When we tested the new Toyota Corolla sedan at our 2020 Car of the Year competition, we were surprised by how much fun it was to drive. Now, Toyota is looking to maximize the sporting potential of its (newly minted) smallest four-door with the new Corolla Apex Edition. Not only is it literally the apex predator of the Corolla range, it also aims to quite literally clip apexes both on and off track.
Toyota plans to make just 6,000 Apex Editions, each offered in one of three different color options. You have your choice of Cement with a black roof, Super White, also with a black roof, or Black Sand Pearl. Regardless of color, the Apex features a racier aero kit that includes a new front splitter, redesigned fog light covers, sporty body side moldings, a reworked rear bumper, and a trunk-lid spoiler. Toyota blacks out the Apex Edition’s body kit, which also features sweet-looking bronze accents, to further set the model apart from other, less-focused Corollas.
Underneath the skin, the Apex gets new springs that lower the car by 0.6 inch to help reduce body movements while cornering. Backing up the shorter springs are dampers the company specifically tuned for the Apex Edition, as well as stiffer anti-roll bars to help increase body control through corners. In total, the Apex Edition’s suspension is 47 percent stiffer at the front and 33 percent stiffer in the rear.
Underneath the wheel arches sit a new set of 18-inch alloy wheels that are 2.2 pounds lighter at each corner. Toyota claims it specifically designed the wheels to aid in cooling the brakes, meaning you can drive harder for longer without boiling your stoppers. Either summer or all-season rubber clings to the new wheels. If you don’t live in an area where all-season tires are a must, you should probably spec the summer tire.
Despite a number of significant changes to make the Apex Edition sportier, Toyota has opted not to give the little sedan any more power. That means the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder from the Corolla XSE still makes 169 hp at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque does come in a little higher in the rev range, though; 4,800 rpm compared to the regular XSE’s 4,400 rpm. Toyota didn’t explain the slightly higher torque peak but it did note that a two-discharge-port oil pump and an electric water pump have made the engine more thermally efficient.
There is, however, one major win when it comes to the Apex Edition’s powertrain: The little four-banger can be paired with a six-speed manual. There’s an optional CVT, as well, but if you’re going for sporty driving, deep down you know an automatic just isn’t the way to do it. The manual also features iMT-that’s Toyota-speak for automatic rev-matching. As such, even those who aren’t familiar with the art of heel-and-toeing can downshift with confidence during more spirited driving.
Even though the Apex Edition is the big news, don’t think for one moment that Toyota has forgotten about the rest of the Corolla range. For 2021, all Corollas get Android Auto in addition to Apple CarPlay compatibility. There are also new rear side airbags (two, specifically) that bring the total number in the car up to 10. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are now standard kit on XLE and XSE grades and are optional on LE, LE Hybrid, and SE trims. The SE Nightshade model returns for 2021, too, and all Corollas get an automatic engine shut-off system that turns the four-pot off if it’s left idling for too long.
Production for all 2021 Corollas—except the Apex Edition—is already underway. Look for production of the Apex Edition to start at the end of September, with examples hitting dealer lots by the end of October.