Curbside Classic: 1987 Toyota Corolla FX16 – When Corollas Still Induced Lust, Not Sleep

(first posted 8/20/2013)    The good old Toyota golden years, when the Corolla could still got one’s blood moving instead of inducing narcolepsy. If it wasn’t the legendary AE-86, or the offshoot MR2, there were other goodies too, if a bit more obscure. Like this Corolla FX16. The hot little rwd Corollas coupes had been kept on after the first fwd sedans appeared in 1984. but in a brief two-year window before the next generation arrived, Toyota also sent us its first hot fwd hatch, the jdm/euro style FX16. And it acquitted itself just fine. With the immortal 4A-GE engine under the hood, this was Toyota’s answer to the VW GTI, even if a very brief one. And quite a good one too, at that.

I suppose one could say that the FX16 were the equivalent of the Honda Civic Si hatchback that was “imported” from England for a few years recently, from 2002 to 2005. The euro-style hatchback was not really part of the US Corolla tradition, and the stubby FX only lasted a couple of years before the next generation (E90) swept it away again. But it left an indelible (literally) impression.

These were the glory years of the hot small four cylinder engines from Japan, when Toyota and Honda competed with hi-po engines, not hybrids. The 4A-GE spun out all of 112 hp in US tune, but then these cars were light, and the frame of reference was different. And although they obviously had no future as drifters like its rwd Corolla brothers, the FX16 largely resolved the big concern about handling: would it be ruined by going to wrong wheel drive?

The answer was no, and quite enthusiastically so. It wasn’t exactly the same as the classic rear-wheelers, but highly competent and amusing indeed. These cars were very happy indeed carving through tight canyons and such. If one was looking for a perfect blend of an affordable dead-reliable and efficient commuter car combined with weekend fun, the FX 16 was as good as a choice as there was at the time.

Corollas of this vintage are legendary indeed for their ability to keep going, and not show it. This interior typifies that: twenty-five years old, and looking mighty intact still. That’s what makes them nigh-near immortal; at least on the West Coast. I challenge anyone to prove that there was a more all-round reliable and durable small car than the E80 Corollas. Maybe the Civic.

And in the case of the Corolla FX16, the fun factor is as strong as the durability factor. If only that were a bit more so today.