Toyota recently unveiled the new 2.4-liter, 158hp Corolla and Matrix XRS in North America. But in Japan, Toyota has debuted a sporty hatchback with an even more menacing name-the Blade. A luxurious cousin to the Matrix, the base JDM-only Blade is powered by the same 2.4-liter engine as in the Scion tC. However, in an effort to drive American enthusiasts crazy, Toyota has created a tuned factory version. Here's how: take one Blade, add a 3.5-liter V6 and call it the Blade Master.
Size-wise, it's right there with familiar hatchbacks like the Mazda3. It measures 167.7 inches long on a 102-inch wheelbase, and stands 59.6 inches high and 69.3 inches wide.
We won't go so far as to call it a 'hot hatch' in the same spirit as the Subaru WRX STI, but it comes with exceptional power-280bhp. It's the same engine found in the Camry and Avalon stateside, the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter dual VVT-i V6. You might think the combination of the Blade's lightweight body and the powerful V6 would make for a rocket, but Toyota has tuned the engine more for smoothness than performance, so there isn't the rawness of an STI or Evo.
Still, the Blade Master is far from slow. Thanks to its curb weight of 3256 pounds, the car has little problem getting up to highway speed in a hurry. The engine revs smoothly and all of its 254lb-ft of torque can be felt at mid-range. It's one of those cars where you think you're going 60mph, but when you look down at the speedometer, it shows 90mph. The thing is quietly fast.
Changing gears is Toyota's six-speed automatic transmission. It would be preferable if the Blade Master were equipped with a manual or even semi-automatic, but again, Toyota insists this vehicle is intended for the 'adult' driver. Don't worry, though, there are many tuning firms (TRD, Blitz, Tom's, etc.) that could make this into a stylish hot compact, perfect for the kid in all of us.
The Blade Master is quite nimble and capable on twisty roads. The suspension system consists of struts up front and a double wishbone set-up out back, and the tuning does a commendable job of keeping body roll in check. This set-up feels a bit firmer than the base model, but not at all harsh over bumpy surfaces. The 225/45/17 tires provide good grip and, although the car understeers quite a bit going into tight corners, it's still fun through the turns.
However, the best thing about the Blade Master is what it means for the US and for prospective Corolla/Matrix tuners. A V6-powered Matrix might only be an engine swap away, with most of the complex tinkering completed by Toyota itself. Take that, VW R32.
The Blade Master will soon go on sale in Japan with a price of roughly $30,000. Pictured is the upgraded, top-trim level, Blade Master G (gotta love that name -JL) that sells for about $35,000. There are no plans for the car to come to the US just yet, but it would be nice to see this chassis/engine combo show up in Toyota's USDM line-up some time soon.
2008 Toyota Blade MasterPrice as Tested: $30,000 (estimated)
Engine Displacement/Type/Valvetrain: 3456cc V6, aluminum block and heads, DOHC, dual VVT-i variable valve timing
Claimed Crank HP: 280hp @ 6200rpm
Claimed Crank Torque: 254lb-ft @ 4700rpm
Drivetrain/Layout/Transmission: Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive, six-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 3256 lbs
Suspension (Front): MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar
Suspension (Rear): Independent double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Brakes (Front/Rear): Ventilated discs, dual-piston sliding calipers/solid discs, single-piston sliding calipers
Wheels (Front/Rear): 17x7
Tires (Front/Rear): 225/45/17