Power out the gazoo
Toyota’s Gazoo Racing is bringing some hot cars — in segments the company once rejected — back to market
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VANCOUVER ISLAND MOTORSPORTS CIRCUIT, DUNCAN, B.C. — Toyota is investing heavily in a market segment it said a dozen years ago had ceased to exist, hot hatchbacks and sports coupes. And it’s coming with a cool new — or at least new to Canada — name: Gazoo Racing.
The cars — the GR86, GR Corolla and GR Supra — are the direct offsprings of demands by Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, himself a high-performance driver who goes by the name Morizo and is the namesake of the top Corolla, the GR Corolla Morizo edition.
That Morizo edition is the new halo for the Corolla name, and is a very exclusive product: of the 2,500 people who have raised their hands so far in Canada, only nine will be selected. More on that later.
The GR Corolla was, arguably, the darling of this adventure. With standard all-wheel drive, with three different torque-split ratios, its traction was unparalleled by either of the other three cars. It stuck to the track on exits like glue, with the ability to out-accelerate both the GR86 and the more powerful GR Supra, both of which demanded far more patience with the accelerator pedal lest too much power be applied while the wheel was still turned, thus inducing power-on oversteer.
The normal torque split for the all-wheel drive is 60 per cent front, 40 per cent rear. The other two modes are 30 front and 70 rear as well as a track mode, which splits torque evenly at 50:50.
Toyoda’s instructions to the GR Corolla design team were simple: make it wide and make it wild. In both, the design team succeeded, with a wider track than the Corolla, and wheel flares to add an aggressive look. The wild is due to the 1.6-litre, three-cylinder turbo that cranks out an impressive 100 horsepower per cylinder.
Olivier Depenweiller, Toyota University regional training manager, said the choice of the three-pot turbo was based on its success in the European GR Yaris. “It was very popular on the GR Yaris, and very reliable and very efficient,” he said.
The engine delivers 300 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, and spins up quickly, launching the car with surprising urgency.
In most cases, it didn’t feel like a three-banger, but on heavy acceleration, it did sound a little rough. Can’t escape the laws of physics: a three-cylinder can only be so smooth.
The GR Corolla also speaks to the driving enthusiast through its available transmission options: in other words, there is no option. A six-speed, close-ratio manual is the only offering.
The GR Corolla is available in two trims: Core and Circuit. Core is the base model, retailing for $45,490. It features aluminum for most body panels. The Circuit ups the content and adds a forged carbon-fibre roof, rear spoiler, suede seats and red brake calipers. Its price is $53,990.
The GR Corolla Morizo is $59,990, and it starts life as a Circuit, but with some tweaks. The engine is tuned to deliver 22 extra lb-ft of torque, and to save weight, the rear seats and rear speakers are deleted. It also comes with Toyoda’s “Morizo” name signed on the gearshift knob. It’s truly a track-focused car.
“The Morizo isn’t just about what we added, it’s also about what we removed,” Depenweiller said.
You could really feel the differences on the track: aside from the extra torque being readily apparent, the lighter Morizo stuck to the track even better than the Circuit.
As good as the Morizo is, it’s not really available. Toyota is only building 200 for the global market and of those, is bringing only 10 to Canada, nine of which are going to nine of 2,500 applicants. One is reserved, though Toyota won’t say for whom. Anyone who isn’t among the 2,500 applicants (applications closed Nov. 2, decisions expected by mid-December) must simply say ‘sayonara’ to their hopes of getting one.
David Lee, national marketing manager for Toyota Canada, said the selection process is designed to weed out collectors, and those who are selected will all pay MSRP. There are no trust-fund kids writing bigger cheques to cut in line, in other words. Criteria for selection include motorsports experience, social-media followings and plans for the car.
“We don’t want these things parked in barns collecting dust,” he said. “We want them used as they’re intended, drawing attention to the Gazoo name.”
The GR86 is a continuation of the 86 model that sprang from the Scion FRS after the Scion brand was axed. It shares much of its existence with the Subaru BRZ, though there are some suspension tuning differences between the two.
A front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe, the 86 is relatively pure as sports cars go. It handles and steers very well, with the ability to kick out the rear end for added fun. With a starting price of $31,490, it’s also eminently affordable.
It’s a hardtop coupe with more power and more practical usability than a Mazda MX-5. The rear seats fold, which means you can carry stuff if you need. MX-5 drivers must pack very lightly. The 86 also has a rear seat, although you will likely only stick your least-favourite friends there.
The GR86 may not stick to corner exits as well as the GR Corolla, but it does have the advantage of being a rear-driver. It can drift, if you want it to. As a rear-driver, it may, admittedly, have less year-round usability than the GR Corolla, even with winter tires.
A 10th anniversary edition is also coming, with prices starting at $39,950. It includes unique Solar Shift orange paint, matte-black 18-inch wheels, cat-back exhaust and ultrasuede leather interior. Only 20 will be sold in Canada.
The GR Supra is the product of a partnership with BMW and is based on the Z4. Romaric Lartilleux, national public relations manager for Toyota Canada, said the partnerships on GR86 and GR Supra were critical in bringing both cars to market.
“Without that partnership, the cars wouldn’t exist,” he said. The deal allowed the partners to share the costs of development, crucial to launching vehicles in a niche market.
The Supra comes with a 255 horsepower 2.0-litre four, as well as a sweet 3.0-litre turbo inline six-cylinder delivering 382 horsepower and 369 pound feet of torque. Available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, Toyota says the Supra is good for 4.1 seconds 0-100 km/h with the auto and 4.4 seconds with the stick. It ranges in price from $57,150 (GR Supra 2.0 AT) to $70,270 (GR Supra 3.0 A91 MT).
As for Toyota’s previous assertion the market had passed such cars by, Lee said that was true at one time, but markets change.
“A lot of these niche segments tend to go up and down. They gain popularity and they lose popularity,” he said. Interestingly, he said the rise of driver assistance technology — of which Toyota is among its leading developers — has driven some of that renewed interest.
“As vehicles become more autonomous, there’s more desire to get back to basics, back to cars where the driver has more control over the vehicle. There remains an enthusiast crowd that really has a passion for that.”
As for the name, Gazoo, it’s derived from the Japanese word that evokes an image of a garage, according to both Lee and multiple online sources.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.