Driven: Is The 2022 Toyota Corolla Apex Edition A Perfect Entry-Level Enthusiast's Car?

Test Drive / 7 Comments

In short: Sort of.

When it comes to entry-level enthusiast cars that can comfortably pull double-duty for commuting and loading up with friends at the weekend, the obvious choice is typically a Honda Civic. The Corolla is usually for sensible people that want something with Toyota's relentless efficiency, value, and reputation for reliability. The latest Corolla narrows the gap on the Civic when it comes to driving dynamics and spawned the Apex Edition. Don't think of it as Toyota's answer to the Honda Civic Si, although it does come with a sport-tuned suspension, a sport-tuned (louder) exhaust, Apex wheels, and the choice of a manual transmission with automatic rev-matching technology.

Instead, the Corolla Apex Edition is much cheaper, less refined, and comes with the standard 169 horsepower of the Corolla in both SE and XSE foundation trim levels. A Civic Si will cost you $28,100 to get into, while a Corolla Apex Edition starts at $25,960. Don't write the Apex Edition off, though, if you're looking for a fun daily driver. We found it quite entertaining, cheap to run, and as practical as a Corolla. However, it's far from perfect.

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Styling: Sporty Corolla

The Corolla's styling isn't for everyone with its sloped front and rear end, but if you like it, the lower stance and additional sharp black trim should appeal. There's not much going on to help aerodynamics, though, other than the strange-looking little spoiler. The Apex wheels are an option on all the Corolla models for an extra $800, but they are standard on the Apex edition. We like that the styling isn't over the top, but the big Apex badge on the back in an odd font feels like it was stuck on as an afterthought, which is a shame as the Apex name goes back to the legendary AE86 model from the 1980s and deserves a bit more care and attention.

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Powertrain: We Didn't Expect Auto Rev-Matching

The Corolla SE and XSE's engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder lump making 169 hp at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. It's no pocket rocket, but perfectly acceptable for a commuter car and surprisingly fun to wring out with a manual transmission. The other option is a CVT, but the model we were sent was the manual. The zero to 60 mph time is somewhere north of six seconds, so it's not a traffic light racer. The big benefit is that the EPA-estimated rating for the CVT optioned model is 34 mpg combined and 31 mpg combined for the manual. It positively sips fuel, even if you are wringing it out to redline. At the same time, though, the engine buzzes rather than barks or roars.

The transmission is light, both in the clutch and the long throw. It's also crazy easy to drive, and you could teach someone in an hour or so to drive a manual with it. The auto rev-matching has to be selected each time you start the car, so Toyota isn't nannying new drivers here. In traffic, we love it as it will help make that clutch last longer without having to be a heel-toe-hero in traffic every day.

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On The Road: Too Stiff

Ride quality over a standard Corolla is diminished by the harsher suspension, which feels like an aftermarket suspension rather than an OE one. Younger enthusiasts may relish it, but the passengers won't. Not that it's rock hard, it isn't; it just doesn't have any sophistication in its compliance over bumps. However, it's designed for spirited driving on curvy roads and does the job of keeping the chassis flat and the wheels in full contact with the tarmac well. The tuning is pretty good and gives the Corolla upgraded agility and directness in the steering.

While sporty, it feels safe to push harder than a normal Corolla, and the grippier tires let you know before they start the slide into understeer. The lack of power to make up for finesse means you'll have to learn about maintaining momentum through corners to get the most out of the Apex Edition, which isn't a bad thing. In that respect, the name is apt. It's certainly no track weapon, though.

Around town, it's the same as any other Corolla but with more bumps. Again, that's not a bad thing. It'll merge into traffic easily and likes to get a little hustle on.

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Interior: More Corolla

The interior of the Corolla is basic, comfortable, and built to last, and that goes for the Apex Edition. The seats are basic but comfortable, although they don't help keep bodies in place when cornering. The tech is well chosen for the price range, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality comes standard with the eight-inch touchscreen. The underlying infotainment system isn't anything special, but it's smooth and quick, and the user interface is logically laid out. Space in the back is suitable for a couple of kids or adults on shorter runs, and cargo space is ideal for a weekly two-person grocery run.

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Verdict: Fun, But Could Do Better

Put simply, for the money we would save for the Civic Si. The Apex Edition is fun but feels half-hearted in the suspension department. It feels like a car borrowed from a neighbor's kid with cheap aftermarket shocks stuck on it. The manual transmission is great for a first-timer, auto rev-matching is a nice bonus, and wringing the engine out is fun. However, the engine is hard to get a thrill out of, and the tuned exhaust sounds no different from inside the car. On top of that, the Apex Edition is limited, but nobody will be excited seeing one on the road. While we wouldn't stop anyone from buying one, we wouldn't blame a young enthusiast for skipping it to buy a used Corolla and hitting the aftermarket to find a better result for less.

While we don't expect the Apex Edition to be a halfway house to the new GR Corolla, we expect more from a name that has an icon attached to it.

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