Car Comparisons

2023 Toyota GR Corolla vs Volkswagen Golf R Comparison Test

Comparison Data

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Core
2023 Volkswagen Golf R
Engine Displacement
Engine Cylinders
Turbo I3
Turbo I4
Peak Horsepower
300 hp @ 6,500 rpm
315 hp @ 5,900 rpm
Peak Torque
273 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
280 lb-ft @ 1,900 rpm
Fuel Economy
11.1 / 8.3 / 9.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
11.8 / 8.3 / 10.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space
504 L
564 L
Base Price
A/C Tax
Destination Fee
Price as Tested
Optional Equipment
$1,250 – Power sunroof, $1,250

Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too clearly hadn’t heard of the sport compact hatchback – mostly because that figure of speech dates back to the 16th Century.

Even so, little funsters like the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla and Volkswagen Golf R exist to let savvy enthusiasts enjoy sports-car performance with real-world functionality. With snarling, turbocharged engines, all-wheel drive, and honest-to-goodness manual transmissions beneath their five-door bodies, these cars are compelling options for those with a passion for performance along with unshirkable responsibilities.

Factor in pricing that’s on par with a mid-spec compact crossover, and it’s no wonder the waitlists for these two are so long. And while they’re similar in fundamental concept, they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their personalities, so a wintery week was spent determining which one is better.


Pushing $50,000 before taxes – and that’s assuming you can find one within range of MSRP – these hot hatchbacks deviate greatly from the affordable compact commuters on which they’re each based. With Volkswagen having replaced the commuter-friendly Golf with the Taos crossover, there is perhaps a bit of cachet to the Golf R and its GTI cousin. Volkswagen loads up the Golf R with plenty of amenities and enough refinement to make its cost less painful to bear. Our GR Corolla, on the other hand, was an entry level Core model, and its chintzy interior definitely belies its considerable cost.

Neither car is going to be a high-volume seller, but rather an exhibition of the fun each brand can still infuse in their cars. The complex and high-strung drivetrains found in these machines are not cheap to build, which contributes to their price tags. And for what it’s worth, the Civic Type R and Mercedes-AMG A 35 both start north of $50,000, while those looking for greater value may wish to consider the lesser Golf GTI, or the Subaru WRX or Hyundai Elantra N sedans for thousands less.

Toyota GR Corolla: 6.5/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 7.5/10


If you’re spending this kind of cheddar on a car that most people will assume is an econo-box commuter, it better have some visceral fizz – and both of these certainly do. The GR Corolla is a veritable Coke-bottle-full-of-Mentos, with its miniscule 1.6L three-cylinder delivering 300 hp at 6,500 growling rpm, and with 273 lb-ft of turbocharged torque at 3,000 revs. It requires some engine speed to get the most out of this three-cylinder, but there’s ample mid-range power, and the GR is sensational fun to squirt through holes in traffic.

My recollection of the Golf R was that its 315 hp felt more substantial than it did this time. There’s lots of get-up-and-go, but the turbocharged 2.0L is so much quieter and smoother than the little Toyota mill that it numbs the sensation of speed. Published performance tests have shown these two to be nearly identical in their zero-to-100 km/h and quarter-mile times, so it’s fair to call this one a draw.

Toyota GR Corolla: 8/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 8/10

Driving Feel

The Volkswagen’s smooth personality defines its driving feel in other ways, too. The clutch action in particular is so light it feels like it could be done with your thumb instead of your foot, and the brake pedal requires a push through some sponginess before there’s any appreciable bite. In fairness, our Golf R tester had nearly 10,000 km of what have surely been relentless abuse at the hands of overzealous journalists and influencers, so brakes as fresh as the Toyota’s may have felt better.

By comparison, every dynamic aspect of driving the GR Corolla is incredibly visceral. The brakes have immediate bite and a firm pedal feel, but they’re not grabby. The clutch is light but offers feedback and a catch point that’s not too high, but not too low to trip you up, either. The shifter is great, too, with a solid, precise action, and although the Golf R’s shifter is decent, it feels somewhat sloppier by comparison.

Both cars were fitted with Pirelli SottoZero winter tires, but the way the little Corolla offered feedback through the steering wheel, and its frenetic reactions to inputs, make me wonder how it could possibly get even more precise with proper summer rubber.

Without driving the GR Corolla first, the Golf R would’ve felt like a responsive road companion; but after the Toyota, the VW’s responses just felt like they were coated in syrup. This softness translated to real-world driving, and during a spirited rip on a twisty back road the Golf struggled to put its power down as effectively, causing lots of traction control intervention.

Toyota fits the GR Corolla with a dial to direct more torque to the rear, changing the distribution from 40/60 front-to-rear, to 30/70, though it’d take a more precisely-calibrated backside than mine to notice a difference on dry pavement. Volkswagen also has a trick differential up its sleeve that’ll let the Golf R go into a drift mode as it directs its power rearward, making it fun in the snow.

Toyota GR Corolla: 9.5/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 8/10

Fuel Economy

Unsurprisingly, Toyota’s smaller three-cylinder posts better efficiency than the VW’s four-banger, but what may be surprising is how close they are. The city rating of 11.1 L/100 km for the GR Corolla is barely better than the Golf R’s 11.8 L/100 km, while the highway ratings are an identical 8.3. For compact hatchbacks, neither one is exactly miserly, especially when driven hard, and both consume premium-grade gas. The Golf R’s larger 55-L fuel tank gives it better range for road trips than the GR Corolla’s 50-L unit.

