2005 Toyota Corolla XRS
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

If you hadn’t noticed, the influence of the sport compact scene and the tuner industry is having a huge influence on the new car market. The list of performance-tuned versions of garden-variety economy sedans is growing quickly, and dealers are enjoying sales of aftermarket add-ons like custom wheels and tires, spoilers, stereos, and performance equipment that these buyers typically want.

The latest edition to the hot sedan club is the 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS. Equipped with the Toyota Celica GT-S’ high-revving 170 horsepower 1.8 litre four cylinder powerplant and six-speed manual transmission, the XRS is not your mother’s Corolla. 0 to 100 km/h in under 8 seconds, improved lateral grip, better braking, and greater driving enjoyment are all benefits of the XRS which goes for $24,185 – compared to $19,955 for the 130 horsepower 2005 Corolla Sport model.

The Corolla XRS has lots of competition, a disadvantage of being late to the party: the Nissan Sentra SE-R (165 hp) and SE-R Spec V (175 hp), Mazda3 GT (160 hp), Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart (160 hp), Honda Civic Si (127 hp), Subaru Impreza 2.5RS (165 hp), Dodge SX 2.0 R/T (150 hp), Saturn Ion Redline (200 hp), and the upcoming Chevrolet Cobalt SS (205 hp) and Pontiac Pursuit GT (170 hp). The Dodge SRT-4 (230 hp) could also be considered a competitor based on its price.

How does the Corolla XRS stack up? Let’s see..

What you get

The XRS’ motivation comes from the high revving (redline 8,200 rpm) 1.8 litre four cylinder powerplant that develops 170 horsepower @ 7600 rpm and 127 pound feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. This engine is high-tech: it offers four valves per cylinder, twin overhead camshafts and Toyota’s ‘intelligent’ variable valve timing setup to, ostensibly, increase torque at lower revs while providing more power at higher revs.

A close ratio six-speed manual transmission is standard – an automatic is not offered.

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS
Click image to enlarge

Its sport-tuned suspension features increased rate coil springs and shocks to reduce roll and pitch and a lateral shock mounted between the shock towers to improve rigidity and reduce vibration and noise. Ride height has been lowered by 25 mm, and the XRS has larger Michelin Pilot Primacy 195/65R-16 inch performance summer tires mounted on five-spoke alloy wheels.

Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution are standard equipment on the XRS. Other mechanical upgrades include a more rigid steering column and a unique power steering rack to provide better feedback to the driver.

Styling add-ons include rear spoiler, side sills, front spoiler, front sport seats with a special sport fabric, a silver-accented centre cluster, leather shift knob, XRS scuff plates on the front door sills, and unique badging.

Driving impressions

There are pros and cons to the Corolla XRS’ new powertrain. If you like racy, high-revving, audibly-exciting engines, and you like to manipulate the engine speed with frequent shifting, the XRS will entertain and excite you.

But if you want a torquey engine that’s responsive at low revs and doesn’t require shifting exercises, you’d be better off with one of its larger-displacement sedan competitors like the 2.5 litre Sentra SE-R or the 2.3 litre Mazda3 GT.

Keep in mind that while the Corolla XRS has 170 horsepower, it’s not developed until 7600 rpm. And its maximum torque of 127 foot pounds at 4400 rpm is actually just 2 foot pounds more than that of the 130 horsepower 1.8 litre engine in the regular Corolla. For comparison, the Sentra SE-R develops 175 foot pounds of torque and the Mazda3 GT offers 150 foot pounds of torque.

The six-speed manual shifter has short, easy shifts, but there are some interesting scraping noises coming from the gearbox when take your foot off the accelerator going downhill. Reverse gear is over to the right and up, and when you engage Reverse, your ears are assaulted by an annoying beeping sound inside the car, but not outside the car. I suppose this is to warn the driver that they are now in Reverse gear, in case they didn’t know. As well, though clutch pedal effort is light, the clutch is quite sensitive.

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS
Click image to enlarge

At freeway speeds, the engine does 2900 rpm at 100 km/h and 3500 at 120 km/h in sixth gear – relatively high engine speeds. But the engine loves to rev, and if you’re a wistful Formula One driver, you can really get a sense of speed, noise and excitement by winding this engine out to its redline. It reminds me of the Acura RS-X Type S.

The Corolla XRS offers sporty, nimble handling with minimal lean in the corners and a comfortable ride. It’s not quite as sporty as a Mazda3 GT, but still entertaining. A turning circle of 10.7 metres (35.2 feet) provides good manoeuvrability in the city.

Performance enthusiasts who want the reliability and resale value of a Toyota Corolla are likely customers for the Corolla XRS. But its high-strung nature may prove foreign for some Canadian drivers used to better low-speed responsiveness.

Interior impressions

I liked the XRS’ meaty, three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the nicely shaped shift knob with its comfortable grip. The front sport seats, which are covered in an attractive, durable weaved fabric material, are very comfortable and supportive for the type of driving that XRS drivers are likely to explore. To accommodate different sized drivers, the driver’s seat is height adjustable via a manual ratchet mechanism on the left side of the seat.

Four adults can be seated comfortably in the Corolla, but there are three 3-point seatbelts and three head restraints at the rear. The middle head restraint is lower so as not to impede the driver’s visibility through the rearview mirror.

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

2005 Toyota Corolla XRS
Click image to enlarge

I liked the bright, backlit gauges. Note the tachometer’s high redline! An outside temperature gauge in the instrument cluster is a bonus. The AM/FM/CD stereo in the upper centre instrument panel is very easy to see and operate, and I liked the rotary Tune button for flipping between stations.

Other useful features: automatic-down driver’s power window, two covered storage compartments just below the heater, a flip-down storage tray to the left of the steering wheel, an open storage bin and two open cupholders just behind the shift lever, and an armrest storage bin that includes a 12 volt powerpoint inside.

Dislikes: no folding rear seatbacks! Ouch! And intermittent wipers with a single time-delay setting, not variable. And while side airbags in the front seats, and side curtain airbags are available as an option on the Corolla LE model, they are not available on the XRS.

Standard features on the Corolla XRS include 195/55R-16 inch summer tires mounted on alloy wheels, front fog lamps, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with six speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metallic dash trim, driver’s seat cushion height adjustment, power windows with drivers auto down feature, power door locks and keyless remote, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, electronic gauges and outside temperature gauge, and dual-stage front airbags.

There are no factory options available on the XRS.


A racy version of the Corolla sedan that demands to be driven with gusto, the Corolla XRS is a hands-on sedan with room for four and their luggage – but folding rear seatbacks are missing, and side and curtain airbags are not available.

Technical Data: 2005 Toyota Corolla XRS

Base price $24,185
Freight $ 1,010
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $25,295
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, var. valve timing
Horsepower 170 @ 7600 rpm
Torque 127 ft-lb. @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Tires 195/55R-16 Michelin Pilot summer radials
Curb weight 1210 kg (2670 lb.)
Wheelbase 2600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4530 mm (178.3 in.)
Width 1700 mm (66.9 in.)
Height 1475 mm (58.1 in.)
Trunk capacity 390 litres (13.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.4 l/100 km (44 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Cambridge, Ontario

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