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Can the Corolla Be Cool Again?

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is here, and we get to build one of the first!

Sep 24, 2018

The Toyota Corolla hasn't been an exciting car to drive since, oh, the '80s! The front engine, rear-wheel-drive Corolla we know as the AE86, or Hachi-roku, was one of the most popular rides among Japanese car enthusiasts for its high-revvin' engine, light weight, 50/50 weight distribution, and tuning potential. Its fandom grew with its role in the Initial D series, plus the hundreds of examples seen competing in not just professional drifting, but also rally and club racing. The spirit of the AE86 was reborn in the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86; however, for the last 30-some years, the Corolla badge has lived on with boring cars your aunties would drive every day to work. Toyota aims to change this stigma with its latest hatchback offering, and we're going to be one of the first to build one as a project car!

What You Need to Know About The New Corolla Hatch

The Corolla is the successor to the Scion iM/Corolla iM, and we can't help but feel its design is a step in the right direction. It features more modern, athletic, bolder styling cues. Some of our favorite features are the sleek LED headlights and taillights, large front grille, and slightly pronounced wheel arches. At some angles, it kind of reminded us of a Mazda3, but overall it looks more sporty than ordinary, it's keepin' up with the times, and it should appeal to a younger and more fun audience—not just your aunties.

You're not going to get the rear-wheel platform you wanted, but that doesn't mean this new Corolla is a complete fail. It's up 31 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque from the previous model to 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. This is thanks to a new fuel-injected 2.0L inline-four 16-valve known as the M20A-FKS. Toyota tells us improvements were made all around from a longer stroke, high 13:1 compression, freer-flowing ports, and increased valve lift. Most models will come with a new CVT, but definitely drive the lighter six-speed if you get the chance to take one for a spin (yes, manual is still offered!) It can be quite fun to drive in the city.

Handling is where Toyota's latest lineup tends to shine, from the C-HR to the Camry. The Corolla follows suit and feels like it's more than capable of tackling corners. It employs Toyota's latest TNGA C platform, meaning the overall structure offers 60 percent more torsional rigidity than the previous Corolla iM. There's also a new multi-link suspension in the rear, increasing steering feel and handling performance. Just like the 86, the Corolla still might lack the power you want out of the box, but the handling is above average for an entry-level car.

While it might not wow you with performance, the Corolla retains the Corolla attributes you're used to, such as being fuel efficient (up to 42 mpg on the highway in the SE trim), affordable (MSRP $19,990-$24,090), and safe (standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0).

What We're Gonna Do

We picked up an Oxide Bronze XSE model, basically the top-of-the-line edition, which comes with things like 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, power driver seat, and leather/fabric interior. Two days after taking delivery, we already had the car at Auto Tuned installing the first set of RS-R coilovers. What's planned next includes RAYS wheels (duh!), Corbeau seats, big brakes, and Tom's Racing body kit and exhaust from Japan. We're still finalizing all the details, as the Corolla was first to market in the U.S. and there simply isn't much aftermarket support for it yet. But with the help of artist Jon Sibal, maybe this rendering can begin to make you believers that the new Corolla Hatchback has some potential.

2019 toyota corolla jon sibal rendering Photo 2/6   |   2019 Toyota Corolla Jon Sibal Rendering

Our goal is to make this look like something you'd find on the floors of Tokyo Auto Salon using authentic JDM parts such as the Tom's kit, TE37Saga wheels, and RS-R suspension. Shoutout to @jonsibal for helping us out with this sick rendering!

2019 toyota corolla passenger side profile Photo 3/6   |   2019 Toyota Corolla Passenger Side Profile
2019 toyota corolla passenger side rear view Photo 4/6   |   2019 Toyota Corolla Passenger Side Rear View

At first, we weren't sure about the Bronze Oxide paint, but when we lowered the hatchback on our 18-inch factory XSE wheels it's actually not too shabby!

2019 toyota corolla front bumper Photo 5/6   |   2019 Toyota Corolla Front Bumper

Already under the knife at Auto Tuned for the coilover install

005 2019 toyota corolla RS R coilovers kit Photo 6/6   |   005 2019 Toyota Corolla RS R Coilovers Kit

Overnight parts from Japan, literally! This is the first set of coilovers RS-R developed for the U.S.-spec Corolla, and it rides like a dream!

Sam Du
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