Driven - August 2017

Toyota Corolla RUNX TRD

We throwback and drive the Toyota Corolla RunX TRD

Those of you born in the late 80’s and to some degree the early 90’s will understand the shift in motoring focus from the high RPM small capacity atmospheric 20V engines, to the smaller, polar bear friendly turbo mills. See, back in what I’d describe as the good old days, the likes of the Sentra 200STi and Corolla RSI and RXI where the best way to get to places in a hurry. These were the ultimate in cheap, reliable, fast cars, far cheaper than the Germans and an absolute hoot with whizzy little engines with rather silly redlines.  Toyota knew this all too well as we loved the RSI and its 4AGE-20V engine, so much so that when they canned it and replaced it with the bloated Corolla, it was considered a great loss to the world of motoring, This was until 2003 when they slotted a 141 kW @ 7800 RPM and 180 N.m,  1.8-litre naturally aspirated 16V engine into the humble RunX, thus creating the RSi.

The Runx RSi has always been a car that I’ve wanted to own, having driven them plenty times both at the coast where they run GTI’s very close with a few breather mods, and up at altitude, where they run GTI’s very close once more. The drive I’ve always lusted over, however, is the more elusive TRD model. Toyota Racing Developments took the RSi and made everything just a little bit crisper and added some proverbial ‘Vuma’, with a short throw shifter and a set of TRD specific wheels. This lust led me to the hands of a generous owner, sporting a Black TRD with a 63mm sports exhaust,  IJEN cold air induction kit and lightened fly wheel, all mine for the day. Standard the car posted a 0-100 time of 8 Seconds and a top speed of 230km/h. Figures that don’t sound all too impressive, but in the real world this is a seriously fun car.

Driving Impressions

Picking up the car, the vehicle’s unassuming looks suggest nothing out of the ordinary and driving in town, it feels like the typical cold pudding drive that the normal models possess.  It looks like a typical RunX, no flares, no nostrils just some subtle touches like the rear spoiler and the larger wheels. On the inside, the same theme runs its course – the RunX has absolutely nothing interesting about the interior, just a small TRD logo on the on the floor mats and gear knob, but under the skin are stiffer springs and a TRD strut bar. This was very clearly a RunX before it was a TRD project. Interestingly enough, I enjoyed this, the calm nature of the car it was nothing to ring home about, a great ride, loads of space and a light clutch it was great, reminded me a lot of my mother’s Corolla of the same era. This was until a 1.4TSI Polo GTI appeared in my side view mirror at a red light. No sport buttons, no Traction Control to worry about just you and the car. The light turned green and I buried the tiny accelerator into the carpet. The front wheels scrabbling for grip as the Rev’s climbed 4000, 5000, all leading to the epic climax of the glorious VVTL-I system, which kicks in at 6200r/pm. The Variable Valve Timing and Lift-intelligent system transform the engine from potter around town mode, to ‘Kill all hatches’. The car changes it’s demeanour, a more aggressive cam profile takes over and it barks away viciously to the 8 300 rpm Rev limiter. The Polo was not far behind but through the aid of DSG, it was fast catching up but at no point did it ever make the pass. It was deadly close by the time traffic approached but more importantly, the young buck in the Polo was red with rage as though a 10-year-old grocery getter had vomited all over his Twin-charged GTI moniker.

The car is a proper riot, the engine comes alive the harder you push it and frankly, I did a fine job of kicking it about. Driven like this, the TRD is an incredibly quick car and the short throw shifter is precise and direct, very easy to bang the close ratios together in a delicious soufflé like treat.  The chassis feels light and agile like ones riding on the back of an excitable rabbit.  The steering is a tad bit light but is still very good at telling you where the front wheels are pointing.  A point to note is that unlike modern day turbocharged hatched, first-time drivers will be surprised at how hard you have to push the car to make fast progress, flat foot shifting at rev limit is the only way to ensure you stay in lift and the car doesn’t fall on its face. It required an incredible lack of vehicle sympathy as if you want to get the old girl in a hot and bother, you do have to be rather rough. Front end grip is bang on, as the grip is helped by the relatively light weight and the way the power is delivered means you can get on the gas earlier and enjoy the climb to the ‘Lift’ off that the car provides. If I had a single complaint it would be the tiny pedals that make heel-toe shifts somewhat a challenge but it’s very much an enjoyable car, still more than enough to surprise the smaller hatches and catch them out in the game of Robot Jousting. The engine loves to rev and rewards you for doing so but it’s rather easy to fall out of the sweet spot and kill all the fun. In 2017, the TRD is now ten years old but still possess the ability to teach the 2ZZ-GE a lesson. Not forgetting that it’s still a Toyota and on my quest to find one suitable for the test I came across many with over 300 thousand km’s on the clock. That still felt super tight and ran just like new.  

Toyota Toyota Corolla RUNX TRD Pricing in South Africa

Early pre-facelift RSi’s start at around R80 000 with later 2007 TRD models still fetching around R150 000. This is no small amount of money and given the way these need to be driven to deliver rapid progress, the issue of damaged transmission synchros and replaced engines will become common on cheaper and older models.

A major problem with the RunX RSi/TRD is that the engines are thirsty for oil and starvation of oil will result in almost immediate failure, but the only way this can happen is through an over-rev, but I loved the RSi and frankly still do. Nowadays, hot hatches are rather quick so one needs to be awake for you to get the car moving really quickly, but do it right and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank!