Toyota is definitely on a roll: The refreshed TRD off-road lineup looks amazing, the Corolla XSE Hatchback was a pleasant surprise and there’s little doubt the long-awaited next-generation Supra will be anything short of outstanding. But looking at how long the new Supra has been on the campaign trail, gaining prestige from being co-developed with BMW alongside the upcoming Z4, I’m afraid Toyota will get lost in its own hype — it needs to stay grounded with its approach to performance. Toyota needs to bring back the Celica All-Trac.
Now, one could easily argue the GT86 lives comfortably where the Celica used too, in the 2+2 small sports car segment, but I’m not saying to bring the Celica name back, just the spirit of the car (forgetting the last generation in the early-aughts). What makes the new Corolla Hatchback so good is it’s just a regular car that handles and drives particularly well. Toyota is letting the masses find that out for themselves, not flogging it in a decade-long marketing campaign shouting it’ll be a return to greatness and a true sports car — overpromising and underdelivering.
The GT86 and Supra are cars for enthusiasts, marketed towards enthusiasts. In other words, instead of appealing to the broader population, Toyota is targeting a minuscule population hoping it gains some street cred back. But if it really wants to earn back its reputation for exciting yet affordable performance cars, the sporty R&D needs to go through the Corolla, like it did the Celica back in the ’80s and ’90s. Toyota gave the Celica a turbo and all-wheel-drive and took it rally racing, but the car flew under the radar while the Supra landed the headlines.
It was cars like this 1990 Celica All-Trac that helped earn Toyota the people’s champ title. This heavily modified example is why Toyotas fans flocked to the brand– they were fantastic platforms from the factory and affordable enough to add performance as you saw fit. But the beauty was that you didn’t need to to have an excellent driving experience.
Toyota experimented and gambled with the Celica (the upper-echelon Supra was the safe bet) but needs to bring back that ballsy spirit in the Corolla. Putting the next Supra up on a pedestal is a mistake, it should underplay it, but it’s too late for that, that hype train is already at full-steam. Let the autocross and affordable track day goers keep the rear-wheel-drive GT86. The Corolla is where Toyota should go wild; give it a turbo, AWD and 350 hp, don’t tell anyone and low-key steal the spot the Ford Focus RS is set to give up.
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter Inline-Four
Transmission: Five-Speed Manual
Location: Palm Harbor, Florida
Price When New: $21,008+
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