I can tell you two things after driving the new Corolla. One is that it's very good and two is that we'd take the CVT over the manual any day of the week.
That's a big call, especially for a car wearing a "sport" badge but it's clearly the better performer. Too bad the CVT is going to set you back another $2K.
At $20,490 the Ascent Sport is $1500 less than before. Bluetooth with steering wheel audio and phone controls is standard along with cruise control, 6-speaker CD audio and a reversing camera.
Sport also gets 16-inch alloys, a full size steel spare, rear privacy glass, chrome foglight surrounds, gloss-black bumper inserts, high-grade chrome upper radiator grille and mid-grade lower radiator grille.
It's an old tech multi-point injection four pot petrol engine, that has been retuned to produce with 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque. That's good enough to propel the hatch from 0-100km/h in 9.7 seconds, or 10.0 seconds flat with the CVT. The engine is coupled with a six-speed manual or 7-step CVT style auto (but without change paddles).
Who's noticed the similarity between the Corolla's tail lights and those of its competitor the i30? Design is derivative but these two are slightly embarrassing. The sharp shooter front and slit head lights give the car a swept back, sporty look but the interior is a bit of a let down.
The finish and seats are first rate, despite the use of hard plastics but the slab-faced dashboard is confronting and oddly reminiscent of the original Beetle. It gives the cabin a gloomy, claustrophobic feel. At the same time there is more knee room for rear passengers, a longer cargo floor and increased luggage capacity.
The Corolla's dynamics are outstanding. The ride is just right, not to soft and not too firm, with a satisfying big car thump over potholes. And the thing hangs on, even when pushed fairly enthusiastically.
The one low point in our drive experience came from the manual transmission which is plagued by throttle flare. By this I mean the engine continues to rev past the point of changing gears, despite the fact you no longer have the clutch pushed in and your right foot is no longer urging the accelerator on, making it difficult to execute a clean change.
It's not so noticeable when driving normally, but as soon as a little enthusiasm is introduced it becomes evident. The CVT, in contrast, is much smoother and more user friendly it delivers better economy too.
All model grades have seven SRS airbags, including driver's knee airbag and Toyota's latest-generation whiplash-injury lessening front seats. Active safety features include ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control.
After all these years Corolla is still the biggest selling car in the world. But it's got plenty of very good competition these days in the form of the Mazda3 and Hyundai i30. You'd be making a mistake thinking it's all about buying a Toyota.
Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Hatch
Price: from $19,990 (this model $20,990)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 10,000km
Crash rating: 5 star ANCAP
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, TC, ESC
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder petrol, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 7-speed CVT/6-speed manual, FWD
Dimensions: 4.28m (L), 1.76m (W), 1.46m (H)
Spare: Full size
Thirst: 7.1/6.6L/100km, 166/152g/km CO2