2006 Toyota Corolla XRS review

If you’re in a conversation with an auto enthusiast and you want to get out of it, simply mention the words “Toyota” and “Corolla”. Of course, there’s nothing really wrong with the Corolla. There’s nothing to hate about it. They run with the precision and reliability of a Swiss watch. They will happily provide for all of your transportation needs in the most effortless, economical way possible. It will also do it without an ounce of enthusiasm. However, in 2005, Toyota took the fantastic engine from the Celica GT-S and dropped it in the innocuous-looking Corolla, creating the XRS model.

Looking at the outside, you’d be forgiven for dismissing the XRS as a body-kitted run-of-the-mill plain vanilla Corolla. But like a Transformer, there’s more than meets the eye. As mentioned, the top level Celica motor is included in the XRS. In this application, power output is 170hp, and the engine has been slightly retuned for a broader torque curve. Backing up this engine is a 6 speed manual transmission, also from the Celica. In true enthusiast form, this was the only transmission available. Dig deeper and you’ll find a tuned, higher rate suspension, four wheel disc brakes with ABS assistance, and trim specific interior bits.

Sit in the XRS and all the usual Toyota virtues are there – comfortable seats, impeccable ergonomics, and a faultless feel to the controls. This is as it should be; this generation of Corolla was the first to be built to Lexus tolerances. Light up the engine and it sounds ‘busier’ than stock, which it should. Clutch take-up is smooth and predictable. The transmission, though, is slightly vague – not a good trait for a closely spaced box with 6 forward speeds to choose from.

Test the limits of the tach and you’ll find a couple of distinctive zones that the engine operates in. Somewhere around 4000 RPM, the engine starts building more urgency. But once you hit 6000 RPM, the variable valve timing is in full swing and the trip to 8000 RPM is quite short indeed. The one fault in the powertrain is, unfortunately, in the bottom three gears. As in the Celica, the gear ratios are spaced just far enough apart so that even a redline shift into the next gear takes the engine below 6000 RPM. Consequently, there is a lag before the engine gets into its happy zone again, and this slows down maximum acceleration. It also kills part of the enthusiast feel of this machine. It’s quite an odd oversight, especially given that Honda and Acura, who also sell rev-forever four bangers, don’t share this problem.

They’ll run to redline and keep you in the meaty part of the powerband through all gears. Still, the engine is fun to wind all the way through, and you’ll find yourself in disbelief that you’re piloting a Corolla.

Pitch the chassis into some curves, and it doesn’t respond like its mainstream cousins. Turn in is sharper and more defined, and road feel in improved thanks to the suspension enhancements and stiffened front end. While it won’t rival a 3-series for feel, it’s tossable and responds well to enthusiastic moves. There is certainly enough here to make the most mundane commute enjoyable.

Like all other Corolla’s, the XRS is inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to run. They’re also hard to find. This series was only made for the 2005 and 2006 model years. A scan of the classifieds shows very little depreciation, and that promises to carry on into the foreseeable future. If you’re the type who likes stealth cars, look no further. In the stoplight Grand Prix, no one will suspect what this car is capable of. You can use it to dart through traffic with ease. Laser wielding police will likely pick higher profile targets. You can use the Corolla’s reputation to trick spouses and parents into thinking you’re making a rational, mature choice. Best of all, it’ll work. Just wait until you get out of earshot before slinging the tach past 6k.

Photos property of Toyota

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