remember the traction-enhancing TORSEN axle from the GR86, above? The GR Corolla uses two of them– one up front, and one in the back. The result, from the driver’s seat, is a sensation of immense bite and traction, with virtually no need for the traction control system to intervene even when drivers call up maximum throttle early to vacate a tight bend.

Wider, Stiffer, More Aerodynamic


Versus the standard Corolla, extensive structural reinforcements see the GR version fitted with 4 additional structural braces, 349 additional weld points and generous use of additional structural adhesive. The resulting car is much stiffer and more rigid, forming a better platform from which to tune its suspension with Macpherson struts up front and double wishbones in the rear.

Add in extensive widening, weight reduction and bodywork intended for optimal aerodynamics and cooling, and you’ve got a track car for the road, the only AWD-equipped GR model, and the only GR with a usable back seat and generous cargo hold.

The GR Corolla has the feel, sound and reflexes of a purpose-built performer that can be driven any day of the year.

The highly-exclusive Morizo version features further modifications for extreme performance. Available only in a Smoke Grey color, this raciest of Corollas ditches the rear seat, rear wiper and sound deadening to save weight,. It also gets a torque boost from the engine, a close-ratio gearbox designed for motorsports, and a shifter knob signed by Morizo– better known as Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s President and master driver. It’s a subtle nod that this machine has a seal of approval from Toyota’s most discerning sports car expert.

A Different Kind of Track Toy

In a track setting where the Supra and 86 both entertain with revs, grip, sounds, and sensations that build and swell, the GR Corolla seems more focused on instant gratification. The torque output hits hard from even a light press on the throttle. With AWD and dual Torsen axles, handling and grip for corner exit is brilliantly point-and-shoot, almost daring the driver to get back onto the throttle earlier and earlier for blasting out of bends. In corner exit situations where the rear-drive Supra and GR86 require patience on the throttle, the GR Corolla just bites harder.

The 3-cylinder engine won’t connect readily with fans of screaming revs– it’s output is highly concentrated beneath its 6,500 RPM redline and gobbles up the gears quickly. Though some drivers may wish for more revs to play with, most will find the immediate torque response and turbo-rich sound effects of this little engine to be key in the carefully-crafted mania dialed into this machine’s character. It plunges enthusiast drivers into an experience defined by razor sharp reflexes, highly immediate responses, and some of the most dramatic and entertaining moves you’ll find in a hot-hatch today.

Can Be a Daily, But Loves the Track

Though usable on the daily, the GR Corolla’s drive seems to long for a racetrack at all times. Take it there, and the overwhelming sensation is one of using tiny steering, throttle and braking inputs to stir a major reaction from the car.

It feels like a concentrated, frisky and feisty bundle of torque and grip with enormous capability for novice track-day drivers to grow into. A key part of the GR experience is using small and delicate inputs to stir a major reaction from the car, and of all three models here, this experience feels the most potent in the GR Corolla. It puts on a hell of a show.

My choice?


If I had to spend my own dollars on just one machine on this page, it’d be the GR86. I connected the most readily with its light and lively feel, furious power curve, and a rear axle that rarely needs electronic help to do its job. The shifter, steering, clutch and overall entertainment value are huge, and it’s the least-expensive machine on the page, too.

Though tastes may vary, I figure there’s something special in its screaming engine and light, lively feel. I’ve been smitten with this machine since I first took the wheel, and I’d happily tell you it’s one of the deals of the decade when it comes to grins for the dollar.

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Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard

Justin Pritchard, an award-winning automotive journalist based in Sudbury, Ontario, is known for his comprehensive automotive reviews and discoveries. As a presenter, photographer, videographer, and technical writer, Justin shares his insights weekly through various Canadian television programs, print, and online publications. In 2023, Justin celebrated a significant milestone, airing the 600th episode of his TV program, AutoPilot. Currently, he contributes to, Sharp Magazine, and MoneySense Magazine. His work as a technical writer, videographer, presenter, and producer has been recognized with numerous awards, including the 2019 AJAC Video Journalism Award and the 2018 AJAC Journalist of the Year. Justin holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) from Laurentian University, which he earned in 2005. His career in automotive journalism began that same year at Since then, he has written one of the largest collections of used car buyer guides on the internet. His passion for photography, nurtured from a young age, is evident in his work, capturing the scenic beauty of Northern Ontario. Living in a region with a particularly harsh winter climate has made Justin an expert on winter driving, winter tires, and extreme-weather safety. Justin’s significant achievements include: 2019 AJAC Video Journalism Award (Winner) 2019 AJAC Road Safety Journalism Award (Runner-Up) 2019 AJAC Automotive Writing (vehicle review topics) (Winner) 2019 AJAC Automotive Writing (technical topics) (Winner) 2018 AJAC Journalist of the Year You can follow Justin’s work on Instagram @mr2pritch and YouTube @JustinPritchard.

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