Sunday, June 26, 2022
Reviews 2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex Review: More Exclusive Than A Lamborghini

2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex Review: More Exclusive Than A Lamborghini

The Toyota Corolla SE Apex is about the driving experience without the speed

  • The 2021 Toyota Corolla is priced from $19,350 in Canada, $20,025 in the US.

  • Available in very limited quantities, this Corolla is for specific buyers.

  • The Corolla Apex is tuned to tackle apexes.

Once more, I find myself thinking about super high-powered cars that are, more or less, useless. I say this as I look out my office window at a 2021 BMW M5 Competition, which I’m thoroughly loving… The point is that the M5 can only truly be enjoyed a few seconds at a time. This is in stark contrast with the new 2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex which is always fun.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

I’m going to say something unpopular: High-powered automatic (slush-boxes or DCTs) cars are for people who typically fundamentally can’t drive. Driving, actual driving, is an art form that is quickly disappearing in favour of countless automated functions, driving computers, and systems designed to make the driver feel like an F1 champion. While I’m certainly not comparing my feeble skills with the likes of Colin McRae’s, I’d rather work for progress as he did in 1995.

Power is useless if it can’t be used

The Toyota Corolla SE Apex is a rare “sporty” car in 2021 where speed is not solely the result of a throttle stab but a reward for smart driving and maintaining momentum. This Corolla has a kindred spirit in the Mazda MX-5 where having under 200 horsepower is not a liability but a recipe for guiltless pleasure. Like the Miata, the Corolla Apex isn’t fast but it’s quick enough in the right hands.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The Apex starts life out as an SE with its naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. With 169 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm, the 4-pot needs to be wrung out to gain access to its power. The included 6-speed manual transmission is also lifted from the SE and together, they work. The car suffers, kind of, from some rev-hang, which makes rapid-fire shifting difficult to achieve smoothly. Despite this minor setback, a little more power would be welcomed if only because the Apex package pushes the chassis’ limits which would easily see it handle a few extra horsepower.

Apex it

This is what the Apex is all about. At $4,850, the Apex kit notably features a track-focused suspension that includes unique coil springs with a higher rate, specially tuned dampers, and unique solid stabilizer bars. The immediate effect of this kit lowers the Corolla by 0.6 inches (15.2mm) and once underway, the chassis’ increased roll stiffness means the car’s got a whole new set of skills. The Apex features a retuned EPS system as well.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Typically, these new abilities come at the expense of ride comfort, but the Apex also comes with jounce bumpers. Although they do mildly iron out the road’s surface, there’s no ignoring that this is Aunty Gertrude’s Corolla. It is my Corolla, the one I would consider ahead of a number of “lukewarm” compact cars.

The idea behind the new 2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex is momentum, as I mentioned. Had COVID not existed or been a pandemic of the past when I had the car, I would have begged Toyota Canada to allow me to join a Track and Time (local lapping club) time attack event. The key would be a strong start and attacking cones with ease at speeds thanks to the attractive flow-formed and lightweight 18-inch wheels shod with grippy Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires. Jumping on the throttle does reveal the Apex’s throatier specially developed cat-back exhaust system.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Completing the visual Corolla SE Apex’s visual enhancements includes a tasteful (really) black aerodynamic body kit with bronze accents, a pronounced front spoiler, side skirts and a semi-subdued rear trunk-lid-mounted spoiler. The dark accents superbly contrast the Cement Grey paint hue.

The most affordable way to properly cut corners

I noted earlier that more power would be a welcome addition to the Apex however nothing’s been done to enhance braking performance other than the wheel design aiding in cooling. I suspect that hard cone hunting would result in overcooked brake pads before too long. Given the 2021 Toyota Corolla SE Apex’s price, you’ll have a decent budget for pads and tires.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

At $27,440 for the tested unit, the Corolla Apex is about $9,000 cheaper than a current MK7.5 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The GTI is quicker but the Corolla might be just as much fun clipping apexes as the pumped-up Golf. If anything, it will be a far more exclusive ride.

Toyota Canada will have only 150 available for sale of which 50 will sport the manual transmission. The US will get 600 units including 120 with the 6-speed – Volkswagen Canada probably sells more GTIs any given month of the year.

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Toyota Corolla Apex | Photo: Olivier Delorme

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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