Over the years, the Toyota Corolla has been available in myriad permutations: front-, rear-, or four-wheel-drive; sedan, coupe, hatchback, liftback or wagon; and powered by hybrid, diesel, supercharged and turbocharged engines. Many of these varieties are long gone – may the sporty FX 3-dr hatchback and rear-wheel-drive GTS coupes rest in peace – but there’s one Corolla variant that, now more than ever, could reappear. I’m talking about the four-wheel-drive wagon.
You may be wondering, “Doesn’t Toyota have the RAV-4 now?” and you’re right. Both the Corolla and RAV4 share a platform and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But the RAV4 has more overtly high-riding, SUV-esque styling than the four-wheel-drive Corolla ever did. The European car market is now infested with ever-so-slightly “off-road”-styled versions of hatchbacks and station wagons and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an all-wheel-drive Corolla wagon variant could appear to fill a niche, à la the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.
Like many Corolla variants sold throughout the world over the years – for example, the famous AE86 cars – the four-wheel-drive Corolla wagon wore Sprinter badges in its home market. In Japan, it was the Sprinter Carib; in North America, the Corolla All-Trac; in most other markets, Corolla Touring or simply Corolla 4×4. In many markets, it was sold as a Corolla wagon alongside the actual Corolla wagon, a more conventionally-styled wagon with front-wheel-drive.
The Corolla 4×4 was the second-generation of Sprinter Carib exported throughout the world. The first was sold as part of the Tercel series but Toyota decided to grow the wagon and take it slightly upmarket. Improvements included a larger, more refined engine (a twin-cam, 102-hp 1.6 instead of a SOHC 1.5) and full-time four-wheel-drive with a lockable center differential.
Although there remained a rather quirky rear, toned down somewhat from the Tercel wagon’s ATM-style rear end, the second-generation Sprinter Carib was now recognizable as part of the Corolla/Sprinter family of Toyotas. It made sense to ditch the Sprinter Carib name outside of Japan, considering the equity of the Corolla nameplate and “Carib” being a homonym to that peculiar chocolate substitute.
Although Toyota produced plenty of exciting Corollas in the 1980s – like the aforementioned AE86 – the Sprinter Carib wasn’t one of them. In fact, it was about as exciting as the similarly named food. The weight of the 4WD system added a significant 300 pounds to the regular Corolla’s 2200-pound curb weight and, while the wagon had a more powerful engine than most of the Corolla range, it added only 10 hp and 5 ft-lbs over the carbureted 1.6 initially available in lesser Corollas. Peak torque also didn’t arrive until a rather high 4400 rpm, meaning you had to rev it to get the most out of it.
This wasn’t a performance car and neither, for that matter, was the related All-Trac sedan sold in various markets. The Sprinter Carib may have been a response to Subaru’s success with all-wheel-drive but Toyota had no response to the sporty, turbocharged coupes in Subaru’s Leone/Loyale series that would be the progenitors of Subaru’s hot Impreza WR-X.
Four-wheel-drive Tercel/Corolla and Civic wagons had been a constant throughout much of the 1980s but they began to disappear in the 1990s. The Sprinter Carib lived for two more generations but it was exported to few markets outside Japan, and North America and Australia weren’t among them. Slow sales ultimately doomed the niche Corolla offering. However, now that the entire world is craving anything with a smidge extra ground clearance and a tad more plastic cladding, a Corolla All-Trac would probably sell pretty well.
Corolla wagons photographed in Washington Heights, NY in 2013 and Brisbane and South Brisbane, QLD in 2018.