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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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.
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