With extroverted styling and a newfound emphasis on driving dynamics, the Toyota Corolla hatchback aims to push back against its maker’s reputation for building boring cars. But what if Toyota pushed things even further, and developed a performance version of the Corolla to challenge other automakers’ hot hatchbacks?
Toyota is open to building a sporty Corolla hatchback, but hasn’t made any firm plans yet, Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the 86 and Supra sports cars, told Australian website carsales.com.au. The website said Australian executives are lobbying hard for a performance version of the Corolla, possibly badged “GR” in reference to Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division. But Tada tried to keep expectations in check.
“We have lots of requests from different countries, so it’s really, really challenging to decide on the order [of performance models],” Tada said.
Transforming a humble economy car into a performance hero is something automakers do frequently. Volkswagen currently offers its Golf GTI and Golf R hot hatchbacks in the United States, while Honda has its Civic Type R. Subaru sells the WRX and WRX STI sedans. Other models have come and gone in the past, including the Ford Focus RS and ST and Mazdaspeed 3.
Toyota has traditionally stayed out of this fight, but that doesn’t mean Japan’s largest automaker has to remain on the sidelines permanently. Hyundai doesn’t have much experience with sporty cars, but it just launched a performance sub-brand called N. The first model sold in the U.S. is the Veloster N, while other markets get the i30 N. The main difference is the body style: The i30 is a conventional five-door hatchback, while the Veloster gets a quirky three-door arrangement.
Cars like these are popular because they’re based on ordinary economy models. That keeps the price down and maintains a modicum of practicality. They also give an image boost to the plebeian models they’re based on, known in the auto industry as the “halo effect.” The Civic Type R, for example, attracts lots of attention, but most customers end up driving out of the dealership in a regular Civic hatchback.
A sporty Corolla hatchback would show that Toyota is serious about making its cars more exciting, and would give buyers one more practical performance option. But it’s unclear if such a car will actually get built, or if Toyota would sell it in the U.S. Meanwhile, Toyota is moving ahead with its revived Supra sports car, which debuts at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.
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