LOOKING BACK AT THE SUPER STREET COROLLA
The new 2021 Toyota Corolla is an entry-level car that we've had a ton of experience with as we built a 2019 hatchback two years ago. With the help of our friends at Auto Tuned and a rendering by Jon Sibal, we transformed our little XSE into a hot hatch, and it became quite the internet sensation, scoring record numbers on our website and social media engagement. It was a bit of a shock to us considering the Corolla didn't come with the turbocharged powerplant or rear-wheel-drive platform we all yearned for, instead it was equipped with a modest 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder with the option of a CVT automatic or six-speed gearbox (luckily ours's was a manual!). Our project car also didn't have a long list of parts to brag about. It wore the first Auto Tuned carbon fiber lip kit, RS-R coilovers, Wilwood big brakes, A'PEXi titanium exhaust, TE37s, a red vinyl wrap, and that's all she wrote! We learned it didn't take much for the aftermarket community to notice, and that despite being FWD and under 200hp, it was still fun as hell to drive.
Read about our farewell to our long-gone Corolla project car.
My 2018 editorial about whether or not the Corolla could be cool again.
REINVENTING THE SUPER STREET COROLLA
Two years since we parted ways with our project car, Corolla hatchback builds have sprung up all over the world, and we've encountered some squeaky clean examples, like Allen Ly's 2020 Hatchback in Midnight Black Metallic. It shares much of the same ingredients of our Super Street Corolla such as the Auto Tuned lip kit, big brakes and coilovers. Where it has a bit more swag is the white Advan GT wheels and the JDM Auris emblem (what the Corolla is called in most parts of the world outside of the U.S. ). If we may say, it's a sweet looking ride that serves as his trusted daily driver. Like our Corolla, it wasn't built for racing either but shows there's a lot of potential and versatility with Toyota's affordable hatchback, which starts around $20K.
NEW COROLLA IN TOWN AND IT COMES LIKE THIS STOCK
What we're here to check out today is a slightly forgotten twin of the Corolla hatchback; the sedan. This particular model is the latest 2021 Apex Edition. Here's what you need to know:
Special edition 2021 sedan model limited to 6,000 units and based on both the SE and XSE grades.
Only 120 of these models will come with a six-speed manual. The rest will be the 10-speed CVT automatic.
The powerplant remains the same with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 169hp.
Toyota wants you to know this sedan can handle, hence the name "Apex". Stiffer, slightly lower springs have been installed which drop the car .6-inches all-around. Retuned shocks and solid stabilizer bars provide a much more dynamic ride as well as less body roll. The electronic power steering is also retuned for all of the suspension changes. According to Toyota, the Apex Edition is 47% stiffer in the front and 33% stiffer in the rear compared to the standard model.
The 18-inch gloss black wheels are flow-formed cast and offer a 2.2-lb reduction in mass, per corner.
Summer tires are a no-cost upgrade with the Apex Edition.
New cat-back exhaust is installed with a 3.5-inch stainless tip.
The front-end is pretty cool on the Apex Edition, featuring black front grille, sport mesh, bronze/black front spoiler/side rocker panels/rear spoiler and J-shaped "clearance" lamps with LEDs. There are also LED turn signals and LED taillights with smoked lenses.
The Apex Edition comes in three colors: Cement with Black Sand Pearl roof, Super White with Black Sand Pearl roof and all-Black Sand Pearl. If Cement looks familiar, it's a color borrowed from the TRD lineup. Bronze/black accents are used throughout. Black mirror caps are standard on this model.
As far as the interior goes, the XSE Apex Edition will have black SofTex-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats. The SE Apex features standard cloth.
Black rear spoiler is a $375 option.
Pricing starts at $25,070 for the Apex SE with CVT. The XSE model shown here is priced at $29,580.
