The fourth-generation E70 Corolla and Sprinter, launched in Japan in March 1979 and a year or more later in export markets, continued the familiar formula with a number of significant refinements. One was standard front disc brakes. Another was a new rear suspension with coils instead of leaf springs and axle location by four trailing arms and a Panhard rod. The new suspension was prompted at least in part by European criticism of the outgoing Corolla’s primitive cart springs, but Toyota had been using a trailing arm/coil spring setup on the larger Corona and Carina for more than eight years, so it was hardly a radical leap; the rival Nissan Sunny had switched to a four-link axle the year before. In any case, the new suspension reduced harshness and allowed better axle control even with relatively soft springs.
Another addition, albeit not across the board, was rack-and-pinion steering. Curiously, this was offered only on the cheaper 1300 and later the 1500 models; cars with bigger engines retained the older recirculating ball layout. The press speculated that this was a packaging issue, but according to Corolla chief engineer Fumio Agetsuma, it was actually a compromise driven by consumer preference. While rack-and-pinion steering is more precise, it also transmits more road shock than does a recirculating ball layout, compromising the big-car feel Corolla customers had come to expect. We assume the logic of introducing rack-and-pinion steering first on the cheapest models was that repeat customers who wanted their new Corolla to be more of the same would be more likely to gravitate toward the more expensive, bigger-engined versions while the cheaper models were more likely to be sold to new buyers with fewer preconceptions.
Many Corollas and Sprinters still retained pushrod engines, but in Japan, the midrange 1400 was replaced by a new 1500 powered by the 1,452 cc (87 cu. in.) 3A-U, the latest development of the new A-system engine introduced six months earlier on the FWD Tercel and Corsa. Like the earlier T-system engine, the Type A engine had an aluminum head on an iron block, albeit lighter and more compact than before and with a belt-driven overhead camshaft instead of pushrods — the Corolla’s first mass-market OHC engine. In Japan, the 1500 also replaced the OHV 1600, but the 1,588 cc (97 cu. in.) 2T-C pushrod engine remained available in export markets. A few months after launch, there was also a new 1800 pushrod engine, the 1,770 cu. in. (108 cu. in.) 13T-U, with 95 PS JIS (70 kW). A federalized version of that engine, called the 3T-C, was standard on all U.S. Corollas from 1980 to 1982.
The DOHC 2T-GEU engine continued unchanged for JDM Levin, Trueno, and GT models, again with electronic fuel injection and catalytic converters. Export versions for markets with less-restrictive emissions standards had no catalysts and retained the original dual-carburetor 2T-G, later allowing the carbureted version to be homologated for Group A competition.
For all the changes, the “cooking” versions of the new Corolla and Sprinter still felt much like their predecessors. Except for the occasional emissions-control-related hiccup, the Corolla and Sprinter were painless to drive, but lacked the agility of contemporary rivals like the Honda Civic or RWD Ford Escort. That was at least partly by design; one of the things many Toyota customers both at home and abroad found endearing about the Corolla was that it felt bigger than it was, with light steering and a soft ride over reasonably smooth roads. The press, then as now more partial to sporty cars, complained of over-boosted brakes, steering that was numb and imprecise on center, substantial body lean, and axle tramp over bumpy roads (an annoyance the new suspension had mitigated but not completely erased).
With any of the pushrod engines, the Corolla and Sprinter’s straight-line performance wasn’t much to write home about either. The 1300 could be coaxed to perhaps 90 mph (145 km/h), but needed 15 seconds or more to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) even with manual shift. The uncatalyzed pushrod 1600 trimmed that time to the low-12-second range and put 100 mph (160 km/h) within reach, which was decent if hardly thrilling. U.S. cars had similar performance; the 3T-C engine, tuned for torque and low emissions rather than power, mustered no more than 75 hp SAE (56 kW).
On the other hand, many Corolla customers weren’t terribly concerned with sporty road manners. For most buyers, it was more important than the E70 retained the Corolla and Sprinter lines’ principal virtues: good fuel economy, an above-average repair record, and a painless ownership experience.
TE71 LEVIN AND TRUENO
By the late seventies, the mildly sporty air Toyota had cultivated for the original Corolla had been surrendered to the Celica sports coupe, which in Japan was sold through Corolla Stores. However, Japanese customers who found the standard E70 Corolla and Sprinter too sedate could still order the twin-cam 2T-GEU engine, which was now available on Liftbacks, hardtops, and four-door sedans as well as coupes. All DOHC models included not only a five-speed gearbox, stiffer springs and shocks, and wider radial tires, but also quick-ratio steering, a rear anti-roll bar, and four-wheel disc brakes. (The latter three items were also optional on JDM SR and SR coupes.) Only the twin-cam coupes were called Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno, but except for the narrower tires used on sedans, all 2T-GEU cars were mechanically identical save for the slight variations in weight between the different body styles.
The twin-cam cars were undoubtedly faster than lesser models, although even the lightest of the DOHC TE71 body styles was fully 220 lb (100 kg) heavier than the original TE27 Trueno and Levin, so the early cars were likely quicker. We assume the TE71 handled better than other E70 Corollas and Sprinters, but, lacking JDM road test data, we don’t know exactly how much better or at what cost in ride quality.
The cost in yen was much more obvious. The DOHC Corollas and Sprinters were cheaper than a Celica or Carina hardtop with the same engine, but nearly twice as expensive as a basic Corolla 1300, well into the territory of the new Mazda Savanna RX-7. The price of a new Sprinter Trueno GT would also put you into any number of bigger sedans with 2-liter engines. After launch, Toyota again tried to split the Levin and Trueno into cheaper S, standard, and better-equipped APEX versions, but the price differential wasn’t huge and sales remained mediocre, amounting to fewer than 25,000 units a year in all.