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Toyota GR Corolla Brings the Manual Handbrake Back, and It Wasn’t Even Hard

Handbrake levers are disappearing as fast as stick shifts, but the GR Corolla proves it’s still possible (and easy) to add them back in.
GR Corolla handbrake skids.

Take a look inside the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla and you’ll notice something a little unusual for a new car: an old-school manual handbrake. Not a fiddly little button like the regular Corolla has, but a big ol’ stick you can rip for skids on demand. “For the enthusiast, that’s an important thing,” said Toyota product planner Geoff Partain.

I’d say he’s right.

Akio Toyota pulls a handbrake in the GR Corolla.
Straight from the intro presentation for the GR Corolla Morizo: Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda ripping a handbrake turn. Screencap via Toyota USA

It’s important to note that no Corolla besides the GR has a physical lever. We asked Toyota spokesperson Paul Hogard why that was, who then relayed answers from the engineering team in Japan back to us via email.

“We use an electronic handbrake to activate the automatic parking brake for safety and to remove the handbrake lever for better utility—design, cup holder, space usability and so on‚” Hogard said. The safety feature Hogard is referring to is the automatic parking brake that gets applied as soon as someone puts the transmission in “park,” or the brake hold feature, where you can set the brake to hold you in place while you’re stopped at a stop light or in a drive-thru.

That’s a nice feature on the street, and we all know I love a good cup holder, but an auto-setting parking brake is the exact opposite of what you’d want on track, where your car’s brakes get extra hot. Your braking system’s components get so toasty during spirited driving conditions that you can even fuse brake pad material to your braking surface if the parking brake is set. Leaving it un-set also lets the heat dissipate from the system faster. For years, neither of my race cars had a parking brake at all because I didn’t want someone accidentally setting it when the braking system was hot.

So, what’s a non-GR Corolla owner to do if they want to track their nice reasonably priced car and want that manual handbrake? That’s one thing Hogard declined to comment on, saying, “Although we’re big fans of car modifications we can’t comment on if or how modifications of this type could be made by customers.”

That’s an understandable answer from a company that doesn’t want to be held responsible for any mods you make to their cars. Yet Toyota itself didn’t have to modify the GR Corolla too much from the base model to add a handbrake back in. “To implement the handbrake on the GR Corolla, we modified the tunnel cover on the front floor panel to accommodate the shift lever and handbrake lever,” Hogard said.

A manual handbrake is perhaps one of the simplest items on a car, too. I’ve had to put the handbrake back into both of my race cars in order for the state of Texas to look the other way and give me a license plate, and it’s not hard. While adjusting it can be a tedious task, at the end of the day, it’s a cable that runs back to a brake on the rear axle that’s set with a ratcheting lever. In theory, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to retrofit a manual parking brake into a non-GR Corolla if you had the right components. It’s all down to cable routing and packaging.

Yet when it comes to the base model, space and convenience are king.

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