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To drifters (the kind that slide cars around tracks, not the ones who come into town on freight trains) there’s no more revered icon than the “AE86,” which was known over here as the 1985 to 1987 Toyota Corolla GT-S. With rear-drive, a solid rear axle, minimal curb weight, and a multi-valve 1.6-liter four in its nose, it’s a car that wants to be driven sideways. But the history of the Corolla since then has been one of steadily diminishing performance aspirations and steadily increasing utilitarianism. With the new Corolla XRS, Toyota finally tries to retrieve some street cred and it’s the most satisfying Corolla sold in America since the AE86.
To quote ourselves when this generation Corolla was introduced, “if Toyota really wants to attract more young buyers to the brand, they need to bring back more than just a single four-door body style in three modest trim levels to the market. How about an S sedan with the 180-horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission they’re offering in the Matrix XRS and Celica GT-S to start?” Well, that’s pretty much exactly what the XRS is.Corolla Outside, Celica Inside
The current Corolla is basically a mini-Camry. In fact it’s not even all that mini as, at 178.3-inches long, it’s exactly the same length as original 1983 Camry. Available only as a four-door sedan, it’s solid (like a Camry), staid (like a Camry), it’s front-drive (like a Camry), extremely well built (like a Camry) and pretty boring (like, yup, a Camry). And it looks like a Camry too.
The Corolla sells well in base CE, slightly luxurious LE and slightly sporty S trim and all three perform about identically since they’re all powered by the same 1.8-liter, all-aluminum, DOHC, 16-valve four equipped with Toyota’s VVT-I variable valve timing system. Making 130-horsepower, it’s not a bad powerplant and generally comparable to those in the mainstream Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra models. Whether backed by a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the engine is a fine companion, but never an exciting one.