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Some of you may know that I recently had to part with my beloved MX-5. Off it went....and in its place came the 2002 Toyota Corolla T-Sport. I have got to admit that for the first few days (oh alright, weeks) I felt a kind of dislike, almost loathing towards this car. It hadnt done anything wrong as such - it just wasnt my MX-5! A few months down the line and I can honestly say that my initial feelings about the car were completely unnecessary. It may have taken me a while to fully appreciate the personality of the car but it has grown on me in a big way! ~ TOYOTA COROLLA ~ Toyotas first passenger car was launched way back in 1936 and the company have successfully grown to become the third largest car manufacturer. It has been producing the Corolla, one of the worlds best selling cars, for approximately 30 years. Currently in its ninth generation, the Corolla has been completely redesigned (apparently to met European tastes) and the nippy T-Sport was introduced a couple of years ago to stand proud as the top of the range model. ~ EXTERIOR ~ Although the Corolla has always been a popular car, its appearance in the past could be described as being rather bland and sensible. Due to the success of its baby brother, the Yaris, Toyota decided to approach the same design centre to come up with a new style for the Corolla - the result being a funkier, more bulbous image for the hatchback. The idea being to give it much broader appeal and also attract younger buyers, particularly to the T-Sport version with its slightly sportier and more distinctive look. Regarding the overall stance, the car is fairly compact but quite high. Measurements come in at: Length - 4180mm, Width - 1710mm, Height - 1475mm. I would like to point out that it doesnt actually look anything like the dooyoo picture above! So what extra exterior goodies do you get for your money?... The T-Sport is only available as a 3 door model and it comes with fog lights, red toned rear light clusters, mud guards and rear roof spoiler as standard. Also included in the package are bigger 17 inch alloy wheels. Despite these extras, I unfortunately think that it is quite hard to distinguish the 02 T-Sport from the standard Corolla. It has a bigger exhaust but other than that, the only apparent differences are the badges. The rear Toyota badge is red and small T-Sport emblems are positioned on the front grille and also to the rear of the car. I went to my local Toyota dealer and actually bought a couple of the emblems to add to my car. I now have an additional badge under each side repeater to give extra definition - a finishing touch that wouldnt have been too hard for Toyota to implement. One of the T-Sports competitors is the Honda Civic Type R. In comparison, the Corolla doesnt have such an aggressive look and it is much more subtle in appearance. I think this has been a deliberate attempt to keep boy racers at bay. If you buy a second hand T-Sport there is a possibility that it may have additional body kit fitted to it as this was available as an extra at the time of purchase. If not, your T-Sport can still be tarted up a bit as the body kit can be acquired through the Toyota dealers as an after sale. This comprises of some basic side skirts and front bumper corner splitters. For something a bit different, I went to an independent company and had a Carcept body kit fitted instead. ~ INTERIOR ~ The interior of the T-Sport has quite a contemporary feel....clean and simple. It is also very quiet. Hardly any exterior road noise can be heard whilst travelling. The dash is well finished in soft touch textured plastics and there is an overall feeling of quality in the cabin. Fit and finish are solid and tight. The doors close with a nice thunk giving an increased impression of solidity. All instrumentation and controls are sensibly placed and well laid out making them easy to hand. Buttons are distinguishable and gadgets such as the climate control are simple to operate. This particular feature is extremely powerful but also fairly quiet. It is bliss in the summer as you can regulate a nice, cool temperature! The dials (speedo etc) are Optitron which means that they are permanently lit. These are red in colour and exceptionally bright and clear. Toyota claim to have spent a lot of time in designing the bolstered front seats to be comfortable for occupants of all sizes and they have succeeded - they are in fact really nice and snug to sit in. But I cant help but think that bucket seats would be an excellent addition. Other rivals on the market have Recaro seats as standard! The interior is very roomy with generous head and legroom. It is taller than any of the previous Corollas, creating the extra headroom. Up front it is spacious although driver and passenger can occasionally clash elbows over the central shared armrest! This arm rest conveniently contains two storage compartments and there are a variety of other storage spaces incorporated into the cabin. There is a pull compartment to the right of the steering wheel (ideal for glasses), a covered section in the centre console under the stereo, and a large glovebox for keeping your bits and pieces. You have also got a coin holder and cup holders to the front and rear. Boot space is decent too with a maximum capacity of 289 litres. The T-Sport comes with a six speaker CD system with controls mounted on the chunky steering wheel. The sound quality is brilliant and it is capable of handling some pretty hefty base. The steering column has adjustable height and reach and the seats have an unusual feature - recline adjustment ratchet levers which allow very accurate positioning of the back rest. This combination of adjustments makes finding a comfortable driving position easy. To add to the convenience, front windows are electric, boot and petrol cover have an internal remote release and the windscreen wipers have various settings when being used in intermittent mode so you can select the perfect speed for the amount of rainfall. Finishing touches include some metalised cabin trim as well as chrome door handles, gear knob and handbrake grip. ~ PERFORMANCE ~ This is the area in which the T-Sport excels! The highly tuned 1.8 litre, 189 bhp engine has been borrowed from the Toyota Celica, making this the most powerful Corolla yet. First impressions lead a lot of people to believe that the driving performance is pretty tame but it is amazing what you can get out of it if you drive it to its full potential! The eager and responsive engine has been designed to incorporate VVTLi which stands for Variable Valve Timing with Lift Intelligence. Now here comes the science bit.... The opening/closing times of the valves continuously vary according to the drivers demand and pressure on the accelerator pedal. It allows greater volumes of fuel/air mixture into the combustion chamber, creating increased power. And back to normality.... Because of this, the T-Sport delivers excellent and exhilarating performance, particularly at the top of the rev range. Put your foot down to 6000 revs