Published on December 7th, 2023 | by Subhash Nair


2023 Toyota Corolla Cross GR Sport Review For Malaysian Buyers

The Toyota Corolla Cross GR Sport is a fresh take on a familiar favourite.

It almost seems like a distant memory now, but not too long ago Toyota Malaysia were struggling in the passenger car market. They were still selling loads of cars, but they just couldn’t crack the small SUV market in Malaysia. Rivals Honda had the CR-V, HR-V and BR-V covering three swathes of the market nicely. Mazda’s CX-5 was a powerhouse in itself, eventually being joined by the CX-8 and CX-30, and even the Subaru XV better than any other Subaru product in Malaysia. Toyota had some SUV products, but nothing quite hit the sweet spot that many middle-class Malaysian families were looking for.

There was the fairly accessible Rush that seemed like poor value next to its Perodua twin, the Aruz. Higher up the rung was the Fortuner, which continues to dominate the segment but is a bit too “truck-like” and expensive to really find a large following in our market. The Harrier is an excellent product, but it’s positioned as a luxury SUV in the Toyota line-up. The C-HR and RAV4 both arrived as CBU models and just couldn’t sell in high enough numbers to continue to justify their existence. In the end, it was the Corolla Cross that changed Toyota’s fortunes when it was launched in early 2021.

Toyota Corolla Cross GR-S in white

Finally, the Malaysian consumer got a mass-market car with loads of practicality and comfort, just enough space and amenities for a family of 5, a simple and efficient powertrain plus enough safety features baked in. All this while keeping to a very reasonable price tag.

Enter The Corolla Cross GR-S

While the Corolla Cross helped build up the sales volume for the brand, Toyota was simultaneously building up their image as a carmaker for enthusiasts. They unleashed annual Gazoo Racing festivals in Malaysia with the Vios Cup as the highlight. Plus, they also launched their entire line-up of GR products to show Malaysians their commitment to motoring fun. For popular models like the Corolla Cross, they added a GR-S or Gazoo Racing Sport series, just to add a little flavour to the mix.

The Corolla Cross GR-S isn’t a particularly sporty vehicle, though it definitely looks more menacing than the standard models. In terms of equipment, this is essentially the same as the 1.8V model – which means you’re getting roof rails, 8-way powered drivers seat, a 9″ infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a powered tailgate, a 3D panoramic view monitor and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 to name a few.

For device charging there’s a wireless pad in front of the gear selector lever and a 12V socket in the centre box. Two USB-C ports can be found under the rear blowers.

This is a more than adequate set of equipment from Toyota especially for this price. The only two areas that could use improving are the seats – the driver’s deserves lumbar support and the passenger deserves power adjustment but these are nitpicks.

The real reason Malaysian customers should be prepared to spend about RM5,000 extra on the GR-S versus the V spec is because of the new look and the changes to the steering and suspension work. The redesign is particularly noteworthy.

There’s a new dual-tone exterior with a black roof, black wing mirrors, and a matching 18″ dual-tone GR-exclusive turbine design for the alloy wheels. You’ll also find that the bumpers and front grille are entirely swapped out, indicating that this GR-S model is more than just an aesthetic package.

In fact the new face is almost entirely different from the original Corolla Cross, looking more like a Land Cruiser product. The piano black grille extends outward into the headlights and foglamp area for a pretty distinct look – one that I personally prefer over the simple gaping maw of the original and hybrid models.

Inside there are simple GR-S touches too. You’ll find red contrast stitching adorns the black leather upholstery, steering wheel and gear knob. GR branding also can be found on the Push-to-start button, carpets and headrests. Otherwise this is just like the 1.8V.

The real meat and potatoes of this GR-S variant is said to be the steering and suspension, which have been retuned for a sportier feel. From my time with the car, I found the steering and suspension to be pretty communicative and direct. That being said, enough time has passed for me to not tell if there are differences between this set up and the one found on the original 1.8V. I reviewed that model back in April 2022.

Should You Buy One?

The Corolla Cross GR-S expands the appeal of the already popular mid-sized crossover in Malaysia. It adds a touch of sportiness and menace without upsetting the comfort and practicality that most owners will need on a day-to-day basis.

If this is the first time you’re seriously considering purchasing one – you’re in for no real surprises. It gets the basics right and the size is just perfect. It’s large in the right places without being intimidating to drive – there were moments where I even forgot that I was in a crossover. The trunk is large and there’s flexibility thanks to split folding seats, privacy thanks to a built-in tonneau cover and convenience thanks to a powered tailgate. You’ll even find a couple of bag hooks, a light bulb and a spare tyre around back.

Passengers in the rear aren’t neglected. They get their own blowers, centre armrest and USB-C ports. Legroom is just about okay for a car of this class. Remember, this isn’t a RAV4 – it’s a size lower, but still a leader in this smaller segment.

For a lot of middle income families, the Corolla Cross GR-S is the right car with the right badge with the right shape – plain and simple. There’s nothing that the vehicle particularly excels but it’s pretty good at everything. If you want something sportier with a more interesting but noticeably smaller cabin you might try the CX-30 or HR-V.

But if all you want is something that ticks the boxes without making a fuss while also being larger at this price point you can’t go wrong with the Corolla Cross. I do still think the Altis is a country mile ahead in terms of comfort but it is a lot pricier than the Cross and sedans are going out of fashion these days.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross GR-S Specifications

Engine: Inline-4, 16-Valve, DOHC, Petrol
Capacity: 1798cc
Gearbox: CVT automatic with 7 virtual speeds
Max power: 139PS @ 6400rpm
Max torque: 172Nm @ 4000rpm
Top Speed: 185 km/h
Price: RM142,000

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Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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