From the November 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
There is an unparalleled sense of freedom that comes with a first car. My second-gen Volkswagen GTI 16V, the one with the 134-hp 2.0-liter engine, Recaro seats and BBS wheels, gave me a joy that had long ago been tucked away in the corners of my mind. And then I drove a Toyota GR Corolla and was thrown back to my first solo drives on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. Executive Editor KC Colwell provides an expert and detailed evaluation of Toyota’s wild-child hat hatch. I’m just here for a nostalgic blast.
My little GTI would tear into apexes and grind through very short gears to its redline. It had better moves than Ex-Lax and couldn’t be tripped. Quick steering moved the roughly 2,500-pound box with windows in and out of trouble. Sometimes, after parking, I would linger in it and marvel at what we had just done. Warm afterglow.
As documented over the years in this fine publication, I’ve tested some rare and eye-opening things: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bugattis, even a Pagani. Still, nothing quite matched those early teenage drives in the GTI. Cheerful, impatient, eager and daring: adjectives that applied to the GTI and me 30 years ago. We were a perfect match. When I started the GR Corolla, the buzzing and churning under the hood burned long-idle synapses. Full steam ahead. Bam! red line Second gear. Bam! red line Short gears. No shifts missed. No waiting for boost in these low gears. Roughness under the hood, just like the 16V engine. I loved that GTI. I love the GR.
Angle comes up. Oops. The brake is a bit far from the throttle to reliable heel-toe downshift. Solution: Tap the button on the left side of the steering wheel to activate rev matching. Brake. Turn off Turn. Switch up. Repeat. The GR has seemingly inexhaustible grip. I remember my GTI had the same stubborn refusal to let go. It pushed you hard into the bolsters. This Corolla is stubborn and nasty, just like the GTI. What is it, GR Corolla? Well, I couldn’t agree more with you on the recommended spin speed. Do you think we can triple that very low one? Let’s find out.
If I drove that GTI today, I’m guessing I’d be shocked at the roughness and lack of rigidity. Age and perspective would make the ride and structure, like most things that seemed acceptable at 17, questionable today. Here in my late 40s, the GR seems satisfyingly firm and solid.
I am happy. It’s as impatient as me. Another great match.
I got a few speeding tickets in the first few months of my driving career. If I had a GR Corolla today, I’m sure I would have gotten nailed a few times until I started acting my age again. Thank you, GR Corolla, for helping me remember a feeling that strengthened my love for driving. Thanks for reminding me that cars can bring so much joy. I can’t believe I got that first-car feeling again after all these years.
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