Fans tirelessly heralded the Japanese automaker’s sports cars as reliable, well-built and great fun to drive but many prospective buyers were simply put off by the name: “Toyota, what in the world is that?”
25 years ago Toyotas were not as widespread throughout Europe as they are today and for better or worse they looked like nothing else on the road; to a lot of buyers it was like if ET launched a car company.
Toyota tried to go more mainstream in 1987 when it launched the Corolla GT-i16. Based on the European-spec three-door variant of the Corolla, it was aimed squarely at the top end of the crowded hot hatch segment.
The exterior modifications carried out to the Corolla GT-i16 were pretty typical for the time. They included more aggressive front and rear bumpers that were intentionally left black, side skirts that were painted in the same color as the body and a very thin red decorative band that ran all around the car. A body-colored spoiler was affixed to the hatch and the finishing touch was a set of GT-i16 emblems mounted on the grille and at the base of the rear window.
The Corolla GT-i16 sat on 14-inch steel wheels covered by plastic hubcaps. It should be noted that the car that we have photographed for this article is fitted with aftermarket rims.
To make the Corolla worthy of the GTI emblem, Toyota upgraded the interior with a sporty three-spoke steering wheel upholstered in leather, a more complete instrumentation that featured a voltmeter and a temperature gauge for both the oil and the water, as well as velour-upholstered bucket seats for the front passengers. This marked a drastic improvement over the standard Corolla’s rather mundane interior.
One of the car’s biggest selling points was its generous amount of standard equipment: features like power windows and central locks were all part of the package at no extra cost, setting it apart from its often bare-bones competition.
As its name implies, the GT-i16 was powered by a fuel-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams. The engine was borrowed from the earlier Corolla GT 16S but it was still considered a relatively modern unit by the late 1980s. It was mated to a five-speed manual transmission that spun the front wheels.
When the car debuted in 1987 the 1.6-liter was rated at 125 horsepower and 107 lb-ft. of torque. Horsepower was bumped up to 130 later in the production run.
The GT-i16 took 9.3 seconds to sprint from zero to 62 miles per hour and went on to a top speed of 121 miles per hour. These figures were respectable considering that the car weighed 2,369 pounds but they were disappointing when pitted against the competition.
In the end, the GT-i16 was more of a comfortable touring car that could be driven briskly than a raw and all-out sports car. That plus Toyota’s lack of image in Europe meant that the car often flew under the radar of most car shoppers.
Toyota axed the GT-i16 after 1991 when the seventh-generation of the Corolla (called E100 internally) hit showrooms.