Toyota GR Corolla: 7/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 6.5/10


The GR Corolla’s frenetic personality can be felt in its ride, too, as it jostles occupants more than the Golf R does. Volkswagen blesses its hot hatch with adaptive dampers that the Toyota doesn’t have, and in comfort mode it’s borderline luxurious by comparison. Even in its sportier settings, the Volkswagen feels more sophisticated in the way it absorbs all but the nastiest bumps with ease, and that’s with less forgiving 19-inch wheels and tires compared to 18s on the Toyota. The latter also generates more road, wind, and engine noise.

Toyota GR Corolla: 6/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 7.5/10


Not only is the Volkswagen more comfortable, but it offers a more usable interior space. The Corolla’s rear seat in particular is trickier to access due to its small door openings, and a tighter space once inside. Meanwhile, the range-topping version doesn’t even have back seats to begin with. The Golf’s boxier shape allows for bigger windows and more head- and legroom for rear seat passengers. Similarly, the GR Corolla’s cargo hold is compromised by a taller load floor and more rakish back end that give it 504 L of space versus the Golf R’s 564 L.

Despite their compact dimensions, with four doors, hatchbacks and all-wheel drive traction, these cars offer far more practicality for daily life than more traditional sports cars, many of which don’t offer the performance these two do.

Toyota GR Corolla: 7.5/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 8/10


The Golf R comes with ventilated, power-adjustable leather seats, a wireless phone charger, navigation, three-zone automatic climate control (including rear-seat vents and controls), a premium sound system, adaptive suspension, and a head-up display. In fact, the only option is a power sunroof. The GR Corolla has none of that. Aside from heated seats and the digital dash, there’s nothing inside to make the Toyota feel anything more than a base-trim Corolla. It appears Toyota poured its resources into the drivetrain and that’s it. [And that’s fine. – – Ed.]

Toyota GR Corolla: 6/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 8.5/10


Were it not for the GR Corolla’s digital gauge cluster, its interior would definitely feel a generation or two older than the Golf’s. Toyota’s eight-inch touchscreen is fine, but it’s smaller than the 10-inch display in the VW, and radio tuning can be a ridiculously tedious affair, highlighting some of the questionable decisions with Toyota’s latest user interface. Aside from that, the sheer simplicity of the space is a boon for drivers who are faced with controls that are otherwise logical, easy to reach and simply work. Plus, unlike the Golf R, it has a real hand brake.

We appreciate the greater configurability of the Golf R’s digital cockpit display, but that’s where the praise ends. Volkswagen has received an earful countless times from owners and media alike about touchy haptic controls on the steering wheel, and the asinine slider tab beneath the screen that does temperature and volume adjustments – and it isn’t even backlit.

Beyond that, the driver’s seat offers a commanding view, although the taller Golf greenhouse does enable better lateral and rear views, too. One knock against the GR Corolla is its absence of storage cubbies that resulted in my sunglasses case, toll road transponder, and other odds and ends occupying cup holder space.

Toyota GR Corolla: 7/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 6/10


A credit to both companies, the GR Corolla and Golf R come standard with comprehensive advanced safety suites including automatic high-beam control for their LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, and automated braking systems with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Volkswagen ups the ante with lane-keeping assist and parking distance warnings that the Toyota doesn’t have.

Toyota GR Corolla: 8.5/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 9/10


The GR Corolla’s most defining styling features are its bulging rear fenders, gaping maw, and a few little GR badges that differentiate it from lesser Corollas. In crowded parking lots, it can be tricky to pick out the Toyota if only the upper half of the car is visible.

It’s strange that Toyota didn’t give this spicier Corolla a more defined rear spoiler, and without it, the shape of the GR almost looks like a modern-day Gremlin. Even still, GR’s designers should be commended for not going overboard with silly vents, scoops, and oversized wings, instead giving the GR Corolla just enough attitude without turning it into a cartoon character like Honda does with its Civic Type R.

As an evolutionary development, the current generation Golf R shows the lineage of its last few generations, yet looks sharper and more serious than ever before. Its body work adornments are subtle and tasteful – no afterthought bulging hips here – and as a result, it’s bound to stay stylish for years to come. Adding to its handsomeness, the Lapiz Blue Metallic paint of our tester does a great job of showing off the subtle creases and angles honed into the car’s flanks, while the body squats low over spidery 19-inch wheels pushed to the corners of the car.

Armchair critics have decried that the current generation Golf R’s interior exhibits cost-cutting compared to the previous generation, yet compared to the rental-grade interior of the GR Corolla, with its vast expanses of unadorned black plastic, the Volkswagen appears downright posh. The VW’s dashboard utilizes a pair of big screens, lots of glossy plastic buttons, and a swath of trim that somewhat resembles carbon fibre, versus the Toyota’s basic design appearing a generation behind.

Toyota GR Corolla: 7/10; Volkswagen Golf R: 8.5/10


Toyota has made the 2023 GR Corolla unapologetically focused on fun, and when the photo session and test drives concluded, I was thrilled to keep it for the rest of the week. There are few modern cars that instil such unbridled giddiness every time a driver presses a starter button the way the GR Corolla does, and I couldn’t get enough of it for errand runs and zipping around town.

But if a buyer’s needs dictate carrying passengers and cargo, or time spent in stop-and-go traffic, or long stints on the highway, or enjoying a decent sound system, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf R is the better choice. For nearly $50,000, a car should offer more than just giggles and autocross competence, and the Volkswagen is a capable and fun car that also happens to be more practical and a better value.

Buying for passion alone, the GR Corolla beats the Golf R. Performance hatchbacks need to be multi-tools of fun, practicality, and value, and using our heads as well as our hearts makes the Golf R the winner here.