Testing the AE71 Corolla SR5

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Toyota is slowly but surely getting its design mojo back. Vanilla is being replaced with thirty-onederful flavors of new and interesting. Even the lowly Corolla is poised to shed the bland skin of the outgoing 11th-generation sedan like the XRS model we just tested this month, in favor of design themes previewed by the new 12th-gen hatchback that goes on sale in July. Back in May of 1984, we road-tested a Corolla SR5 Sport Liftback that calls to mind both the bold design of the new hatchback and the quotidian underpinnings of the outgoing sedan. Let’s let then executive editor Kevin Smith walk us through this fourth-gen (AE71) Corolla SR5.

Supra Outside, Econobox Inside

A mid-cycle refresh brought such stylish flourishes as hidden headlights to the rear-drive Corolla SR5 coupe and SR5 Sport liftback models. These were designed to remind onlookers of the SR5’s flashier and higher performing big brother: “This is a car built with econobox hardware, but packaged in the style of higher-line image cars. It looks sleek and middling-flashy, but performs with budget-minded restraint. It costs just $8,000, but packs much of the Supra’s visual flair. It is, in fact, very much a baby Supra—no buts about it.”

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Fancy Furnishings

“In its interior trimmings, the Corolla Sport again belies its economy car foundation. The Sport package (it’s an option group, distinct from the Sport model name) includes a pair of seats that look fabulous—modernistic head restraints, snug and (on the driver’s side) adjustable upper body bolsters, and clean upholstery materials in boldly contrasting colors, which carry on throughout the cockpit. Unfortunately, they are perhaps a bit longer on cosmetic appeal than they are on comfort, though these seats and our own came to happier agreement as we built up time in the car. For content, layout, and aesthetics, the Corolla Sport interior gives its big brother Supra a pretty good run. Of course, the Supra has the horsepower to pull all its hardware around, whereas the Corolla Sport feels the load.”

Abundant Choice

By 1984 the Corolla had become the “largest, best-selling single line of cars in the world,” and it did so the Burger King way, by letting you “have it your way.” “Toyota’s 1984 Corolla family must set some record for diversity. Not only are there two-door and four-door body styles—each available with notchback and hatchback roominess—but there is even a choice of drivetrain layout. The ‘family’ Corolla, the upright four-door with a genuine back seat, uses a transverse front-engine, front-drive arrangement for best use of space. The Sport is a slippery looking two-door coupe employing the same engine mounted lengthwise, powering the rear wheels.”

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Why RWD?

“Company literature cites balance, response, and handling as the reasons for staying with rear drive. There are likely also some cost advantages, especially considering that nearly two decades of stern-drive Corollas have preceded the current Sport. To be convinced of rear-wheel drive’s superior overall performance dynamics, all you have to do is list all the serious road racing cars (not production-based) whose designers chose front drive.”

Son-of-Supra Handling

“Toss the Sport around a tight arc and lay on the throttle (in a low gear… with lots of revs… and maybe a little water across the road), and the tail will sweep out manageably. Clap the throttle closed entering a slow downhill bend, and engine braking will have a similar effect. We’re not talking white-knuckle, adrenalin-pumping, see-your-whole-life oversteer here; it’s just a pleasantly playful balance that can enliven your drive home from work, if the terrain is right. It’s a refreshing change from the choice of cornering postures offered by the typical FWD econobox, i.e., lots of front-end push or lots and lots of front-end push.”

Vintage Iron

A GT-S model powered by a DOHC 16-valve engine would join the Corolla lineup for 1985, but in 1984 we made do with an A-series iron-block/aluminum-head SOHC engine design dating to the ’70s. “Power for the Sport comes from the 4A-C four-cylinder engine. It is unchanged from last year, and unremarkable in its specifications: 1,587cc, a 2-bbl carburetor, and 70 hp at 4,800 rpm. Torque also peaks at moderate revs (2,800), all of which is fortunate considering this engine’s vibration levels at higher rpm. Accelerating gently in first, the vibes and noise demand an upshift by 4,000 rpm. Under load, it’s smoother, and is no trouble at all in a fifth-gear cruise; the Sport putters along at 75 quite contentedly. You’ll find nothing daring or pioneering under the Corolla hood—no fuel injection, auxiliary intake valves, or twin spark plugs. The cylinder head isn’t even a cross-flow type.”

Hefty

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“At over 2,200 pounds, the SR5 Liftback weighs some 100 pounds more than its front-drive four-door sibling, which makes no pretensions to performance at all. Since their engines are identical, the sleek-looking Sport is actually a tad slower than the boxy sedan. Embarrassing? Maybe a little, as when Volkswagen’s sexy Karmann Ghia came out heavier and slower than the homely Bug.”

Adequate Acceleration

“Giving all it can from a standing start, the humble little motor needs almost 13 sec to muster 60 mph, and that’s with our test car’s five-speed manual transmission (an automatic is also listed in the brochure, which, as far as we’re concerned, is probably where it should stay). So performance—while adequate for dueling with normal traffic—will not win many devoted fans on its own.”

Eco Is as Eco Does

“A fuel economy rating of 32 mpg in the EPA’s city cycle will appeal more strongly to the Corolla audience. We averaged 28.2 mpg in our heavy-footed testing, and consumption on this order combines with a fair asking price ($7,778 to start, well under $10,000 loaded) to make ownership realistically affordable. Which is the whole point of an economy car, right? Except it doesn’t look like any econobox you’ve seen before. The Corolla Sport is sleek beyond its means, with gently rounded contours, a droop-snoot and sloping roofline, aero-bits all over, and even—bless my budget!—retractable headlights.”

A Matter of Perspective

Smith concluded that the quirky, fast-looking, slow-driving SR5 topped a class of one, and that appreciating its merits was simply a matter of perspective. “Until something else comes along to flesh out this category, the Corolla SR5 Sport will remain a one-of-a-kind, an economical little runabout that skipped the front-drive bandwagon, taking a stunning new body instead. It’s a likable combination—affordable, handsome, and pleasant to drive. The Corolla Sport is not sadly slow for a sporty car; it’s appealingly racy-looking for an economy car.”

Read more Feature Flashback stories here:
  • Remembering the Malaise Ferrari
  • Was Luxury Worth It In 1968?
  • 1971 Chevy K5 Blazer, Ford Bronco and AMC Jeepster Commando
  • 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon
  • 1976 Honda Accord
Nguồn: www.motortrend.com