What’s in a name? Often there isn’t much to a name really, it’s a handle or a tagline used simply so we have a term for referring to something or someone. But there are other times when a name is a clue, referring to origin or even character or purpose. So when Toyota named its go-faster Corolla the ‘Blade Master-G’, it’s more than just a name, it’s a statement. Like a cross between a gangster rapper and a samurai warrior is the Blade a vehicle designed to entertain, to frighten, or to cut up anything who gets in its way? Is the tough name all talk or has this Japanese domestic market special got some bite to back its bark? Car and SUV got behind the wheel of the new to NZ, Toyota Blade to find out exactly what makes it tick.
From the outset the Blade is an extremely interesting prospect. Tailored mainly for the Japanese market it’s being imported in small numbers to NZ through Toyota’s successful Signature Range. Based on the Corolla hatch, the Blade is a genuine performance variant, something we haven’t had here for quite some time.
So will the Blade be noticed among the populous ranks of tenth-generation Corollas here in NZ? It would take a keen eye to spot the Blade, that said, it’s not entirely a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The proportions are the same as the standard Corolla but key differences lay in the Blade’s front and particularly rear lights, which are more striking, clear lens. The front bumper and grille is more bulky and aggressive than the standard Corolla and side skirting adds to the low, athletic demeanor. Finishing the look is unique Blade badging and 17-inch 5-spoke factory rims that almost fill out the guards. Overall, the Blade design is a mix of the familiar and the foreign, Toyota has some success in making the Corolla look sportier but it’s still unlikely to strike fear into other hot hatch owners.
Inside, the Blade inherits all the practicality of the Corolla but dresses it up in more exclusive packaging. The switchgear and dashboard are thoughtfully laid out and a floating centre control stack keeps everything at hand and extends the Blade’s modern feel. Black plastics mix in with silver/grey trim and the leather-wrapped steering wheel houses handy audio controls. The front seats are supportive, have multiple electric adjustments and are finished in black leather and alcantara. The alcantara trim is also used on the lid of the split glovebox and the top of the instrument cluster increasing the soft touch surfaces and giving the cabin a luxury feel. The back seat can take three adults at a push and offers very good legroom for a hatchback. Storage space in the hatch is a strength in the Corolla, like so for the Blade. General build quality is excellent in the Blade’s interior and there are some class touches like dual-zone air conditioning and push button start. There is a lot to like about the Blade cabin, it’s purposeful, spacious and comfortable but not particularly sporty. This gives the car a more luxury cruiser feel to it from the driver’s seat, which is at odds with the bold exterior aesthetic and the big, thumping heart under the bonnet.
So what exactly makes the Blade Master-G tick? Instead of taking the turbocharged route that is popular for most modern hot hatchbacks, Toyota has increased engine size to boost power. To achieve this Toyota has shoehorned a 3.5-litre V6 alloy engine into the Blades compact engine bay. That’s a whole lot of motor you might say, and you’d be right. Toyota’s 2GR-FE engine is more commonly found in much larger vehicles like the Lexus IS350 and the Aurion sedan. The hard-revving unit packs a heavyweight punch too with 206kW of power on tap and 344Nm of torque. It pushes the Blade along with serious gusto and while it doesn’t have that turbocharged pull it still moves off the line rapidly. But equally important to the power is the heavy dose of torque, which gives the Blade strength at any speed, especially between 80-120kph. Away from the hard performance the V6 motor is fairly smooth and refined when cruising on the motorway or in stop/start traffic making it easy to relax and take a break from tearing around.
Power from the well-endowed motor is sent exclusively to the Blade’s front wheels via a 7-Speed automatic transmission. While a manual transmission may be more appealing in this niche market segment the auto box provides quick and smooth shifts. The ratios are well sorted and if manual changes are required there’s a sequential option on the gear-stick and also paddles behind the steering wheel.
In terms of driving dynamics the Blade has some unique characteristics. As you’d expect there is some torque-steer at the front driving wheels. If you really stomp down on the accelerator pedal at the lights you won’t be going anywhere till the front treads stop spinning. That said, if you’re gentle the Blade rewards with a fairly engaging and fun drive. But this isn’t a screaming about, hard boosting machine like a Mazda3 MPS or Subaru WRX STI, it has a much more refined, gentile driving dynamic. It does ride on stiffer suspension than the standard Corolla and this pays off with flat cornering and minimal body roll. Grip is also very good once the Blade is up to speed and it will hold on with tenacity even at its limit. Push the Blade too hard and it will understeer but the traction and stability control should save you from total embarrassment. The traction control system is a permanent setting and cannot be turned off, which depending on your viewpoint, is either a good or bad thing.
Other safety features are impressive and include uprated sports brakes to help throw the anchors down and a full compliment of eight airbags if things go seriously wrong. There’s also hill start assist and electronic brake distribution.
So does the Blade Master-G live up to its tough guy name?
Mostly, the Blade is without doubt a hot hatch but it’s more gentleman boxer than back street brawler. It’s a unique car that has a very individual blend of luxury, comfort and raw sporting ability. The Blade will have genuine appeal to those looking for a hot hatch but don’t want a leery turbocharged model, it will also be on the radar of Toyota badge fans desperate for a late-model performance machine. But most of all, the Blade will appeal to those who want something familiar and practical like the Corolla but totally different and original at the same time. Being able to achieve that rare feat makes the Blade Master-G one badass hatchback. Watch out for it.
Price: depends on kms and condition, expect between $20-$30k
What we like:
- Highly original
- Strong Performer
- Solid safety equipment
- Quality interior
What we don’t like:
- More could have been done with the exterior styling,
- Fuel economy won’t be great
- Vague steering
Words & Photos: Adam Mamo