At the risk of sounding like an old man, when I was a youngster learning to drive standard shift (manual) transmissions was a rite of passage. Before I thought stick shift was cool, it was just something my dad made me learn simply because that is what you do. These days, manual transmissions are quickly becoming a feature of a bygone era in America. The 2021 Toyota Corolla Apex edition is one of a very short list of cars that still come with a manual transmission. Not only that, but the Corolla has features that make it perfect for budding manual students.
Is the Corolla Apex worth it?
Yes. The Apex is aptly named. The Toyota Corolla is synonymous with “basic” and “economy” in the car world. They are reliable and popular but not exciting. The Corolla Apex is the hot and spicy version of the Corolla we are used to. You know the Apex is serious as soon as you see the mean face, Darth-Vader looks, and tasteful gold trim pieces. There are also some aero bits like the spoiler, front splitter, and side skirts.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla Apex interior is nice but minimal
According to Road & Track, the Corolla Apex interior is the same story as the exterior; cool. The interior is simple and fairly minimal, but that just goes to double down on the race-y vibes. Although there are a few physical buttons on the steering wheel and dash, most of the interior functions are fed through the massive infotainment screen. There are plenty of soft-touch points, and the steering wheel feels good in your hands, according to R&T.
Let’s talk about what we came here for; a manual transmission
The looks and interior are cool, but those things are simply toppings, and the transmission and powertrain are the dough; without good dough, a pizza can never be great. If you are a car nerd like me, your heart might flutter a little when you see three pedals. It is a rare treat indeed these days, and the Corolla Apex happily delivers.
R&T calls the shifts “direct.” while this may seem a little dry, but when it comes to a manual transmission, direct is exactly what you want. The throws aren’t short like a purpose-built sports car, but we are talking about a Corolla after all. The gear changes are smooth and easily received.
For the purposes of learning this ye olde-timey transmission, the super-light clutch is friendly and easy to fight the catch point. A harsh clutch can be really discouraging for anyone learning to drive a manual car. The six-speed shifter has two hidden buttons that put the Corolla over the edge as the perfect manual learner.
The Corolla Apex is friendly
The most stressful part of learning to drive stick is the hill start. If you have to stop on a hill in an automatic, you don’t have to think much about it cause the transmission keeps you from rolling back or stalling. The first of the two switches are found on some modern cars called “HOLD.” This does exactly what you think; it applies brakes to the rear wheels to keep the car from rolling back in traffic. Once the car senses forward motion, the brakes release; that alone is a gamechanger for a new driver.
The second switch is labeled “i-MT” and turns on the Toyota intelligent Manual Transmission system. This is the coolest feature for any driver learning to drive stick. The car won’t shift for you, but it will rev-match when you downshift, making the hardest part of the driving stick smoother.
The Toyota Corolla Apex is fighting the good fight
In a world where anything resembling manual anything is quickly fading away, the Corolla Apex is trying to hold by blending automation and manual into a friendly and sporty package that keeps enthusiast motoring alive, at least for a little while longer.