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The Toyota GR Corolla is a mean-looking high-performance hatchback

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

The Toyota Corolla became world’s best-selling car mostly because it’s inexpensive, efficient and practical. Exciting? Maybe not that.

Over the decades — the Corolla model has been in production since 1966 — there have been some fun, high-performance versions of the compact car, though. On Thursday night in Long Beach, California, Toyota revealed the latest, the GR Corolla. With all-wheel-drive and a 300-horsepower turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, the GR is far more powerful than the standard, front-wheel-drive Corolla hatchback.

Toyota does already offer the Corolla Apex sedan which has lower, stiffer suspension and an optional manual transmission, but with an engine that produces no more power than that of a regular Corolla. The GR Corolla is a much more serious attempt at a performance car.

Also, it’s is only available with one transmission choice, a six speed manual. No automatic transmission of any kind is offered on the car. Manual transmissions are hard to find in cars today, and many drivers, particularly in America, don’t even know how to operate them.

GR stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s racing team. Toyota president Akio Toyoda, an avid racing driver, was directly involved in the development of the car, according to Toyota. It’s also part of the name of the Toyota GR Supra, the two-seater sports car Toyota developed with BMW.

The GR Corolla has a variable all-wheel-drive system that allows the driver to select how much power goes to the back or the front wheels. It can send as much as 60% of the power to the front wheels or 70% to the rear, allowing the driver a high degree of control over the car’s handling.

The car’s front and rear fenders extend out from the body giving the car a wide stance for improved handling and allowing for wide performance tires. The roof is made from carbon fiber to reduce weight and lower the car’s center of gravity. The hood and front doors are made from aluminum. Vents on the hood, front fenders and rear bumper allow air to pass through the car’s body reducing aerodynamic drag. In the back, it has three exhaust pipes.

The GR Corolla will be built at a special GR production facility in Motomachi, Japan. Toyota also makes the GR Yaris there, a subcompact performance model not sold in the US but which has a version of the same 3-cylinder engine. The engine in the GR Yaris produces slightly less horsepower.

The performance compact car segment has seen competitors, like the Ford Focus RS, come and go in recent years, but there are still popular entries like the Volkswagen Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R. This type of car has its roots in rally racing, races run on twisty roads and sometimes on dirt roads where traction and agility are paramount. The GR Corolla’s four-wheel-drive system was developed in and for rally races, according to Toyota.

The GR Corolla will initially be available in two versions. The base version will be called Core, and a better equipped Circuit Edition will be offered during the first year of production, which is slated to start later this year. Toyota has not yet announced pricing for the car.

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