The AE82 Corolla GT, a car unfairly doomed to live in the shadow of its rear-drive brethren, is an undervalued and underrated gem that offers genuine driving thrills
Toyota Corolla GT AE82:
Torque: 103lb ft@5000rpm
0-60 mph: 8.7s
Fuel consumption: 26-47mpg
Transmission: FWD, five-speed manual
What To Pay:
Last in, first out – that appears to be the fifth-generation AE82 Corolla GT’s epitaph. Of the three models to receive Toyota’s new 4A-GE engine, the AE82 Corolla GT (or Corolla FX) was the final car to show the new power unit off in Japan in October 1984. Not that mounting the 4A (1.6-litre) G (performance version) E (fuel-injected) east- west did the AW11 MR2 any disservice three months earlier on launch, but that car was rear-wheel drive, mid-engined and – so the tale goes – had Lotus sign off on its handling. Keen drivers expect road tests to favour rear- wheel-drive models, and so history has proved. Winding the clock back slightly further, May 1983 saw a certain Corolla unveiled which would end up deified – the AE86, a Toyota chassis code now spoken of in hushed tones. The AE86 was the last Corolla to offer front- and rear-wheel drive options because rear- wheel-drive was old hat by the early Eighties. Up-to-the-minute designs always date the quickest, and the AE82 Corolla GT was always going to suffer, being overshadowed by two superstars.
If the AE82 Corolla GT’s layout seems unremarkable now, its engine is still something of a masterpiece. The advantages of the high-revving 16-valve engine were not lost on car makers and the 1.6-litre 4A-GE, co- developed with Yamaha, was among the best available at the time. Few road car engines boasted a 7700rpm redline in the early to mid-Eighties, but the 4A-GE altered drivers’ mechanical sympathy without the expense of poor emissions or horrendous fuel economy. Many mass market European manufacturers wouldn’t recognise the marketing value of 16-valve cylinder heads until the early Nineties. The vocal little 4A-GE fires up innocuously, but it’s well matched to the rest of the chassis. Massive-for-the-time 185/60/14 tyres endow the AE82 with a mechanical grip greater than the running gear can provide; even provoking the car from a standstill won’t produce much more than a chirrup. Modern rubber recovers far more quickly than Eighties boots did; you don’t have a great deal of torque steer to deal with because there isn’t much torque. The engine arrived before the age of variable valve profiles and timing – and before Honda’s VTEC took the stage – so what the AE82 Corolla GT had was a trick induction system known as T-VIS (Toyota Variable Induction System). Using an engine control unit and engine vacuum, four of the eight intake runners remained closed below 4650rpm – allowing you to trundle along with all the typical ease and flutter-footedness for which Japanese cars, including the AE82, had become renowned.
Go over that rev limit and all tracts open, thanks to a butterfly valve; keep the engine spinning and a solid power surge drags the Corolla GT along. It may not be as violent or as torquey as a contemporary turbo installation, but it is exciting. Peak torque – all 103lb ft of it – arrives at 5000rpm, 500rpm short of the same installation in an AE86. The tight short-ratio C52 gearbox helps you to make the most of the slender torque peak – Toyota vied with Honda in offering buyers the slickest front-wheel-drive shifters in the business. The C52 can’t swap cogs as rapidly as the Honda equivalent, but it rewards a keener driver with a superior mechanical feel. Not that the cheap plastic gearknob and squat rubber bellow covering the lever suggest this; you drive the AE82 with the sheen of shiny, cheap plastic reflecting off every surface. Luckily, the AE82’s dynamics offset any objections you might have about its interior. Let’s be precise here, though – the fit is first- rate.
Nothing rattles or feels tired, even given his car’s pampered life. Whoever signed off on the materials sacrificed aesthetics for longevity; it’s even more impressive when you realise that the AE82 doesn’t even use a one- piece dashboard like VW had in the Golf MkII. The same goes for the seats and trim – yes, the vinyl sheen of the door cards is off-putting, but the seats hold large European frames in place regardless of cornering attitude – or velocity. As a tie-break, the equivalent décor in a Peugeot 309 GTI chirruped from new; it’s probably fair to say that anyone who bought these cars for their ambiance, derived as they were from cheap runabouts, was missing the whole point of hot hatchbacks. Handling on everything but the tightest of bends is neutral – you can carry as much speed as you dare with enough to surprise modern cars on everything but the straights. Go in too hot and the Corolla will tighten its line when you back off; period road tests spoke of mild lift-off oversteer at higher speeds, leaving the tail-out histrionics to the 205 GTI with which the Corolla was compared, despite being from the class below. Never mind overshadowed – the Corolla GT is criminally underrated, too.
1 - DAILY DRIVING
Never mind all that shiny plastic, you can rise above it’, exhorted CAR magazine in September 1985. Finish may not be the AE82’s forte, but fit certainly is; there are very few squeaks or rattles inside the cabin. GT-specific seating keeps you well located without the bolsters being intrusive, the only demerit by modern standards being the Corolla GT’s heavy steering when pulling away from a kerb; for the feel and feedback it gives at faster speeds, though, it’s easy to forgive. The large glass area – something of an unknown to drivers of modern cars – also translates into impressive visibility, making the car easy to place on the road.
2 - IN THE SERVICE BAY
Mechanically, the AE82 Corolla GT is well- represented, thanks to a shared powertrain with the AE86 Corolla GT Coupé and the AW11 MR2. Keep on top of fluid changes and belt intervals and there really shouldn’t be much to worry about; just keep an eye on the quality and amount of coolant flowing round the radiator, and on the health of the radiator itself and its hoses. AE82-specific parts, such as exhausts, are more difficult to find but can be fabricated if the worst comes to the worst. Body panel availability and rust are the greatest threats to an AE82 Corolla GT’s continued existence, so rust-proofing should be considered a must.
3 - ON THE SHOW CIRCUIT
Roll up to any classic car event – but particularly a Japanese-specific show, of which there are many – and the AE82 Corolla GT would more than acquit itself simply by dint of being that much rarer than an AE86 or AW11, as incredible as those two cars are. You certainly wouldn’t disgrace yourself on track, either, because its performance is equal to or better than many of its class contemporaries.
4 - THE LONG WEEKEND
The AE82 is typical hot-hatch fare in that it’s derived from an inherently practical hatchback; there’s a split/fold rear seat to boost the (admittedly small) boot space and a removable parcel shelf if carrying bags gets too tight. Avoid engaging T-VIS and there’s every possibility that you’ll achieve mid- thirties MPG, especially if you use high-octane fuel. While the suspension is stiff by Eighties Corolla standards, compression and rebound is more than tolerable for long distance work, ably assisted by the front seats. The rear bench isn’t too supportive, however, and leg room will get tight for anyone in the back.
5 - THE B-ROAD BLAST
Four turns lock to lock, all-round independent MacPherson strut suspension and a screaming 16-valve engine make an AE82 Corolla GT a fine B-road companion – although longer straights will see it struggle in comparison to more modern machines. Keep the road tight and the excellent steering telegraphs plenty to your hands; it isn’t disturbed by mid-corner bumps and modern 185/60/14 tyres have lessened the power-on under steer reported in period. It’s true that you’ll need mighty big feet to heel- and-toe, but the all-round disc brakes aren’t so over-servoed to hurt left-foot braking should you feel the need trackside.