Australia isn’t quite as overrun with ex-JDM, used imports as, say, New Zealand. Typically, the Japanese imports I encounter are Supras, Skylines and the like. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw this: a Toyota Blade. Looks like a pretty ordinary hatch, right? Just another Corolla derivative, you think? You’d be mostly right, unless we were talking about the Blade Master.
This appears to be a regular Blade and not the Blade Master, but let’s talk about both. Considering this is the first Blade I’ve seen and it was launched ten years ago, I’m not holding my breath for a Master appearing around here anytime soon.
The regular Blade replaced the Allex, which in turn replaced the Sprinter. As with its predecessors, the Blade was an upscale version of the Corolla sold through a different arm of the dealership network. Toyota sells cars in the Japanese market through Toyota, Toyopet, Corolla, and Netz dealerships; the Blade was sold through Toyopet dealers.
With the E150-series, the Corolla hatchback was now known as the Auris and was Toyota’s C-segment offering in Europe. Toyota Australia fought against the Auris name – perhaps after seeing Nissan’s debacle with renaming the Pulsar to Tiida – and so we received this as the Corolla. We also received the E150-series sedan, Toyota’s C-segment offering in North America and numerous Asian markets. (There were also smaller E150-series Corolla Axio and Fielder models in Japan, but let’s not go further down the JDM rabbit hole).
The Blade, like the Matrix and top-spec Corolla XRS in North America, used the larger Camry 2.4 four-cylinder with 160 hp. “Ok, that’s nice,” you may be thinking, “But what is so freakin’ exciting about a Corolla hatchback?”
How about a 3.5 V6 engine wedged into a compact, 3256-lb hatchback? That’s what the Blade Master was, using the same 2GR-FE V6 as could be found throughout the Lexus and Toyota model ranges. Unlike Volkswagen with the Golf R32, Toyota didn’t use all-wheel-drive in the Master. Although the Blade remained front-wheel-drive, Toyota didn’t detune the engine and it produced the same 276 hp and 254 ft-lbs as in other applications. The only transmission was a seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
That’s a lot of power for a compact, but don’t think of this as a hot hatch. It wasn’t. The steering was vague and the traction control was intrusive and couldn’t be turned off. Although the Blade received a revised suspension – and used double wishbones at the rear – handling was competent but unexciting. Some critics also found understeer and torque steer to be excessive; others were kinder in their assessments but still not willing to call the car thrilling.
Where the Master succeeded was in highway cruising. Thanks to a smooth ride and a tractable V6, the Blade Master could soak up long distances. The flagship Master G added some nice luxury equipment – like an automated parking system – and an abundance of Alcantara trim throughout the cabin to improve the ambience.
So, the Blade Master may have followed the muscle car formula of putting a big car’s engine in a smaller car, and it may have had the power figures and dynamic name of a hot hatch. But instead, this curious JDM oddity fancied itself as a grand tourer. A compact, FWD, V6, hatchback grand tourer.