About a decade ago, enthusiasts started a “save the manuals” movement.
Shift-for-yourself transmissions were falling from favour quicker than a one-hit pop star. The principal reason was the rapid advancement of automatic transmissions from four to up to ten speeds. That and the fact manuals no longer offered a fuel economy advantage over the highly efficient new automatics.
Toss in the fact a car with a manual transmission was worth less on the used car market and the writing was on the wall.
Darn shame for those of us who enjoy the art of driving as opposed to being driven. The exercise of working the clutch, gearshift and throttle brings an added layer of involvement. The satisfaction of doing so smoothly is rewarding. But a shrinking number of us appreciate that experience.
In the last ten years I have driven more than five hundred new vehicles. I could count on one hand those that had a manual gearbox. In the last month I’ve been treated to two – the Mazda MX-5 sports car and the Toyota Corolla.
Toyota Corolla, I hear you ask?
Yup, Toyota’s wildly popular compact Corolla hatchback is available with a six-speed manual transmission. And it’s a sweetheart.
The combination of a hatchback body style and manual transmission brings to mind some hot hatches from VW and Honda. Both featured high output four-cylinder engines mated to a manual box. And both are no longer available.
2021 Toyota Corolla: a ‘warm hatch’ but a very well-executed combination
The 2021 Corolla Hatchback is more of a warm hatch. The 168-horsepower 2.0-litre four is silky smooth and provides adequate if not exciting power.
The meagre amount of torque requires you to wring the engine into the upper rev ranges for maximum enjoyment and propulsion. Thankfully the transmission both encourages and rewards such efforts.
The lever itself rises higher from the console than expected, placing on the same plane as the padded centre armrest. Your hand falls naturally unto the large knob whether from there or after a short drop from the steering wheel. Despite that length, shift throws are short and nicely spaced with a distinct feel when individual gears are accessed.
Clutch effort is light, perhaps a little too much so, but take-up is gradual. All-in-all, a very well-executed combination.
Adding to the enjoyment is the alacrity the car shows when the road develops the bends.
There is some understeer at the limit, as expected of a family-oriented front-driver. But the balance is impressive for something at this price level ($27K all in). The development team did an excellent job of sweating the details, little ones like an electronic parking brake that automatically disengages when you release the clutch.
The Corolla comes with automatic rev matching. Downshift while braking and the system precisely matches engine rpms for smooth engagement of the lower gear. A console-mounted switch allows it to be turned on or off.
The rest of the car is typically Toyota – exceptionally well built, likely to last for decades and hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Fit, finish and material quality are first rate. The standard equipment level is impressive, It includes such niceties as power windows and locks, automatic climate control, tilt & telescope steering wheel, heated mirrors and a six-way adjustable driver’s seat.
The hatchback design provides much more utility than a sedan. The wide hatch covers a large and readily accessible cargo area. The sloping roofline does cut into rear seat headroom. But legroom is already at a premium back there so that space is best left to small occupants or short trips.
Small does not mean you give up on safety features.
Standard equipment includes the usual array of airbags and safety nannies to help prevent a crash and protect should one occur. Toyota adds in what it calls Safety Sense 2.0 bringing adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beams, and blind-spot monitoring.
The Corolla hatchback is a great combination of practicality, value and quality.
FACTS & FIGURES – 2021 Toyota Corolla hatchback 6MT
As tested: $27,097 including freight
Lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, automatic high beams, radar-based cruise control, lane tracing assist, LED headlights
Eight-inch display, Six-speaker audio system with Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility
STANDARD EQUIPMENT INCLUDES
Push-button start, power windows, tilt & telescope steering wheel, six-way adjustable driver seat, automatic climate control, heated exterior mirrors,
SE Upgrade , $3,910, heated front seats, steering wheel, and mirrors; six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, 20-cm touchscreen, wireless charging, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic assist, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility,
2.0-litre four-cylinder, 168 horsepower, 151 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel. Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel-drive. NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 7.4 / 5.9
Length, 4,375; mm; width, 1,790 mm; wheelbase, 2,640 mm; weight, 1,388 kg.
Honda Civic, Kia Forte5, Mazda3, VW Golf