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2003 Toyota Corolla Sportivo - Forgotten fast cars

By Andy Enright, 27 Mar 2021 Features

2003 Toyota Corolla Sportivo - Forgotten fast cars

Andy Enright reflects on Toyota's 2003 attempt at hot hatch glory

THERE’S NO gentle introduction here. The Toyota Corolla Sportivo is one of the very worst hot hatches you can buy. I know because I bought one.

Like everybody else who did likewise, I was intrigued by the promise of Toyota build quality and Corolla practicality combined with an exotic 1.8-litre engine that featured variable valve timing and lift, and which would scream to an 8200rpm redline.

It sounded like the recipe for a great sleeper right up until that moment you tried to drive one round a corner.


The steering had the sort of nuanced feedback you’d expect from a vintage Atari Pole Position arcade game and the suspension never did a particularly great job of supporting the vehicle through a corner.

The gearshift was long of throw, the ratios for fifth and sixth gears were virtually inseparable, the seats lacked lateral support, the brake discs were undersized for the performance on offer and the interior offered about as much surprise and delight as a battered chicken head in your 10-pack of McNuggets.

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As a cohesive performance package, the Sportivo was woeful.


It certainly delivered on that combination of reasons that spurred the original buying decision though. The Yamaha-fettled 2ZZ-GE engine (as used in the Lotus Elise) was absolutely hilarious, switching personality at 6200rpm to zip through that final 2000rpm.

It takes some time for the engine to reach the VVTL-i’s activation, so the Sportivo can feel lethargic off-cam, but a gearshift just before 100km/h means it’s quicker in the real world than its 8.5sec figure suggests.

Accept the Sportivo’s flaws for what they are and it emerges as a cheap way to snag an interesting and reliable hatch.

It’s certainly no Civic Type R but it’s a third of the price of an EP3.

There’s hopeless and there’s endearingly hopeless.

I like to think of the Corolla Sportivo as the latter.

2003 Toyota Corolla Sportivo specs

Engine: 1796cc inline 4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 141kW @ 7600rpm
Torque: 181Nm @ 6800rpm
0-100km/h: 8.5sec
Weight: 1223kg