Christopher Little

Missed: 2022 Toyota Corolla Apex

Apex. To car enthusiasts, it means the clipping point of the corner – the point at which you transition from braking to accelerating again. To everyone else, it means the pinnacle. Toyota hopes that the new trim appeals to both audiences. More than just a sporty appearance package, the Corolla Apex features several engineering changes – and even an optional manual transmission – to improve the driving experience. Will this new model give you visions of motorsport on your commute to the office? We spent a week with the 2022 Toyota Corolla Apex to see if there was any sport in this compact sedan.

There’s no faulting the Corolla Apex’s curb appeal. A gloss black and bronze accented body kit (front spoiler, side moldings, rear diffuser and trunk spoiler) instantly separates the Apex from every other Corolla on the road. Additionally, a black roof, mirror caps and vehicle badging add to the theme. Stunning gloss black 18″ cast aluminum wheels complete the look. Not only are the wheels visually unique, they were designed to aid brake cooling and weigh 2.2 lbs less per wheel than the standard Corolla. Even the Apex’s stance is unique with the body sitting 0.6 inches lower to the ground on unique coil springs.

In addition to the unique lowering springs, specially tuned shocks with more damping force and more rigid stabilizing bars help better control body motion. Toyota even fitted the Apex with different bump stops to make sure the lower ride height doesn’t get too harsh. In total, roll stiffness has been increased by 47% in the front and 33% in the rear. Engineers went further, developing an electronic power steering tune specifically for the Apex to go along with the suspension changes. The effort required to steer increases off-center, giving a sportier feel when carving through corners. Finally, a cat-back exhaust system with a 3.5″ stainless steel tip was added to change the tenor of the 2.0L four-cylinder powering the Apex Editions. Our tester was also fitted with the optional 6-speed manual transmission. Toyota’s Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) features downshift rev-matching for smoother shifts.

Ken praised the Corolla’s handling dynamics during his week with the 2021 Corolla XSE. But he also noted that the CVT sucked all the fun out of the 2.0L engine. I had hoped the 196 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque would feel more vivacious if the transmission had actual gears that we could actually change ourselves. I was wrong. The engine is anemic down low and revs so slowly it feels like an eternity for peak torque to arrive at 4,400 RPM. Disabling traction control to trade some grip for higher engine speed is also a frustrating endeavor since someone at Toyota decided that the system must automatically reactivate above 25 miles per hour! The 6-speed manual did have a nice shift action, but the spongey clutch pedal detracted somewhat from the experience. I even fought with the finicky electronic parking brake that sometimes-would/sometimes-wouldn’t automatically release when pulling away.

After a week of trying to find some sporting improvement, I struggled to feel the benefit from the Apex Edition’s unique updates. Vertical stiffness has definitely improved but I could discern no improvement in lateral stiffness. The steering may have gotten a bit heavier but no less vague. That meant, to my seasoned seat, that the Apex isn’t actually any better at hitting apexes. In fact, the ride over broken pavement is actually worse. This is a puzzling conclusion given that Toyota engineers spent time tuning the Apex Edition’s suspension at tracks around the world. One bright spot during a period of record high gas prices, the Corolla returned 30.7 MPG despite being driven hard.

The same day our Corolla SE Apex tester arrived, my neighbor drove home from the local Toyota dealership having traded in her 2006 Corolla XRS for a new Corolla XSE Apex. Her reason for buying? It was the only Corolla on the lot with a manual transmission. For non-car enthusiasts, the Corolla Apex is the best looking and most affordable row-your-own Corolla. The comprehensive visual changes make more of an impact for buyers than the race-derived name. I doubt my neighbor knows her new Corolla has a unique power steering tune, stiffer suspension, or lighter wheels. But I also don’t think she’s the kind of person to participate in track days. Even if she was, Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division has a Corolla that promises to be much more adept at lapping a track. That means from the enthusiast perspective, this Corolla missed the apex.

-Christopher Little

2022 Toyota Corolla SE Apex$25,610
Carpet Mat Package$249
Destination Charges$995
As-Tested MSRP$26,854

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