The Apex uses the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as the Corolla SE and XSE, producing 169 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. This is a perfectly acceptable engine with enough power to make the Corolla feel lively around town while maintaining good overall efficiency.
Reinforcing its sporty demeanor, the Apex is available with a manual transmission. The six-speed in the Corolla is a good one, with low-effort (though somewhat long-throw) shifts and a slick automatic rev-matching system — something we’re used to seeing on more expensive sports cars. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, making this a great car for first-time stick-shifters. Overall, the six-speed really ups the Apex’s fun factor.
The Apex package brings some other cool changes including a “sport-tuned exhaust,” which is really just Toyota-speak for “louder.” You also get some gold-colored body trim and, most importantly, a retuned suspension.
Make no mistake; the Corolla Apex isn’t some filling-rattling track rat with rock-hard dampers. It’s still suitable for around-town use despite being notably stiffer than a standard Corolla, and this updated suspension tuning genuinely pays dividends on winding canyon roads. The 18-inch Dunlop SportMaxx summer tires (which are available as a no-cost option) do a good chunk of the heavy lifting, elevating the Corolla from a basic commuter to something you’d actually want to drive for fun.
Body roll is still present in the Corolla Apex, but it’s reduced enough to make the sedan manageable on a curvy road while also enhancing the sensation of speed. The Mazda MX-5 Miata uses a similar approach: If your car is leaned over slightly in a corner, you feel like you’re driving harder and going faster than you really are. It’s the classic “slow car fast” argument at work, and it really increases the grin factor of this little Corolla.
Of course, you can’t talk about the Corolla without talking about fuel economy. In my testing, I was able to match the EPA’s claimed 31 mpg combined figure without too much effort. Those numbers slip a bit when you throw a bunch of spirited canyon driving into the mix, but not as much as you might think. If you opt for the Apex’s automatic transmission, combined fuel economy rises to an EPA-estimated 34 mpg.
The 2022 Corolla’s interior is basic but comfortable, and that extends to the Apex. The materials feel like they’ll be hard-wearing over the long haul and all of the touchpoints inside the car are nicer than you might expect, especially given the Corolla’s low price. Nothing inside is luxurious, and you’re not going to convince anyone otherwise. Still, this is a car that feels built for the abuse of day-to-day driving while retaining some sense of quality and comfort. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but the Corolla does it well.
The Corolla’s onboard tech list is reasonable as well, both when it comes to infotainment and safety. You get standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality on the Apex’s 8-inch touchscreen. Toyota’s underlying multimedia system isn’t brilliant, but it’s perfectly usable and responsive, especially when using phone mirroring. One thing I wish you could get on this spec is the JBL audio system, which would be welcome, even at an increased price. It’s available as an option on the XSE and XSE Apex trims, but going there requires you to ditch the manual transmission.
Safety tech is abundant and mostly standard, thanks to the inclusion of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite. This bundle of driver-assistance technologies brings in automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control (yes, even with the manual). Toyota gets bonus points for including hill start assist with the six-speed, too.
The 2022 Corolla SE Apex with a six-speed manual transmission will cost you $26,735 including a $1,025 destination charge. At that price, this sedan competes with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra N-Line, which offers slightly more power (201 hp) for slightly less money ($25,395 including destination). However, the Hyundai lacks adaptive cruise control, and its styling could drive some buyers away. For a little more money, you can get the brand-new Honda Civic Si, which offers 200 hp and is both far more attractive and more entertaining to drive.
In that company, the Apex sits squarely in the middle of the pack. But I suspect the Corolla’s reputation for longevity will prove attractive enough to lure some people to the Apex, a car that’s surprisingly entertaining — especially if you shift your own gears.