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The Toyota GR Corolla Rules on an Ice Track

toyota gr corolla at bridgestone winter driving school ice track
The Toyota GR Corolla Rules on an Ice TrackToyota

The Toyota GR Corolla doesn't carry the genuine rally heritage that its Old World sibling the GR Yaris enjoys, but it’s still an absolute weapon in loose surface scenarios. To highlight just how much control that GR-Four all-wheel drive setup provides, Toyota invited a group of journalists to the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for the Corolla’s first trek around their ice track.

Having spent my entire life in Michigan, I have a solid understanding of driving on the slick stuff. That said, the Great Lake State hasn’t experienced a traditional winter in a few years, with near-record lows for snowfall to start 2024. The unplowed lots that provided a respite from the Midwest's traditional half-year of gray gloom have all but disappeared. I was thoroughly jonesing for a romp in the snow by the time I arrived in Steamboat.

I was happy to see a few inches of fresh powder awaiting us when I got off the airliner and boarded the bus to the school. After a brief classroom session going over the basics of oversteer and understeer, I headed out to the angled skid pad in a not-so-GR Camry AWD. That fresh snow combined with Bridgestone’s excellent Blizzak winter tires meant the Camry was glued to the surface at first. Our goal to induce oversteer around the pad proved finicky, but got easier as we wore that snow onto the track surface.

toyota gr corolla at bridgestone winter driving school ice track
Toyota

Conditions didn’t cooperate for long however, with the pavement quickly devolving into cartoonishly slippery sheets. When it came time to swap to the 4Runner for a braking exercise, I was forced to hold onto the Camry as I walked, lest I break my arm on the ice for the second year running. Mid-morning brought temperatures above freezing, only further complicating our rally-inspired plans. The instructors were quick to note that conditions were approaching the slipperiest they’d ever seen, which I have little trouble believing. You wouldn’t have immediately known that from behind the wheel of the GR Corolla, however.

Toyota brought a fleet of GR Corollas out to Steamboat for us to try, ranging from basic Core models without the differentials up to the limited-production Morizo. I had spent a little bit of time in the Morizo during a previous Performance Car of the Year test, and wanted to start my afternoon session getting reacquainted with that car.

Our first lessons in the GR involved a Scandinavian flick through an uphill left-hander, cycling through the different torque splits as we went. Both the 60:40 and 50:50 front-to-rear splits leaned towards understeer during this section, but could be tempted to step the back out with more liberal use of the skinny pedal. The GR-Four system was surefooted at all times, while the twin Torsen limited-slip differentials found in the Morizo and Circuit-trimmed testers allowed for precise placement anywhere on the surface. Point the steering wheel where you want to go and a gentle application of the throttle forces the car to your spot with a shocking immediacy. The differential-less Core wasn’t as eager to follow instructions, requiring a little more planning to slide around with the same gusto. The Circuit model is the real sweet spot in the range, but I still yearn for the shorter gear set offered in the Morizo. Usable back seats remain a worthy tradeoff, however.

toyota gr corolla at bridgestone winter driving school ice track
Toyota

The rear-biased torque split transformers the grip-hunting machine into a bit more of an assy dance partner, but the front end brings enough grip to keep the rear axle behind you. It’s not quite as challenging to slide around as a proper rear-driver, allowing continued skids even as the conditions deteriorated. By the time I transitioned to the short course in the afternoon, it was clear that the mountain was getting sick of our presence. Separation of controls is key to successfully navigating icy conditions. Any deviation from that plan caused more issues for the hatchbacks as the day went on, even with the grippy Bridgestones doing their damnedest.

When our instructors informed us that we wouldn’t be hot-lapping the full track due to the surface conditions, I was not shocked but disappointed nonetheless. That said, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why they were a bit skittish with their fleet of GR Corollas. The car inspires an immense amount of confidence in you as a driver, even in the piss-poor conditions that we put them through. After watching one of the instructors bin a Morizo into a snowbank during an available ride-along session, I was able to reluctantly acknowledge that Toyota’s decision was likely for the best.

toyota gr corolla at bridgestone winter driving school ice track
Toyota

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