As far as styling goes, the Apex Edition sedan is a solid 7.5/8 out of 10. I absolutely love the Cement grey paint which is borrowed from the TRD lineup (I wish more Toyotas came in this color). Also, I dig all of the black and bronze accents from the front grille, roof, lower sides and rear. The LED lights make this car look like a much sportier premium ride than what most people stereotype Corollas as.
Toyota reassures us the suspension tweaks are worthwhile and for the most part, they are. I took the Apex Edition on a 30-mile mountain run up near Mt. San Jacinto on Highway-243 and the Corolla can hang. Just like our modified Corolla Hatchback project car, this sedan is based on a strong chassis and DNA that's engineered for toughness around the corners; however, the powerplant still leaves you wanting more (which rings true for the Toyota 86 and C-HR as well).
Another point I should note about the Apex Edition is that it comes with all the bells and whistles and even the interior was surprisingly well designed and equipped with nice seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual climate control and special interior stitching. It's as polished and well-equipped as a Corolla could ever be and there's not much that I'd change.
If I could modify the Corolla Apex, all it would need is a more aggressive set of JDM wheels and suspension (the fitment and ride height still isn't up to my personal standards). The sport-tuned exhaust is pretty quiet so I might change that as well, but you have to go into this Corolla thinking it's going to be more of a cruiser than a canyon carver. It has elements of an enthusiast driver's car but remember, it's still missing the proper powertrain to really get you moving.
For a price of $30K, it's a tough sell, however, not completely out of the question. The $25K SE option might make more sense. Remember, you get a fully-loaded sedan with an exterior that turns heads and looks tastefully tuned. Like the hatchback, the sedan falls short in the power department, but if you're like Allen Ly and our group when we had our Corolla project car, we already knew its place as a stylish and capable daily driver, and not anything beyond that.
THAT NEW CAR SMELL
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE Special Edition
THE STICKER $28,210 MSRP ($29,580 as tested)
POWER 169hp at 6,600rpm; 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,400rpm
ENGINE 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine; sport-tuned exhaust
DRIVETRAIN front wheel drive; dynamic-shift CVT automatic
FOOTWORK & CHASSIS independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension; stiffer spring rates and stabilizer bars
WHEELS & TIRES 18" black flow-formed wheels; 225/40R18 tires
EXTERIOR LED headlights, accent lights, daytime running lights, taillights; smoked sport trim taillights; mesh black grille with bronze front spoiler and C-shape accents; black heated power side mirrors with turn signal indicators; color-keyed door handles; black/bronze side rocker panels and rear diffuser; moonroof; black rear spoiler (optional); variable intermittent windshield wipers; roof-mounted shark-fin antenna; black window trim and badging; Cement paint
INTERIOR SofTex-trimmed heated sport seats with 8-way driver and 6-way passenger adjustability; leather-trimmed 3-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters; premium instrument cluster with chrome plated accents; metallic interior trim; bronze interior stitching; 8" touchscreen head unit Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa; six speaker system
AT THE PUMP 30/38/33 mpg (city/highway/combined)
2019 Toyota Corolla XSE
OWNER Allen Ly
BUILDER Auto Tuned
HOMETOWN Los Angeles, CA
ENGINE 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; A'PEXi quad system with titanium tips, TRD air intake box;
DRIVETRAIN Automatic CVT
FOOTWORK & CHASSIS RS-R coilovers; Cusco front strut tower brace
BRAKES Fastbrakes front big brake kit with Wilwood Superlite six-piston radial mount calipers and 13-inch drilled/slotted two-piece rotors
WHEELS & TIRES 18x9.5" +40 Advan GT wheels in Racing White Gloss finish; 255/35R18 Hankook Ventus V12 tires; KYO-EI KICS 3mm spacers; Project Kics R40 Iconix M12x1.25 black lug nuts with locks and white caps
EXTERIOR Auto Tuned carbon-fiber front lip, side skirts, rear spats; Galactic Blue Aqua Mica paint; JDM Corolla C badge emblem