While sedan sales aren’t what they once were, the four-door automobile will never disappear, as Chevrolet turns the Malibu into a sleek turbo cruiser, and Jaguar releases its supercharged XE to do battle with German automakers. So as millennials and Generation Z buyers opt for their own take on the stagnant segment, automakers realign their objectives to better target a market that has a very particular set of prerequisites.
Although affordability, connectivity, autonomous safety, and efficiency still remain top selling points for entry-level car buyers, a strong interest in performance has muscled its way to the forefront in recent years. Honda is readying itself for the launch of a new Civic Si and the mighty Type-R, Hyundai is releasing a re-tuned Elantra Sport sedan, while Volkswagen’s GLI gets better with each passing generation, and Subaru’s STI continues to set the bar for all-wheel drive, four-door fun.
At a drive event in California recently, we had the chance to sit down with Toyota vehicle marketing and communications specialist Sloan Stokas, who dropped a bit of knowledge on the Corolla, while remaining tight-lipped on future developments. Stokas informed us that since the Corolla continues to be so affordable, around half its sales remain entry level trims, with the rest being split between various upper tier versions. Out of these more expensive models, the Special Edition (SE) package continues to hold the lion’s share of sales, with its aero upgrades, sporty wheel options, tasteful interior upgrades, and modest $20,000 starting point.
But as the Scion brand collapses and the iA, iM, and FR-S are absorbed by the mothership, Toyota may have a problem. The iA threatens to cannibalize the Corolla with its interior and price tag, iM offers amenities and practicality for far less, and the FR-S (now 86) boasts enjoyable driving characteristics. So with a growing market for performance focused versions of commuter cars, is there a chance that Toyota will come out with a sport tuned Corolla in the near future?
Even though Stokas and other Toyota employees remained silent on the subject, the fact that the original 86 wore a Corolla badge and became such a huge performance hit is encouraging, as are the brand’s investments in sporty Lexus models. What would it take to make Japan’s automotive Goliath forge a genuine Civic Si killer? Here are five fantastic reasons why it would be both easy and beneficial to have a Corolla that could dropkick every other performance sedan in the segment.
1. Marketing matters
There’s beginning to be an argument for affordable models with a focus on performance, handling, and forced induction engines, and it could soon make sense for Toyota to offer something fun that’s also more practical than the 86 sports coupe.
Will the majority of Corolla buyers still likely opt for lower trim lines? Probably. But having a car that can tango with the Civic Si would make Toyota more appealing to potential buyers. And with the success Toyota’s marketing department has had with the latest Tacoma and Prius campaigns, we have no doubt that they’d have a hell of a lot of fun selling it.
2. Recycle and re-purpose
Although the Corolla sports a 1.8-liter engine that only produces 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, the chassis itself has a lot of untapped potential. In 2015, Toyota took a production model and turned it into the SEMA Edition TRD Corolla, with a stiffer, lower center of gravity, TRD (Toyota Racing Development) six-speed manual, and a slick aero kit. It was then finished off with a custom cat-back exhaust system, reverse-staggered 19-inch wheels, TRD air filter, and some sticky low-profile summer tires. While power gains weren’t released, the fact that the R&D has already been done means recycling these ideas would make a TRD Corolla that much easier to put into production.
3. The SE chassis needs love
Toyota’s Special Edition, or SE, trim line is easily one of the best things about Toyota’s cars. For years designers have been giving vehicles like the Corolla, Sienna, and Camry sporty facelifts, snazzy aero upgrades, various wheel options, different lighting, and interior upgrades. It’s an affordable package that transforms a pedestrian looking offering into an attractive alternative to going with a loaded model.
But attractiveness and performance are two totally different things, and for all of its sharp styling updates, the Corolla SE doesn’t get squat when it comes to performance upgrades. The only upgrades available for the Corolla through TRD are a set of lowering springs, an axle-back exhaust, air and oil filters, and a beefier rear sway bar. While it’s nice to see Toyota offering these goodies, they do little to make the Corolla compete with the Civic Si or the Volkswagen GLI. A hardcore set of performance parts would finally help the SE function the way it looks, and give Toyota a horse in the race.
4. Follow the laws of attraction
With its re-sculpted nose, etched LED lighting, and conforming body lines, the current Corolla is far more attractive than it was even a decade or so ago. But its segment is changing, and younger car buyers value performance and sporty looks far more than older ones. Toyota (like all automakers) wants to appeal to younger buyers, and the sooner it offers a sharp-looking version like the SEMA car from last year, the better chances it has.
5. F Sport Lexus wishes, Toyota realities
The final, and perhaps most important, reason why Toyota should offer a TRD Corolla, is because the company knows how to do it, and not everyone can afford Lexus F Sport engineering. The luxury brand has done a bang-up job turbocharging the affordable IS sedan, and while demand for this kind of powertrain in a Corolla is minimal, offering an affordable, entry-level turbo to the masses certainly has its benefits. Hook someone on sport suspension, performance drive modes, PlayStation-grade graphics, and a turbo four-cylinder right off the bat, and you’ve got a gateway car that leads to the Lexus line.
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