From the November 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

There’s an unmatched sense of freedom that comes with a first car. My second-gen Volkswagen GTI 16V, the one with the 134-hp 2.0-liter engine, Recaro seats, and BBS wheels, gave me a joy that had been long ago stored away in the corners of my mind. And then I drove a Toyota GR Corolla and was slingshotted back to my first solo drives down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. Executive editor K.C. Colwell provides an expert and detailed evaluation of Toyota’s wild-child hot hatch. I’m just here for a nostalgic gush.

My little GTI would rip into apexes and grind to its redline through very short gears. It had better moves than Ex-Lax and could not be tripped up. Quick steering moved the roughly 2500-pound box with windows into and out of trouble. Sometimes after parking I would linger in it, marveling about what we’d just done. Warm afterglow.

As documented over the years in this fine publication, I have tested some rare and eye-opening stuff: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bugattis, even a Pagani. Yet nothing quite matched those early teenage drives in the GTI. Raucous, impatient, eager, and daring: adjectives that applied to the GTI and to me 30 years ago. We were a perfect match. When I started up the GR Corolla, the buzz and churn under the hood refired long-idle synapses. Full throttle. Bam! Redline. Second gear. Bam! Redline. Short gears. No missed shifts. No waiting for boost in these low gears. Gruffness under the hood, just like the 16V engine. I loved that GTI. I’m loving the GR.

Corner coming up. Whoops. The brake is a little far from the accelerator to reliably heel-toe downshift. Solution: Tap the button to the left of the steering wheel to enable rev matching. Brake. Downshift. Rotate. Upshift. Repeat. The GR has seemingly inexhaustible grip. I remember my GTI had that same dogged refusal to let go. It pressed you hard into the bolsters. This Corolla is tenacious and pissed off, just like the GTI. What’s that, GR Corolla? Well, I couldn’t agree more with you about recommended cornering speeds. Do you think we can triple that really low one? Let’s find out.

If I drove that GTI today, I’m guessing I’d be shocked by the roughness and lack of rigidity. Age and perspective would render the ride and structure, like most things that seemed acceptable at 17, questionable today. Here in my late 40s, the GR seems satisfyingly firm and solid.

I’m happy. It’s as impatient as I am. Another great match.

I got a couple of speeding tickets in the first few months of my driving career. If I had a GR Corolla today, I’m sure I’d get nailed a few times until I started acting my age again. Thank you, GR Corolla, for helping me remember a feeling that cemented my love of driving. Thank you for reminding me that cars can bring so much joy. I can’t believe I found that first-car feeling again after all these years.

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