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Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential

The Drive logo The Drive 6/23/2022 Peter Nelson
Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential © Toyota / Peter Nelson Photoshop Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential

When it comes to new hatchbacks with fun engineered into their DNA, the pickings are awfully slim in 2022. It doesn’t help that Hyundai just announced that it’ll be killing production of the beloved Veloster N next month. Those who can’t afford the limited number of pricey all-out hot hatches are forced to look at more pedestrian tiers, and Toyota might have an option for the people: the front-wheel-drive, twelfth-generation, E210 2022 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Spoiler alert: Our own Editor-in-Chief Kyle Cheromcha said it was, "better than ever," back in 2018.

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And no, I’m not talking about the Corolla Cross. This is a genuine compact chassis Corolla hatch that’s based on Toyota's TNGA-C platform, shared by the Corolla sedan and the exciting new all-wheel-drive GR Corolla, which will have a turbocharged three-cylinder that makes a claimed 300 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque. 

The lukewarm Corolla hatch can’t stack up to the GR due to the massive drivetrain and powertrain differences (more on the latter), but it presents an interesting question. Can you still tune one for grippy, enthusiastic hot-hatch handling for a lot less money? Refreshingly, it has some fun ingredients, as well as an aftermarket to capitalize on them. Here’s why it could still be a great contender for those after that mild hotish-hatch life.

The Basics

From the factory, Toyota offers an optional six-speed manual, sport suspension setup, and sporty 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/40/18 all-season tires on the Corolla hatchback, depending on if you opt for the SE or XSE trims. That’s a good start.

It has a sedan sibling, too: the Corolla Apex. This version also features sportier suspension tuning, some neat ground effects, great-looking wheels, and stickier tires. Though, only a small number were produced in manual (keyword: were, sadly) which saps the fun out of it, as the CVT is incredibly annoying to experience. The Apex could've been a contender had it not been for America's obsession with refusing to shift its own gears.

For 2022, the SE and XSE hatchback trims come equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-four that produces 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Those are respectable, but the car unfortunately tips the scale at 3,029 pounds, which isn’t the most ideal power-to-weight ratio. Still, the 'Rolla has MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multilink fare in the rear, which is a good mix between keeping costs down up front while offering better tunability in the rear.

When Car and Driver tested a 2019 SE CVT model on Dunlop Enasave 01 A/S, 205/55R16 tires, it was able to hit 60 mph from a standstill in 8.3 seconds and pulled a maximum of 0.81 G on the skidpad. Those aren’t impressive figures in the slightest, but perhaps it’s a good basis for improvement with a little aftermarket investment.

Finally, aesthetics are subjective, but I think this thing looks great overall. Especially its determined, athletic-looking front end, which is important for a hatch that’s built for fun. The GR looks a bit more aggressive with its massive grille for improved cooling, massive wing (a similar unit is available on the non-GR hatch from Toyota), side skirts, and more, but the regular hatch looks plenty sporty as well.

A Respectable Amount of Aftermarket Potential

As someone who proudly owned a Mazda 2 for eight years, it’s such a bummer when a legitimately fun car’s aftermarket potential isn’t met. Or, the demand isn’t there and what aftermarket there is dies quickly.

Thankfully, at least for now, the same doesn’t appear to be afoot with the Corolla hatchback. A quick surf of the internet reveals that at least three companies, SpeedIndustry.com, KamiSpeed.com, and REMMotorsports.com, offer a wide variety of fun-adding products, both of the performance and visual variety. Exhaust systems, springs, shocks, coilover packages, intake systems, brake upgrades, and even sick wheels like Rays Gram Lights 57DRs are available. The latter is aided by the Corolla coming equipped with the common 5X100 bolt pattern. It looks like there are even some cool aesthetic upgrades from Cusco as well, which make it look far hotter. Plus, sharing a platform with the Corolla sedan and GR help ensure parts will be around for a while.

Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential © Toyota Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential

Enthusiasts have cobbled their Corolla hatches together into really neat rides, too, many of which are shown off on Instagram. Dave Pratte of Speed Academy on YouTube proudly called a 2020 Corolla hatchback his daily for a while and molded his into something quite cool. It’s a solid example that you don't need many mods to make the car look really good, and his top driving skills are a solid measure of how potent the chassis is.

Replay Video

After a couple of modifications to the suspension, wheels, and tires, the Corolla’s potency goes way up. Pratte was able to pull as much as 1.1 G in the corners, which is a massive upgrade over the factory 0.81 G on oem tires. I reached out to Pratte on Facebook for some more insight about his time with it. 

"For me it really hit a sweet spot of practicality, fuel efficiency, comfort, style and performance," Pratte said. "With the relatively simple mods we made, it's really fun to rip around a race track or down a twisty backcountry road, but around town it was everything you'd want from a modern hatchback with the peace of mind that a Toyota offers in terms of reliability and overall build quality. I think the only knock I can really offer is that the back seat leg room is limited compared to some of its competitors."

Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential © Cusco Don't Overlook the Base Toyota Corolla Hatchback's Tuning Potential

Acclaimed automotive photographer Larry Chen customized a Corolla hatch, as well, and has even used it as his camera car, meaning he can mount some equipment to the top of it to produce some epic work. I think it looks great in black with white rally-car-looking Fifteen52 wheels, plus some minor changes here and there. Again, this is a testament that these things are prime for exterior changes that look really good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5zbBCZV-tk The Last of Its Kind?

With considerations to its stock frame and potential, the Toyota Corolla hatchback seems like a pretty good buy as new or lightly used in 2022. It looks good, has decent enough factory specs, and can even enjoy a decent aftermarket. It might not be the upcoming GR Corolla, but less potent doesn’t mean worse. Plus, the existence of the GR variant means the aftermarket might expand for the regular Corolla hatchback, at least in terms of suspension parts, as they’re platform mates (though it’s too early to start cross-checking part numbers). 

The Corolla hatchback’s most endearing quality is that it isn’t a vivacious turbocharged beast like the upcoming GR. It sort of reminds me of the Mazda Protege5, which many people, myself included, regard as a very fun and well-handling subcompact, even if it sort of lived in the shadow of its sedan sibling the Mazdaspeed Protege. It could still be turned into a great little sport compact tuner car, yet it costs a lot less money up front and presumably could be easier on the wallet in terms of fuel costs and reliability concerns. I hope this thing sticks around for a while, because between it, the Honda Civic hatch, and the Mazda 3 hatch, the options are dwindling. Especially for those who want manual cars and don’t want to give in to the pressure to buy a compact SUV appliance.

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