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Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition

Toyota's hot hatch effort gets an aftermarket-inspired look but doesn't capitalize on power potential

Jun 2, 2020

The 2021 Toyota Corolla hatchback Special Edition is exactly what you think it is, based on your experience with past limited packages that have been tacked on to Toyota offerings as well as other manufacturers' various models. Typically based on visual changes and larger wheel and tire updates, the massive power upgrade that you wished would become reality still remains a pipe dream.

2021 Toyota Corolla Special Editiion Driver Side Profile Photo 6/6   |   Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition

Seems Like Yesterday...

Just a few years ago, Toyota unveiled their 12th generation version of the long-running Corolla family and Super Street tried its hand at modifying a 2019 model before it was whisked off to Vegas for the SEMA Show. Many complained that it wasn't in line with the beloved '80s-era "AE86" (strange, considering the FR layout hasn't been utilized in the Corolla in over 30 years), while others were upset that Super Street didn't install a turbo upgrade (in fact, there were no actual performance options available on the market, and if a custom turbo kit had been created from scratch, no ECU or fuel solution). However, along with the negative came quite a bit of positive, and the Corolla XSE project became one of the most popular stories in Super Street history. The goals were realistic, and the utilitarian five-door proved to be an ideal daily driver with just a handful of carefully chosen mods.

Super Street's Take on Modifying the 12th gen. Corolla Hatchback
Overview of Super Street XSE Project
Final Look at the Super Street XSE Build-up

Safety First

For the 2021 model year, the standard Corolla hatchback line like the current model gets Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 with features that include a pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist and more. Other manufacturers have elected to include brand-specific safety packages to more models, though some of the features annoy enthusiasts more than help steer them toward dealerships. Nevertheless, it's an important factor and a critical one when it comes to new car buyers.

More Storage Than Your Dad's Cargo Shorts

To offer additional versatility, hatchback models can be fitted with Toyota's Enhanced Cargo Space, which actually drops the cargo floor substantially, granting an additional six cubic feet of total capacity. The option is free and does require a loss of the car's spare tire, replaced by a space-friendly repair kit.

Two new colors, Magnetic Gray Metallic and Wind Chill Pearl, are available for the hatchback, as is a black roof option. The new paint hues join the current Classic Silver Metallic, Midnight Black Metallic, Galactic Aqua Mica and Blue Flame options. The Corolla SE Nightshade Edition also returns, offering blacked-out lower side panels, front lower bumper, rear spoiler and more.

2021 Toyota Corolla Special Editiion Alloy Wheel Photo 6/6   |   Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition

Just How Special is This Edition?

The Special Edition version of the Corolla isn't too far removed from the Super Street example, at least on the outside. To dress the part, a multi-piece kit, which includes a front splitter, side skirts, roof spoiler and rear bumper garnish, is included along with appropriate badging. A set of 18-inch alloy wheels in black contrast a newly introduced "Supersonic Red" exterior. The look certainly separates itself from the standard model, though the styling, especially that of the wheels, is in line with what you'd expect from an OEM.

The Power Struggle

The same 2.0L that powered the Super Street Corolla is on duty here, and though some of its features showed promise, like the 13:1 compression, direct injection and Toyota's Intelligent variable valve timing that uses an electronic motor rather than oil pressure on the intake side and standard VVT-I on the exhaust, the output is less than stellar at just 168hp. Great on gas and sufficient for commuting, the power production was our only complaint with the XSE project. The Special Edition model seems like the ideal candidate to highlight a more performance-oriented side of Toyota's people mover, alas those duties have been left to the FR layout of the 86 and Supra lines. To sprinkle a little more "sign of the times" salt in the wound, the Special Edition comes standard with a Dynamic Shift CVT transmission.

2021 Toyota Corolla Special Editiion Passenger Side Rear View Photo 6/6   |   Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition

The Special Edition model is expected to arrive in late summer with a limited 1,500 models booked for production.

2021 Toyota Corolla Special Editiion Hatch Badge Photo 6/6   |   Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition
2021 Toyota Corolla Special Editiion Wing Photo 6/6   |   Unpacking the Upgrades of the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition
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