Review: 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Special Edition
Racy looks, not much performance.
To be all things to all people isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge that the Toyota Corolla has taken on year after year with great success.
The Corolla sold over 1.5 million copies globally in 2019, and is on track to hit 50-million all-time sales since it debuted back in 1966. It is to automobiles as Coke is to soft drinks and it’s one of the most familiar sights on the road no matter where you are on this planet.
Through a combination of inoffensive styling, bulletproof, efficient powertrains, and proven dependability in all types of climates and locales, this compact Toyota has effectively mobilized the modern world very much as the VW Beetle did before it.
But in order to stay relevant in the age of the crossover, the Corolla needed to expand its portfolio and add some fun into the mix. The current generation might just be the best looking to have ever left the factory floor, especially in hatchback form. If their goal was to attract a younger buyer, it’s an excellent effort.
Walking up to the limited-edition hatchback had me checking to make sure I had the right key fob in my hand, and that it didn’t have a GR badge somewhere on it. It doesn’t
Dipped in a sweet new colour called Supersonic red with black 18-inch wheels, and an aggressive looking body kit complete with faux dive planes, winged rocker panels, and a large roof spoiler, it wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a Fast and the Furious movie.
Take all of it away and the Hatchback is still an attractive vehicle with its slim LED headlamps, oversized grille, and clean body lines. It has genuine presence, a term that would have never been associated with a Corolla before.
Because there are only 200 of these special edition hatchbacks coming to Canada, and because “factory specials” have a sort of unspoken appeal to them, these will probably get snapped up quickly. However, nearly $3000 for what amounts to be nothing more than a body kit and a small badge on the deck lid would be much better spent elsewhere. If it’s performance you’re looking for, a good set of summer tires will be a smarter use of your cash.
The Special Edition Hatchback is based on the SE upgrade trim and so it comes well equipped with heated seats and a heated steering wheel (perfect for winter!), blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert. All Corolla Hatchbacks get an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system compatible with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, as well as a native navigation system, a rarity at this price point.
Also standard on all Corollas is Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0, a comprehensive suite of active safety and driver assistance tech that will help prevent or mitigate collisions. It’s an exceptional value, especially at the base price of $22,000. If you’re big on these systems it might be the best reason to go with a Corolla over some of the other competition.
The special edition hatch uses the same powertrain as the rest of the Hatchback lineup, so that means a 2.0-L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that produces 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to what Toyota calls a Direct Shift CVT that uses a traditional first gear to get you going before handing shifting duties over to its system of chains and pulleys. It feels better than what Honda uses but put your foot down at speed and it’s still a bit of a let down over a traditional stepped automatic.
Toyota has gone to great lengths to market the Corolla Hatchback to a more youthful audience by using words like dynamic, spirited, and exhilarating to describe what it feels like to drive one. They say it will make drivers pine for windy roads but in reality, the experience behind the wheel isn’t quite as fun as they’d have you believe.
Is it one of the better driving Corollas? Probably. It’s certainly more capable than the last generation but the only thing I was pining for was a bit more driving character to go with the flashy styling. The 4-cylinder sounds rough and unrefined at higher revs and the steering is dull and disconnected. Press too hard in the corners and the front end washes out quickly. Some of this is amplified by the soft winter tires on my tester but this hatch is far from the leader when it comes to handling dynamics.
Now before I get people writing me angry emails, know that I approached this specific Corolla thinking (hoping) that the racy looks would translate to the driving experience but sadly that was not the case.
Temper those expectations, however, and the Corolla Hatchback is a comfortable and quiet cruiser that will get terrific fuel economy and likely outlive its owner.
It’s a good hatchback too with a bump in cargo capacity for 2021 made possible by getting rid of the spare tire. You may or not be a fan of that move but it does save weight and you get 100 litres of extra space.
The back seats are still on the smallish side. At 6-feet I can squeeze in, but just barely, and I wouldn’t want to sit there for long. It’s definitely something to look at, especially when you consider that the Civic hatch is downright cavernous in comparison.
The Corolla paints with a wider brush. It’s the best selling car in the world because it’s a generalist and offers something for everyone. It’s dependable, comfortable, well made, and boasts some of the best safety tech in its class. If, however, you’re looking for a sportier experience or are the type that pines for windy roads, you’ll be better off looking at the competition.
2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT Special Edition
BODY STYLE: 5-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0-L inline-4; 168 hp @ 6600 rpm; 151 lb-ft torque @ 4800 rpm
TRANSMISSION : Direct Shift CVT
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 7.5 city; 5.8 highway; 6.7 combined
CARGO CAPACITY: 660 litres
PRICE: $30,731 (as-tested) includes freight and PDI of $1670
WEBSITE: Toyota Canada