Toyota Corolla XRS: It Exists

Toyota Corolla XRS: It Exists

I once had a Lotus. That was pretty cool, except when people would talk to me about it. People who didn’t know cars would always ask things like: “How much does it cost?” and “How fast does it go?” Of course, they were always disappointed by the answers.

Car people, on the other hand, would inevitably say: “Nice Toyota Celica!” This is about as funny as when people hear sirens and feel the urge to announce: “They’re coming for you.”

What most car people don’t know is that the Celica wasn’t the only Toyota that shared its engine with the Lotus Elise. For one, there was the Toyota Matrix XRS, which was a hotted-up version of the Matrix that makes for a very cool used car. That was mechanically twinned with the Pontiac Vibe GT. If you don’t know the car, think Matrix, but attractive.

Beyond the Matrix and the Celica, one more Toyota shared its engine with the Elise: the Corolla.

Yes, most people don’t realize it, but Toyota offered a high-performance version of its Corolla in 2005 and 2006. Dubbed the “Corolla XRS,” it excited practically no one, except for me, who loves weird special editions with a little extra power.

And extra power it had: the Corolla XRS made 170 horses, which was 40 more than the base model. And, like all cars with this engine, it only came with a manual transmission.

Of course, Toyota didn’t consider the biggest issue, which is quite simply that no one wants a sporty Corolla. The car didn’t sell, and it wasn’t long before it was gone for good. Nonetheless, the Corolla XRS exists.

21 Responses to “ “Toyota Corolla XRS: It Exists”

  1. Sammy B says:

    I gotta be the nit-picker: The picture above is for the 2nd gen XRS (2009-2010) which used the 2.4L out of the Camry. Still faster than the base model, but significantly lamer than 1.8L screamer. The GOOD XRS model is the 2005-2006 model. I very much like our 06 Matrix XRS and actually gave some thought to the sedan version. But wagons always win.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Very true (both about the photo and about the fact that wagons always win). The photo has been changed. I’ve always wanted a Matrix XRS. I just wish they had offered it with AWD, like they did the base model.

      • Sammy B says:

        It’s a bummer they only let you get AWD with an automatic. I know it’s probably a low take-rate, but Subaru will let you get an Impreza w/ 5MT, so why must Toyota always be so stubborn?!

  2. Petey Crack says:

    Which model Lotus did you own?
    How much did it cost? (j/k! serious on the first q tho)

  3. James says:

    I always saw the matrix XRSs around but didn’t know it was anything special. Never knew about the Corolla XRS at all. I kinda want one now. Would be a great winter car for me.

  4. mnm4ever says:

    Maybe the Matrix and Corolla XRS only came with a stick, but the Celica GTS was available with the same engine and an automatic.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Never knew that. Must’ve been a bit of a performance penalty, since it looks like it was a 4-speed versus the standard 6-speed stick.

  5. tentacles says:

    It was the most lucdicrous thing in the world, because the whole point behind the engine was the “VVTLi” 2 stage valve lift system, which changed from the low valve lift profile to the high lift profile at 6200 rpm, with readline at ~8200rpm. Ona manual trans, you shifted quickly at redline and stayed in “VTEC”. The automatic transmission never actually held shifts to redline even with the tpitronic, so if you tried to drive it in anger all it would do was go to the high lift profile for a brief moment, up until around 7000, when the trans would upshift (slowly, it ‘s a 4 speed from 15 years ago) and drop the engine back below 6200rpm and out of “VTEC”.

    It was essentially a 95 hp car, that occasionally might actually put out 170hp for about 3 seconds between upshifts if you keep your foot buried in the throttle, because the VTEC never actually kicks in yo. Also the tiptronic shift used buttons on the steering wheel, which I guess was like a Porsche 911 but actually the worst thing in the world. One wonders whether anyone at Toyota actually even drove the damn thing before putting it into production, because surely someone must then have realized the whole car basically doesn’t work.

    Of course since the Celica’s primary target demographic appears to be teenage girls with well-off parents, most of the GTSes sold and on the used market are automatics.

    • mnm4ever says:

      Everything you described about the auto was exactly correct. We bought a Celica in 2001. The regular GT auto felt faster than the “sportronic” GTS auto. Actually, it felt faster than the stick versions too, because thanks to ridiculous gearing that Toyota chose there was no way to get the GTS in the power band at street legal speeds without looking like a complete tool revving your engine to 8k at 40mph in 1st. Of course back then I didn’t realize there was ways to fix those problems, at least on the stick, so I always regretted not getting the GTS manual. But as it turns out the GT auto was a decent car too, it was dead reliable, handled well, and it looked cool yet got incredible gas mileage, way better than even the GT stick thanks again to ridiculous gearing.

