Believe It or Not: Toyota Corollas Weren’t Always Boring

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Believe It or Not: Toyota Corollas Weren’t Always Boring

If the current Toyota Corolla were to write an autobiography, it would be titled Fifty Shades of Beige.

Despite recent attempts to liven up the Corolla with aggressive bodywork, when it all comes down to it, the Corolla is safe, sensible motoring in its purest form. It’s the car you recommend to your grandparents or a college student looking for their first car. It’s easy to use, easy to maintain, sips fuel and it’s reliable. There’s a good reason the Corolla is the Number One selling vehicle nameplate of all time worldwide.

But the Corolla hasn’t always been a complete sensible snoozapalooza. Over its 11 generations, there have been some cool Corollas. Words like drifting, superchargers and rally racing have all been connected to the Corolla in the past. Below is a sampling of 10 cool Corollas through the years that won’t put you to sleep.


1973-Toyota-Corolla

1972 Toyota Corolla Levin (SR5) Coupe

In 1972, the first Corolla Levin Coupe was introduced that featured a twincam, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. In Japan, the Levin could make upwards of 114 hp, while the American version, called the Corolla SR5, made due with 102 hp.


1985 Toyota Corolla

1985 Toyota Corolla Levin AE86

The Toyota Corolla Levin AE86 is a legend in the drifting world. A lightweight, rear-wheel-drive compact, the AE85 and AE86 made perfect springboards for many aspiring drifters. In Japan, it could be had with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 128 hp, while North Americans had to once again settle for a lower output of just 112 hp. But at least the five-speed manual and limited-slip differential could still be had on our shores.


1989 Toyota Corolla, 4WD

1988 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Wagon

In 1988, the sixth-generation Toyota Corolla was introduced and it included all-wheel-drive variants. Available as a sedan or wagon, it was the All-Trac wagon that was the cooler of the two, predating today’s obsession with all-wheel-drive wagons by a few decades. Power once again came from a 1.6-liter engine that could be paired to a manual or automatic transmission.


1989 Toyota Corolla

1988 Toyota Corolla GT-S

With the sixth-generation Corolla, rear-wheel-drive variants were dropped from the lineup. This left the front-wheel-drive coupe as the sportiest of the Corolla range, which actually wasn’t a bad thing. Called the GT-S, the performance Corolla came with a 1.6-liter engine that initially made 115 hp in 1988 and would be increased to 135 hp for the 1990 model year.


1988-Toyota-Corolla-Levin-GT-Z

1990 Toyota Corolla Levin GT-Z

While North Americans enjoyed the Corolla GT-S, those in Japan got something really special. Under the hood resided a 1.6-liter engine force-fed by a supercharger. Essentially the same unit as found in the mid-engine MR2 sports car, in the 1990 Corolla Levin GT-Z it developed 165 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque.


1993-Toyota-Corolla-Levin-GT-Z

1993 Toyota Corolla Levin GT-Z

The seventh-generation Corolla may be remembered in North America as the dullest of the dull, but in other countries, it could be a real fire-breather. Still equipped with the supercharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, the 1993 Corolla Levin GT-Z now made a few more ponies, totaling 168 hp. Like the previous generation GT-Z, the car was easily identifiable due to its prominent hood scoop that fed air to an engine mounted intercooler.


1996-Toyota-Corolla-BZ-Touring-Wagon

1996 Toyota Corolla BZ Touring Wagon

The eighth-generation Corolla was available with an updated version of Toyota’s 20-valve, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It now made 163 hp – almost as much as the previous supercharged engine. The powerplant could be found in many different Corolla variants, but the coolest has to have been the BZ Touring Wagon.


2005-Toyota-Corolla-RunX-Z-Aero-Tourer

2005 Toyota Corolla RunX Z Aerotourer

In the early 2000s, a hot hatch version of the Corolla emerged in Japan called the RunX Z Aerotourer. These five-door Corollas came equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine unleashing 187 hp. That four-banger may sound familiar to North Americans, as it was essentially the same unit used in the Celica GT-S. A six-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic could be paired to the four-cylinder.


