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The Toyota Corolla XRS Was a Corolla That Was Actually Fun to Drive

Like most car enthusiasts, I don’t usually get excited by Toyotas. They generally focus on reliability over performance and durability over excitement — and the sport trim levels of most Toyota models have largely consisted of body kits with zero performance upgrades whatsoever.

And then you have the Toyota Corolla XRS, the complete opposite of Toyota’s typical approach to performance. To put it simply, the Corolla XRS was essentially Toyota’s response to the Honda Civic Si, and it was pretty fantastic. If you saw one on the street, you’d probably have no idea that it was any different from a regular Corolla — but underneath, there were some pretty significant changes. See the 2005 Toyota Corolla models for sale near you

The Corolla XRS features the same variable-valve 170-horsepower 4-cylinder and 6-speed manual transmission that was used in the Lotus Elise, which gave the car an uncharacteristically enjoyable driving experience. The XRS also had a sportier suspension that lowered the car by half an inch, a unique power steering setup, better disc brakes at all four corners and rear cross-bracing that stiffened the chassis and prevented the rear seats from folding down. It was a genuine performance car, and it was a lot of fun to drive — especially since it only weighed 2,680 pounds.

Unfortunately, few people knew about it, and far fewer people bought it. The fun Corolla XRS was only offered from 2005 to 2006, and it’s estimated that less than 7,000 were ever built. Toyota didn’t exactly market the XRS well, so it’s now a pretty rare car.

Sadly, the XRS was never really followed up. Although the next-generation Corolla also offered an XRS model, it touted a mere 16-hp advantage over the standard Corolla, without any of the sporty bits that made the first one so exciting. As automakers like Ford and Honda have increased their focus on making sporty versions of small cars, it seems Toyota has left the game for good.

If you want a sleeper Corolla that’s a blast to drive, there are 16 different 2005-2006 Corolla XRS models currently for sale on Autotrader right now. Luckily, because it is a Corolla, they aren’t exactly expensive on the secondhand market — the average price is just $6,045. Find a 2005 Toyota Corolla for sale

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  1. I purchased an 05 Corolla XRS several months ago and I love this little thing, comfort and fun all in one. Although I can not confirm; I believe the matrix chip had been installed. I’d like to find out how many of these vehicles are still in operation today. Great vehicle!

  2. My wife had an S Model of this Corolla.  I get that this one had a better drive train but the base of this car was pretty terrible so I wonder how much better it could have really been.

  3. The Corolla XRS was an interesting experiment for Toyota… but I never understood why the torque numbers were so low… usually torque is higher than horsepower… for that “pressed into your seat” feeling when you accelerate.  But this car, although had 170 HP, only had like 120 lbs/ft torque…. pretty low numbers for a supposed high output engine.

  4. I owned the Matrix XRS.  Loud and unrefined, but fun and practical. Extremely reliable too. It was as fast 0-60 as a bmw 325 of the era, and it did about 28 mpg highway which was pretty good for a six-speed sporty hatchback.

    • I heard that the six speed manual was not a great one.  My cousin had a Matrix XRS (First gen) and issues with the manual were that the gear sets would over time break down… for instance, 6th gear would just stop working for some reason.

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