      Though back in the day I didn’t see too many teenage girls driving them, they were actually pretty expensive. Toyota wanted to capture some of the Honda Civic tuner crowd but they priced it too high. In Florida a lot of them were rentals, that was actually my first exposure to them. And I saw a lot of mid-20s guys driving the GTS stick and 30ish single girls driving the autos. And they did sell a lot of autos. But as soon as they got used ones on the market, yes teenage girls loved them because they looked sporty, and guys didn’t because they weren’t fast enough and there isn’t much tuner market for them.

      I really liked our Celica and I would buy another one but you can’t find them in nice shape or with decently low mileage. All of them are beat to heck.

  6. becauseCAR says:

    There was a manual 2005 Corolla XRS by me that just sold for $9K. I was thinking about driving it, but it sold before I had the chance. How is driving the XRS anyway, since you seem to be excited by it but offer no driving impressions?

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Sadly I’ve never driven it but I imagine the comments above regarding the Celica’s engine roughly mirror the comments on the Corolla’s engine. They certainly ring true for the Elise, particularly this bit:

      “It was essentially a 95 hp car, that occasionally might actually put out 170hp for about 3 seconds between upshifts if you keep your foot buried in the throttle”

      • FastCarGirl says:

        I purchased my 2005 Corolla XRS brand new. I have loved the crap out of that car. It has great pick up for a four banger and has been fun to drive. Its also great in snow. My biggest complaint is how loud it gets in the car while driving. But nothing a loud stereo can’t fix. I’ve gotten that baby up to 120 mph and it still had plenty of juice to go. Fun car, still have mine!

      • AUGUST says:

        I brought my 05 XRS used from it had app. 55K miles for around 6K.It is fun to drive , I love the pickup I can get when jumping out on the highway. Younger guys will pull up and try to race me and I leave them behind. By the way I am female and over 50.

  7. Dave M. says:

    “If you don’t know the car, think Matrix, but attractive.”

    Amen. I couldn’t understand how Pontiac (?!) could get it so well proportioned and Toyota so “blobby”. The Gen 2 dash design was a step down…the same horizontal/vertical/circular/slotted mess the Sonic presents.

    I was on a business trip last month. My brother texted asking what kind of car I got…I answered “White Car”. It was an ’12 Matrix. Completely anonymous looks. Competent through….

  8. Mike Livshiz says:

    The Vibe is better looking than the Matrix? Dude! One thing, maybe the only thing that Pontiac did better than any other manufacturer was put more slits, gills, and weird protrusions on their cars’ body work than anyone thought possible. THe Vibe was no exception. It was annoying as all hell when Pontiac listened to all the angry rednecks and added two nostrils to the hood of the otherwise excellent GTO and made it look like a lizard. The Matrix XRS is a decent little hatch, as is the Vibe, but the styling is no constest: Vibe looks like a teenager with zits all of his/her face, Matrix looks cleaner and more “upscale.”

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      I would completely agree, except that the Matrix had that very odd weird “underbite” grille that had all sorts of lines going all sorts of directions. In that one particular instance, the Pontiac was (somehow) cleaner.

      • Mike Livshiz says:

        Yeah, I can see that. I suppose neither one was particularly attractive. I think I would still choose the Matrix though. Maybe just cause it’s the original and not the rebadge.

  9. Nick says:

    I’m an owner of a 2005 Corolla XRS. This is my 3rd corolla over the years and the first two I owned were driven over 250,000 miles and still ran well when sold. I also own a GMC Yukon and Saleen Mustang and needed a car that was economical as well as dependable and practical that I could tool around in. Researched the XRS and bought it as a driver that I could have some fun with. I truly love this car! It’s plenty fast and still over 30 MPG at 85,000 miles running synthetics. It’s not a race car, but this thing is still fun to drive and revs like crazy. The performance numbers are not that far off the old 5.0′s back in the day and again, 30 MPG. Gas is running about $4.00 a gallon here in WI. Owners like myself, love these cars. Lots of negative comments from people who think this is supposed to be some kind of corolla race car. It’s an economy car with 170 horses, handles well and weighs in around 2700 lbs. with a 6 speed, and that equals some pretty surprising numbers. Decent room for 4 people and fairly large trunk, stock stereo jams. A few plastic interior trim pieces have snapped off, other than that the car still runs and looks new. I don’t get on it much, but on occasion I’ll give it a good run and I still get a kick when lift hits, yeah it’s wayyyy up on the tach, but it feels like a turbo kicking in. It’s been paid off for a few years now, and I still have 200,000 fun miles left in it. As an owner and car lover, I’m 100% satisfied with this car.

  10. Wayne says:

    I have a 2009 Corolla XRS

  11. Mike says:

    Im in El Salvador, CentralAmerica and had been looking to buy this car for quite some time and until ladt year I was able to buy the 2005 XRS. I had just looked at a. 2001 Honda Prelude HS.but my mechanic told me to wait a couple of days. so driving I found it… half way turned into a taxi.. with awful yellow spray paint… talked to the fuy that same moment and just bought it!!! I really don’t know the real millage on it because they usually modify the odo to getake it seem lower, but I’ve had no issues with it, even though, I think it might be pushing over 200k mi.


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