2005-Toyota-Corolla-XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

North America wasn’t left out in 2005, as we too received the high-revving version of Toyota’s 1.8-liter engine in a Corolla. Having been available for a few years in the Corolla Matrix hatchback, the sedan received the engine in 2005, but power was down a bit, rated at 170 hp. The XRS would live on in the next generation Corolla and Matrix, but the engine used was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with power only pegged at 158 hp.


2005-Toyota-Corolla-T-Sport-Compressor

2006 Toyota Corolla T-Sport Compressor

Similar to the Corolla RunX Z Aerotourer, the European-only Corolla T-Sport Compressor is the ultimate Corolla. Stuffed with a 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine, the Compressor unleashed an impressive 215 hp. Only 250 examples were ever produced and they weren’t exactly cheap, but it was a factory-backed, 200+ hp Corolla.

Discuss this story on our Toyota Corolla Forum

  • Bug S Bunny

    Toyota hasn’t really made an exciting car for some time. MR-S and MR-2 = gone; Celica = gone; Supra = gone; Corolla GTS = gone. What do they have now? Simple, reliable transportation appliances and nothing more.

  • “made due”

    *made do

    Also, it would really be nice if more options, including sport and estate, were still available on the Corolla.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Thank you Autoguide for putting this together! So many awesome variants, but my favorites have to be the ’72 coupe, ’96 BZ Wagon, and the ’06 Compressor.,

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    FR-S, and the upcoming Supra. I think people are getting lazy because lets face it, if you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen. Specifically I’m talking about tuning. I think Toyota is trying to encourage people to get back into with the FR-S. It’s probably the perfect modern day platform for modding and if you want to turbo a Corolla, why not do it?

    Honda used to be the brand to tune, but now you can get a Civic with a turbo from the factory and it’s so well engineered I wouldn’t even want to mess with it for fear of breaking something. Toyota’s on the other hand have evolved with the times, but are still relatively simple, blank canvasses, so I say have at it!

    The price difference between a Base Corolla with 6 spd Manual and an FR-S is roughly $7k. If you dropped $5k in mods on the Corolla, you walk away with roughly $2k for gas/insurance/whatever and a unique vehicle.

  • Toyota4Life

    The corolla is a legend. Thank you for this post !

    This is the reasons why Toyota is my favorite brand they have TONS of awesome models over the years. I dont care what new models are one sale today its the olders ones that I lust after. The corolla has been a jack of all trades it has more performance models then alot of it competitors.

  • Toyota4Life

    Does it matter if its disconutied or not? Its still exist LOTS of car guys lust over older cars more then new one.

    Toyota in general has had a freaking lot of performance cars under its belt combined. Add Lexus to the model and Toyota has more performance cars then some brand have models !

  • Mike

    I just purchased a 2017 Corolla SE in Blue Crush. Didn’t have a lot of time to shop around as my other car was a total loss in an accident. Looked at the new Civic which is nice, and looked at the Impreza, although I really wanted to wait for the 17 Impreza which has YET to be released. Anyhow with the Honda CVT and turbo engine issues I looked at the 17 Corolla and boy was I surprised. For 17 every Corolla model from base to top of the line comes standard with automatic high beams, lane assist(very nice feature), dynamic cruise control which is my favorite option, and automatic braking, pedestrians included. On a Honda that would have cost me over $2k more, same with the current Impreza. The 17 Corolla is a great deal with all the safety features. Sure, it could use a little more power but it more than adequately pulls me up up steep hills while more than maintaining the speed limit. And the Civic, as well as the Impreza are also CVTs. This was my first CVT. Toyota has done a good job on it, and the reliability is proven. I know I made the right choice. I don’t feel that I settled either. And for the record, I came from a $42k 2013 Avalon Limited. The only thing missing to some folks is blind spot monitoring, but in car with such good visibility and the size of the Corolla, it’s not a necessary option.