throughout the 6 gears and the VVTLi really kicks in and you feel a distinct surge in acceleration - the lift! You need to get accustomed to what I would describe as being a different style of driving. I would never have floored the accelerator in such a manner in my last car but the Corolla cries out for it! To cope with the power of the engine, the T-Sport has uprated suspension which results in a smooth, supple ride....as long as you have the traction control switched on. Driving with the traction control off is virtually impossible. Handling is very sloppy and there is far too much body roll. Turn it on however, and roll is well contained making the handling much more predictable and controlled. It has high throwability as it grips really well. Having the car lowered is definitely beneficial and has a substantial impact on the handling. I have fitted 35mm lowering springs onto my T-Sport and I have found that the overall ride is slightly firmer but a lot more stable. The electro-hydraulic steering is successful in making the car a pleasure to drive as it is very precise. It is very light for parking which reduces steering effort and whilst driving, it adjusts itself so that it is perfectly weighted. This helps to create a feeling of stability. This is very reassuring as the car has peppy acceleration to sat the least! Official figures report that the T-Sport takes just a fraction more than 8 seconds to get from 0-60mph and it can reach a rather swift 140mph. But it doesnt get the recognition that it deserves! At the moment the Brits seem to have a passion for hot hatches....we buy more GTi, GSi and VTR pocket rockets than any other European country. The T-Sport is in league with cars such as the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Clio 172 and the Seat Leon Cupra R but the manufacturers statistics mean that unfortunately, it doesnt quite achieve genuine hot hatch status. This is such a shame as the car is capable of far more than people think. I would urge any potential buyers who are looking for a hot hatch not to be put off as there are numerous after market tweaks that can be applied to improve the performance and bring it in line with the other cars that do hold the coveted title. Replacing the exhaust for a Powerflow stainless steel unit, fitting an induction kit, even simple things like adding performance spark plugs can make a lot of difference, as does running the car on slightly more expensive Super Unleaded petrol. Ive noticed a significant ooomph by putting Super in my tank. I get a few surprised looks from other drivers who underestimate the Corollas capabilities. Even though it is a fast car I would still say that it has the benefit of being attractive to a wide market. It is suitable as a family car aswell....it has just got a bit of an edge! ~ SAFETY AND SECURITY ~ The Corolla T-Sport has side impact bars and is fitted as standard with twin front airbags and also front sidebags, for both driver and passenger. This provides plenty of padding in a collision but unfortunately means that it isnt safe for a child seat to be used in the passenger seat. A seatbelt tensioner system with force limiters is very effective in harsh braking situations, as is the skid compensating Vehicle Stability Control. The car also has ABS anti lock brakes which work in unison with the electronic brake force distribution. The T-Sport is very safety conscious! For the prevention of theft there is remote double locking, inbuilt immobiliser and a security alarm system. Oh, and those alloy wheels that I mentioned earlier come with a set of locking wheel nuts so you shouldnt get up one morning to find the car stood on bricks! Tests prove that a car thief could get into the Corolla in just 46 seconds but the immobiliser was successful in preventing the vehicle from actually being driven away. ~ COSTS ~ In comparison to some of the other hot hatches on the market, the Corolla T-Sport is slightly cheaper to buy. A brand new model will set you back just under £16K. They are also reported to have quite a strong trade-in value. Unfortunately it is inevitable that any brand new car loses value almost as soon as you have driven it out of the showroom but this particular car has a fairly good depreciation margin. For example, I bought my T-Sport for £11500 when it was approximately a year and a half old. I think they are managing to hold their price because there arent that many second hand versions on the market. This is another nice thing about the car....if you look around, you hardly see any on the road. It draws attention because it is different. Running costs are reasonable and the car manages to achieve excellent fuel economy with a combined average of 34 mpg, although this is based on driving at a steady pace rather than thrashing its socks off! Toyota seem to have made a lot of effort in trying to lower insurance groupings, resulting in reduced premiums. Low speed impact crash protection has been improved, minimising damage to the car. It has also been designed to be considerably cheaper to fix after minor accidents with lower priced parts. These factors combined with the lack of official hot hatch title have been successful in contributing to the lower insurance costs. The T-Sport is classed as a group 14. Not bad considering the potential that is eagerly lurking under the bonnet! ~ 2004 ~ For its second birthday the T-Sport has undergone a mild facelift to give it a bit more of a sporty look. The 04 version has a body kit fitted as standard which comprises of side skirts and front spoiler in addition to the rear spoiler that has been carried forward. There is now honeycomb mesh in the front grille and the bumpers are bigger, giving the car a more substantial and robust feel. It seems to have slightly stronger character which helps to promote its sporting nature. Better quality and comfort were the focus of the interior with a new selection of upholstery fabrics to choose from for the improved seats. Some rather nice white dials have been added, as well as aluminium pedals and foot rest plate. T-Sport logos are now built into the scuff plates and touches of carbon fibre are utilised throughout the cabin for a true sporty feel. Finishing touches that were sadly lacking in the earlier models. Other than that, the car is predominantly the same but a few issues pertaining to safety and performance have been addressed following earlier criticism. Previously I mentioned that handling could be quite sloppy and that being lowered greatly improves the drive. This has been taken into account for the 04 model and it has been lowered to create much sharper performance. Regarding safety, extra curtain shield airbags are now included and the problem of not being able to put a child seat in the front has been rectified - the front passenger airbag now has a cut off switch to deactivate it when a child seat is in use. There is also a new two stage seatbelt warning system which alerts both the driver and front passenger if they fail to buckle up. Overall, I love my 2002 model but this is a big step forward for the T-Sport!