I like the Toyota Corolla because of its simplicity. It’s an affordable car, not a cheap one and it’s important to remember that distinction.
They are remarkably durable and require almost nothing outside of basic maintenance. Neglect it and it probably still won’t let you down. When you need a car that you know will start every single time, the Corolla has always been the ticket.
Because of this dependability, the Corolla has amassed legions of fans. Over 45 million have been sold since production began in 1966, and it is one of the most common sights on the road, no matter where you go on this planet.
The Corolla Apex you see here, however, boasts production numbers more in line with Ferrari. Just 150 examples are coming to Canada, and only 50 of those will be equipped with a manual transmission.
More than just looks, the Corolla Apex was conceived for the driving enthusiast looking for a bit more from their econobox.
It starts with an appearance kit based on the already bold Corolla SE that includes a gloss black bumper grille, special body kit with bronze accents, a rear diffuser, trunk-mounted spoiler, and bespoke black 18-inch rims that trim 2.2 lbs of unsprung weight per corner.
It takes the best-looking Corolla ever and turns it into something even more desirable. The kit adds that visual panache that people will notice without going over the top.
The electric power steering has been re-tuned to add more heft and for better response and the car has been lowered by 0.6 inches on stiffer springs with more aggressively damped shocks. In conjunction with thicker sway bars, roll stiffness increases by 47 per cent in the front and 33 per cent in the rear.
Power from the naturally aspirated 2-litre 4-cylinder is unchanged at 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, but it sounds slightly throatier thanks to a new exhaust system finished with a 3.5-inch stainless steel tip.
Because the Apex is based on the Corolla SE Upgrade trim you get everything included with that model including Toyota Safety Sense, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity, keyless entry with push-button start, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and a power moonroof.
With the Apex package, the Corolla’s price rises to $27,440. Tack on Toyota’s direct shift CVT automatic and it will add another $1000. This pricing is in line with other sport-infused entries like the Honda Civic Si, Mazda3 GT, and Hyundai Elantra N line, all of which have more power.
If you were thinking the Corolla Apex is the answer to your sport compact dreams based on its limited availability and aggressive design, you’d be mistaken.
Its biggest problem is that there’s just 169 hp to work with. The 2.0-liter four which feels just fine in every other Corolla is disappointing here because based on the way the Apex looks and the way Toyota markets it, you expect more.
Full throttle on the highway in top gear produces little in the way of added momentum and downshifts only introduce more noise into the cabin. If you want to move quickly, you’ll need to work hard for it but thankfully shift action does feel great, with a light throw lever that snicks precisely between gates and a progressive clutch take up that makes rowing the 6-speed gearbox intuitive and fun.
Where you really notice the difference between the Apex versus the standard car is with the ride quality or the lack of it. The shocks feel like they’ve been filled with concrete and it bumps and crashes over road imperfections like a lowered tuner car from the 90s. Undulating pavement makes it hop about and potholes will make you cringe long before you hit them. Expansion joints are particularly jarring with the rebound tuning of the dampers excessively firm. A Timmy’s coffee doesn’t stand a chance of staying in its cup here.
Initially, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want such a stiff riding vehicle, and I mean stiff on par with serious track specials like the BMW M3 and Porsche 911. In fact many of those cars ride even better than this Corolla but rather than get disappointed I found myself liking it more every time I drove it. I know this sounds strange, and while I generally prefer cars that strike a balance between ride comfort and handling, this Corolla Apex is different.
Its bone-crushing ride is a part of its character, along with the body kit and gruff exhaust tune. After a week with it, I started to find it endearing and I couldn’t put my finger on just why until I saw a 25 year old lowered Honda Civic with a giant muffler and a fiberglass body kit that might as well have entered the highway via a wormhole from the past.
The sight of it transported me back to high school where the car scene was all about lowering springs, body kits, and big exhausts. Most didn’t bother touching their engines because it was risky and expensive and because appearances were all that mattered, ride quality be damned. Our bodies were young and able to put up with the abuse of multiple tailbone impacts and deafening sound systems.
Now as I approach my 40s, I think about cars like the Corolla Apex and how it so easily makes me wax nostalgic. It’s definitely geared to a younger audience, those that grew up in the tuner scene and are used to cars with some rough edges. It’s for someone who spent hours watching Initial D and gets the Apex reference. If you’ve entered that part of your life where you’re looking to settle down after the kids have left home this is likely not the car for you.
Toyota has imbued the Corolla Apex with more personality than it has a right to have. It handles better than I would have ever expected with precise, well-weighted steering, only a small amount of body roll, and way more grip than expected thanks to sticky Dunlop tires and all those suspension upgrades.
And because it’s equipped with a relatively simple 2-litre 4-cylinder, it’s very efficient, and will probably last forever. Turbos, as common as they are, complicate matters down the road and most Corolla fans will appreciate that there’s nothing extra to worry about, a sentiment I don’t think is shared with buyers of the new Supra.
I wasn’t expecting to like the Corolla Apex but ended up doing exactly that. And while it desperately needs more power to take advantage of the improved chassis it was still lots of fun to toss around some back roads and wring out to within an inch of its life without breaking any laws.
If you’re a Corolla fan and don’t mind the bumpy ride, you’re going to love the Apex, but only if you can get your hands on one.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval