IT’S a question that’s on every auto journo’s lips right now, and one that Yasushi Ueda, chief engineer of the 12th-generation Toyota Corolla, is probably sick to death of by now: is there a performance version of the new Corolla in the works?
The official answer is still elusive, and Ueda certainly isn’t spilling the beans just yet, but reading between the lines it’s clear that bringing a proper C-segment hot hatch to market is a high priority at Toyota’s head office.
Asked whether he’d like to expand the Corolla family to incorporate a bona-fide performance derivative, Ueda was forthright with his own personal opinion.
“Personally, strongly, I would prefer to have one,” he said, laughing. “Unfortunately, at launch timing, there is nothing I can talk about.”
But it’s clear that Ueda is keen on the idea of a hopped-up Corolla. His first car was a sporty AE92 Corolla two-door, so he’s no stranger to the idea of hatchbacks that are fun to drive fast.
Does the AE92 ring a bell? Of course it does – they spent plenty of time orbiting a certain mountain in regional NSW in the early 1990s, and were surprisingly rapid for the time.
The burning question is, what will power a future hot Corolla? The entire hot hatch field moved to turbocharged powertrains years ago, but in this country the Corolla remains staunchly naturally-aspirated, with a 1.8-litre hybrid or 2.0 litre petrol the only engines on offer.
A 1.2-litre turbo petrol is available with the new model in some overseas markets, but it’s a low-emissions motor more than anything else, an engine designed to sip fuel to avoid the taxman. Its 85kW output tells you all you need to know about its intent.
There are rumours that another hybrid option is being considered for a Corolla performer, but the most obvious solution would be a development of the 12th-gen Corolla’s fresh new “Dynamic Force” 2.0-litre. Built on an all-alloy block architecture and boasting direct injection and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust cams, the engine already makes a healthy 125kW/200Nm without the aid of a turbocharger – or even high-octane petrol. Its thermal efficiency (the amount of energy it’s able to extract from a given quantity of 91RON), is a world-leading 40 percent.
The hardware story is off to a good start, then. Asked by Wheels whether the Dynamic Force 2.0L could be adapted to forced induction, Ueda indicated that Toyota’s vast engineering department could certainly find a way.
“It can be turbocharged, technically yes,” Ueda said. “But other investigation is required. At this stage I can’t say if it would be okay or not okay”.
Delving deeper into technical details, it was made clear that the ultra-high 13.0:1 compression ratio and undersquare bore-and-stroke dimensions of the Dynamic Force 2.0L would need to be addressed if it was going to be adapted into a performance car powertrain.
The good news is the chassis would require far less work. Having now driven the Corolla on local roads (read our first drive review here), it’s obvious that the Corolla’s brand-new underpinnings can take a lot more than the 2.0 atmo’s 125kW.
The move to make a multi-link rear suspension was largely driven by a desire to inject the Corolla with a more fun-to-drive persona, and it’s worked. Meanwhile the rejigged MacPherson strut front end offers geometry that enhances cornering competence, and is augmented by brake torque vectoring that actively cancels out understeer. Meanwhile the bodyshell, built on Toyota’s still-fresh TNGA platform, is a whopping 60 percent more torsionally rigid than the previous generation – another performance-enhancing trait.
Note that we’re talking about attributes that are baked into every single Corolla sold here, not sports-tuned variants sitting on big wheels and sticky rubber. Expect more tricks to be applied to a Corolla that’s actually intended to be driven like a hooligan.
This is no accident. Ueda spent four years in Toyota’s European engineering centre as a chassis engineer, where he became intimately familiar with the dynamic virtues of vehicles from Volkswagen, BMW, and others. When benchmarking rivals for the Corolla, Ueda zeroed in on the Golf, Civic and Mazda 3 – all cars lauded for their on-road handling.
“Mainly for the dynamic performance we benchmarked Golf, Civic and Mazda 3. Sometimes better handling cars are not good riding cars, and good riding cars don’t’ have good handling. But we want to have both of them – the best performance balance between ride and handling.”
The idea of a Corolla-based performance car is one that Toyota’s local boss, Sean Hanley, finds supremely appealing. Asked if he was keen on one for the Australian market, his response was emphatic.
“Yeah, of course! I mean, who wouldn’t. I think there’s a real appetite in Australia for performance cars, and if we can successfully bring Supra to market – and we’re yet to confirm that – but if we could then that’s important to our future, and exciting.”
When asked if he’d relayed that enthusiasm to Toyota’s top brass, Hanley hinted that many in Toyota’s head office felt the same way.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve put the hard word on anyone,” Hanley said, grinning, “but I think our TMC colleagues have the same desires as we all do, and that’s to bring exciting, fun to drive cars to market.”