Sliding a Toyota GR Corolla on Ice Finally Made Me Enjoy Performance Driving

Bridgestone’s Winter Driving School allows you to hone car control at the limit, at safe speeds. And it’s a blast.

byAdam Ismail|
Toyota Corolla photo
Adam Ismail


"Pushing your limits" seems simple in concept, but it's really a multi-step process. First, you have to know what those limits are, and then you need to have the confidence to break them. Even once you’ve decided you’re ready, you’ve got to be smart in how you go about that. When you’re finally in that zone where you’re not only willing to learn but recognize results, you want to stay there forever. Which brings me to Bridgestone's Winter Driving School.

I’ve done performance driving education before, but this program was different. For starters, our course was carved into a frozen-over hayfield. The instructional session took place in a yurt, where we were served delicious coffee that we weren’t allowed to take outside, because spilling it could melt the driving surface. And of course, our cars weren’t riding on sticky, smooth, rubber designed for high track temperatures—they were fitted with snow-chomping Bridgestone Blizzaks.

And what about those cars? The morning began in an all-wheel-drive Toyota Camry and RAV4 TRD Off-Road for some fundamental exercises, before our class moved to the GR Corolla. And since I happen to own one, I was in for a real treat. Setting aside that my car currently doesn’t have winter tires on it, there’s nowhere near my home in the Northeast to do anything like what we were about to on this chilly afternoon in Colorado—no space to find my limit, safely. I knew I’d learn something, but I never expected I'd have so much fun in the process.

See, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive fast cars on racetracks a handful of times in this business, but weirdly I’ve never been bitten by the track bug. There inevitably comes a point in the day where I feel like I’ve hit a wall, and breaking through it takes more bravery and intuition than I've got in me. But there’s something about driving on a loose surface that spares me the sense of futility.

Every corner is an event. Sure—like driving on track, there’s a line you want to take. But the critical difference here is that you can never depend on the car’s ability to follow it, because the surface is inconsistent by nature and constantly changing. The corners themselves take longer, too. So many times a second, you’re trying to evaluate how much grip you have; how your steering angle needs to change; whether it’s better to stay off the gas or ease into it. Track drivers do this, consciously and unconsciously, at a rate our mortal brains simply cannot. But snow and ice slow this process down enough that anyone can experiment with it, at a speed that’s comfortable for them.

Comfort at the limit equals fun. Even though I was positively crawling through corners at times before I had the gumption to put the hammer down, I was having a blast. And I learned so many things in particular. Take turning in early, for example. Our instructors Scott and Nick recommended late apexing because it gave us maximum grip on corner entry to slow down before committing. But we were also advised to begin steering earlier than I would've thought. The dilemma is that you can’t count on grip late in the corner, which means you’ve got to start the weight transfer process before it’s too late, and you understeer into a snow bank.

I won't tell you I properly got the process down in my six hours of instruction and driving, but I certainly felt like I at least understood the assignment. And those times I did nail it (let's be kind and say 20 percent) felt incredible. They were so satisfying, I would've kept lapping the course until the moon lit the mountain, chasing that reward.

That's maybe a little surprising because by mid-afternoon conditions were getting less favorable for driving, not more. The layer of snow that had fallen on the course overnight was all but swept away by our four-wheel drifts and the strong sun overhead, revealing the slick ice beneath. Typically when track driving or rallying, leaving rubber or digging in ruts promotes traction. But in wintry scenarios, the opposite can be true; snow on ice may improve stability, until it disappears.

Adam Ismail

This was the part of the day when I really made a habit of swapping ends, but it didn't matter. Hell, I felt somewhat validated when one of the instructors kissed the bank midway through a hot lap after class had ended. Everybody was fine and so was the car—though the grille of this particular GR Corolla was caked with the white stuff to show for it. I rode along for one of the laps, by the way, and it was mesmerizing. There were a few straight segments of this track, and yet somehow our hot hatch's nose always seemed to be facing the wall no matter how fast we were going.

The day's experiences also demonstrated the value of the GR Corolla's torque-split adjustment dial, which, let's be honest, really makes little to no difference in normal traffic. You can imagine that the 50/50 setting was the most optimal for staying clean, though pushing 70% of torque to the rear axle obviously held a certain charm.

Adam Ismail

Toyota thoughtfully provided a Core-trim vehicle without the limited-slip differentials of the Circuit Edition and Morizo pre-production cars also in our fleet; unsurprisingly, it was a ringing endorsement for checking that box on the order sheet. The Corolla's chassis may be plenty responsive on its own, but the diffs mean you don't need to be quite so judicious about when you put the power down nor how much. The car always seems to know where it's most needed, and that's the mother of all safety nets in a place like this.

After we were all dry and warm, somebody asked me if sliding the GR Corolla on the ice made me appreciate my car more. I never doubted it could practically enter corners backward and come out the other side—at the hands of a professional, anyway. After all, that's what vehicles like this are built to do. Rather, I questioned my ability to feel a modicum of that thrill, at my skill floor. I don't anymore, and that's just about the greatest praise I can give the program and the car. They not only inspire you to be a better driver; they remind you to enjoy the one you already are.

2024 Toyota GR Corolla Specs
Base Price$37,595
Powertrain1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder | 6-speed manual | all-wheel drive
Horsepower300 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque273 lb-ft @ 3,000-5,500 rpm
Curb Weight3,252 pounds
0-60 mph4.99 seconds
Seating Capacity5
Cargo Capacity17.8 cubic feet
EPA Fuel Economy21 mpg city | 28 highway | 24 combined

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