Remember the Corolla RSI – not the sedan from the 1990s but the hatchback (Conquest) from the end of the previous decade? The one that was so successful, as was its boxier predecessor, in Stannic Group N racing in the hands of such talented drivers as Mike White, Serge Damseaux, Leon Mare and Steve Wyndham? Well, it’s back – sort of.
The Corolla, best known in previous-generation Quest guise as the wheels of choice for Uber drivers, has been joined by a Corolla Hatch, which replaces the unexciting Auris. The latest Corolla sedan is vanilla-flavoured but it seems the times they are a changin’ as far as Toyota's five-door offering goes and the new Hatch is a case in point.
Things are changing on two levels. The first is the actual products from Toyota. The Supra is a reality (launch is mid-year, with its roadster step-brother – the BMW Z4 – just having been introduced) and with the continuation of the 86 nameplate assured, Toyota’s performance credentials are looking – well - credible.
The second sign is a statement by Toyota earlier this year that there will be ‘tiered’ levels of sportiness for certain road cars and one of the first signs of this was the racy Yaris GRMN . The nomenclature denotes the top tier and will comprise serious performance credentials as well as uprated braking and handling, coupled to styling cues which makes no secret of its leanings. Apparently GRMN means Gazoo Racing Masters Nurburgring…
Gazoo Racing Products will be one of three distinct pillars of Toyota’s 2019 metalwork campaign; the other GR “tiers” below the all-out GRMN being GR (denotes a substantial amount of power), GR Sport (focusing on suspension) and GR Parts – a cosmetic-only package. The Supra is described in some Toyota literature as a GR-Supra, while a special Hilux (with trick Fox suspension) will wear a GR-Sport badge.
Which brings us back to the Corolla and the fact that it is now available sans bootlid. A hatchback configuration immediately conjures up a sportier approach and Toyota has done a great design job with the five-door Corolla to convey that message. Styling is sassy with a bunch of sharp edges, creases and folds which give the longish nose a degree of menace. Then Toyota has kept the overall height nice and low and the track widths wide so that proportionally it’s easy on the eye.
I drove one down to KZN recently, delivering it to the team which looks after the brand’s press fleet in the province. Not only did I take it down but kept it for a week before handing it over. Short answer? It is an extremely impressive car with crisp steering, very tidy road manners and a six-speed manual ‘box which clicks precisely from one cog to the next.
The overall impression is of a car which provides more sensory feedback than I expected with none of the controls feeling over-assisted – not even the brakes, which rewarded a firm, progressive action. The gearbox has a rev-matching function so throttle ‘blips’ on downchanges are part of the fun. The 1.2-litre turbo is zesty.
So, it isn’t a wild stretch of the imagination to see a Corolla Hatch massaged by Gazoo Racing in a local Toyota showroom soon, with uprated suspension, bigger wheels, form-hugging seats with contrasting stitching and a suitable selection of carbon fibre exterior pieces on the menu.
If the GR-Sport Corolla hatch displayed at the Geneva Show (below) is anything to go by, life is going to become a whole lot more exciting for Toyota fans soon.