Class: Compact Car
Miles driven: 74
Fuel used: 2.5 gallons
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||B|
|Power and Performance||B|
|Fit and Finish||B-|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||169-hp 2.0L|
|Drive Wheels||Front-wheel drive|
Real-world fuel economy: 29.9 mpg
Driving mix: 50% city, 50% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 31/38/34 (city, highway, combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Base price: $25,070 (not including $995 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Apex rear spoiler ($375), carpet floor mats ($169)
Price as tested: $26,609
The great: Peppy, efficient powertrain; dialed-in cornering capabilities
The good: Distinctive performance-car styling touches; decent passenger and cargo room; affordable pricing for a special-edition car
The not so good: Harsh ride; no horsepower boost over other sport-themed Corollas
Oh, so now the Toyota Corolla wants to be a sport sedan? Now—after what seems like 193 years of unassuming economy-car frugality? That is the improbable message one gets from the Corolla Apex Edition models that are new for 2021. Stranger yet, it fits a pattern.
Not only is Toyota sticking to a traditional “three-sedan” product program in a day when some other automakers are adopting a “no-sedan” philosophy, but it is adding enhanced-performance versions to cars that never had them before. Twenty twenty saw TRD (for Toyota Racing Development) models granted to the congenitally tame large Avalon and midsize Camry. Now the compact Corolla sedan receives the Apex treatment with chassis and aero changes that are available on SE and XSE models.
There are limits to how far Toyota is willing to go with this: 6000 Apex-equipped cars will be built, and just 120 of them—all SEs—will have a 6-speed manual transmission with rev-matching control for downshifts. All the rest feature a “Dynamic Shift” continuously variable transmission (CVT) that uses meshed gears for “first-gear” launches before transitioning to the usual CVT belt-and-pulley operation.
An SE Apex Edition with CVT like the one that Consumer Guide tested starts at $26,065 with delivery, which is $2695 more than a comparable SE without Apex accoutrements. (The $26,455 manual-shift SE Apex and $29,205 XSE Apex each cost $2385 more than their respective counterparts.) The extra money secures a suspension with higher-rate springs that lower the Corolla by 0.6 inch and reduce roll angle in cornering, stiffer shock absorbers with internal rebound springs, more-rigid solid stabilizer bars, and specific jounce bumpers. Wheels are lighter-weight 18-inch flow-formed cast-aluminum rims painted gloss black and shod with either all-season or grippier summer tires. The electronic power steering is specifically calibrated for the Apex, and a distinct catback exhaust with more growl to it ends in a conical 3.5-inch stainless-steel tip.
Special trim includes a black body kit with bronze accents on the front spoiler, rocker-panel extensions, and rear diffuser. Just three paint colors are offered for Apexes: Black Sand Pearl, Super White (with Black Sand Pearl roof), and Cement (with Black Sand Pearl roof)—the last of which is exclusive to the sport model. Other Apex standard-equipment differences from the base SE are a color-keyed decklid spoiler, bronze interior stitching, Smart Key system, and push-button starting. What are you missing by not getting the XSE Apex? Black rear spoiler, blind-spot monitor, moonroof, heated front seats in SofTex leatherette, 8-way power driver’s seat, chrome-edged speedometer and tachometer dials, larger 7-inch vehicle-information display, and additional connected services.
One key piece of equipment that’s common to all SEs and XSEs is the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. This naturally aspirated powerplant huffs out 169 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4400 revs. With the launch-gear CVT, a 2.0-liter Corolla musters a better-than-expected charge off the line. CG’s own testing of a ’20 XSE with this powerteam resulted in 0-60-mph time of 8.55 seconds. Slightly lighter and marginally lower to the ground, the SE Apex Edition might conceivably be a wisp quicker than that. The Dynamic Shift CVT reserved for the 2.0 engine features 10 simulated sequential “shifts” and includes shifter paddles behind the steering wheel for drivers who want to call their own shots. This bandbox (it’s not really a gearbox, is it?) behaves a little better than most dull CVTs and “kicks down” well enough for decent passing power.
EPA fuel-economy estimates for CVT-equipped Apexes are 30 mpg in city driving, 38 on the highway, and 33 combined—a mile or so per gallon less than cars without the sport package get. (The projections with the manual transmission are lower still.) This reviewer saw 29.95 mpg from a run of 74 miles with 50 percent city-style driving.
The steps taken to improve cornering control seem to have worked. Our SE Apex resisted body roll very well in some of the tighter corners we ran it through. While not a font of feedback, steering is perhaps a little crisper than we’ve seen from other current-generation Corolla sedans. However, if the notion of a sportier Corolla has a dark side, it’s in the ride. There’s very little compliance over cracks or rail tracks. In fact, this is probably the stiffest-riding vehicle we’ve had through our test fleet in recent memory.
Considering that the current Corolla sedan was all new for the 2020 model year, the ’21 is little changed at its core. Android Auto smartphone compatibility joins the existing Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa features to round out the connectivity package. Automatic engine shut-off does just what it sounds like it does if the engine is left running to a predetermined time. All models get a 3-month satellite-radio all-access trial, and rear side air bags are added.
There’s no fundamental change to passenger space, which is decent for the class. Though rear seat backs are somewhat upright, there’s enough legroom for 6-footers—though they might wish for a little more headroom. Personal-item storage falls to a decently sized glove box, a smallish console box, door pockets, and a pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. Cup holders are set in the console and the pull-down armrest in the rear seat. The 6-speaker audio system and automatic climate control are easy to use.
The wide trunk opening reveals 13.1 cubic feet of cargo space. Rear 60/40 seat backs fold nearly flat, but at a level several inches above the level of the trunk floor, and there’s a bulkhead that narrows passage from the trunk to the rear-seat area.
It’s not unheard of to have a sporty model in the utilitarian compact-sedan class. Consider the Honda Civic Si. The Corolla Apex may lag a little in power and refinement to the Si, but wouldn’t you know it, the Si isn’t on offer for 2021. Now might be the right time for this sprightlier Toyota.
(Click below for enlarged images)
2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex Edition Gallery
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