Toyota started to feel the heat from VW and its super-successful Golf in the ’70s. Its German rival came with a front-wheel-drive layout, thus offering more space inside, lower overall weight, and better fuel economy. The Japanese automaker needed a response, and it needed it fast. As a result, the fifth generation Corolla E80 was born. 

It was a revolutionary upgrade for the nameplate, as it introduced front-wheel drive, more powerful and technologically advanced engines, and a modern, aerodynamic body. The decision to move to a new platform not only shed weight, improving fuel economy, but opened a ton of space inside, particularly for the rear passengers and cargo.

Of course, Toyota also offered the AE86 in this generation, a decision that was pure gold. Not only did Toyota cover the regular buyer with the dependable FWD versions, but it also offered a rear-wheel drive hot-hatch with a naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter 4A-GE engine producing 124 hp, putting the Golf GTI on notice. With this model, the automaker drew attention from the enthusiast crowd, which was unheard of in the first four generations.

Reviewers of the era praised the mass-market FWD Corolla for its comfort, practicality, and economy, even if some also noted that it could be a bit bland to drive. Still, the AE86 more than made up for it, offering a fun-to-drive component that FWD cars still can’t match. Not to forget, Toyota also used the 4A-GE screamer in the FX-16, an FWD, three-door hot-hatch. Put simply, there was an E80 Corolla for everyone — which is enough reason for it to make it to the top of our list.

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