A year ago Toyota got our hopes up for a hot Yaris GRMN, but Toyota cruelly dashed them by not offering it in America. I cried myself to sleep for days while listening to Enya alone in my room. As Americans that loves hatchbacks, we felt completely abandoned. But then, just as I was ready to reenter society as a broken man, Toyota comes back with arms open wide.
Toyota is bringing back the Corolla hatch, something that hasn’t been offered since the Corolla FX raised its last tailgate in 1988. The new car is the same as the next-generation European-market Toyota Auris, which you may remember as the Toyota/Scion iM. For the newest generation, they’re dropping the iM nameplate and calling it simply the Corolla Hatchback. Best of all, the Big T is also including a 6-speed manual, automatic rev matching, and an independent rear suspension.
Based on Toyota’s TNGA global architecture, the car will have a substantially stiffer chassis. This is good news because the the modular platform has greatly improved the Camry and the Prius, while the crossover stablemate, Toyota CH-R, is the closest thing to a compact crossover that I could actually like. While the others aren’t exactly firestarters, the Corolla sounds like it’s going to be somewhat fun to drive and that feels really good to say.
Toyota has been doing great things trying to shed their “living in purgatory” image they’ve built since their sports car genocide of the early 2000s. Akio Toyoda is continuing on his crusade to restore the soul of Toyota, and while the halo cars get all the press, it appears that Toyota has not forgotten about the everyman.
It’s surprising that Toyota even attempts to sate the desires of middle-class car enthusiasts, because not only is it difficult with CAFE fuel economy standards, but, frankly, they don’t need to. Toyota would do just fine being like everyone else making appliances that drive like a moist refrigerator box.
Toyota’s revival hasn’t been perfect, and we know everyone’s lamenting the Supra will be an automatic-only car, but let’s rejoice that the new Corolla will still retain a proper transmission. The shift-it-yourself, three-pedal, kill-it-at-a-stoplight manual transmission. They’re not just using the manual in the base model either — you can get it across the range, which is something other marques could learn from. The transmission will come with automatic rev matching, too, and as much as I love heel-and-toeing, computerized throttle blips make driving in anger much easier. There is also a CVT but we really couldn’t care less about that.
Power numbers haven’t been disclosed, but the M20A-FKS engine looks promising. Replacing the outgoing 1.8-liter four, it grows to a 2.0 liters employing an 80.5 x 97.6 bore-to-stroke ratio and dual VVT-i. While I would have preferred a square or over-square block, I’ll take what I can get. What’s interesting about the engine is Toyota says that they’ve integrated three under piston oil jets per cylinder, enlarged the water jacket and a given it a high 13:1 compression ratio. Assuming the cylinder walls aren’t too thin, this engine sounds like it has some additional potential to be unleashed.
The manual transmission and bigger engine are headline grabbers, but it’s important to mention the independent rear suspension. Since the demise of the eight-gen E110, the Corolla has used rear beam axles, which, while cost effective and good enough for Ethel to get her groceries in, isn’t nearly as suited to spirited driving as a good IRS setup.
The new IRS on the Corolla Hatchback is a multi-link setup akin to that of Corollas and Civics of the late 80s and 1990s. The front suspension uses the more common MacPherson struts, but Toyota says the geometry is optimized for drivers.
This should be a platform that is ripe for aftermarket parts development. While we don’t expect the same magic created by Hondas of the 90s, we’re looking forward to a fun FWD hatch that isn’t the size of an Acura TL, utilizes an NA engine, and isn’t dreadfully unreliable. It’ll be interesting to see to how the Japanese compact scene evolves in the next five years. Toyota’s given us a new Corolla hatch. Can we make it hot?
Some images courtesy of Toyota.