Australians love Corollas and have done so for the last 46 years. Ours was the first market outside Japan to receive the car, Corollas were built here, in Melbourne, for many years and on average Australians buy almost 10 times more Corollas than the global average for the car. Corollas have long had a reputation for being sensible, logical buys that are on the boring side – until now that is.
Akio Toyoda, a direct descendant of the man who set up the loom making company that eventually became Toyota Motor Corporation, was appointed president of the organisation in 2009. A motoring enthusiast, Toyoda-san didn’t like the ‘boring’ tag often used for the company’s products, so he ordered the stylists and engineers to give their cars more character.
I had the privilege of speaking briefly to Toyoda in Tokyo in 2011 during a visit there to review and test drive the brand new Toyota 86. The launch of that exciting sports coupe showed graphically that a revolution was underway in Toyota. The new Corolla, though obviously not in the same league for excitement as the 86, moves the car upwards in its styling and driving dynamics.
At this stage the Corolla is being sold only as a five-door hatchback, sedans won’t be seen till this time next year. In the meantime the existing sedans will remain on sale.
Four grades are offered, starting with the Corolla Ascent with a price tag of $19,990 before on-road costs. This number is rapidly becoming the new norm in this hard fought market segment – Australian new car buyers have never been better off. The most expensive new Corolla, the equipment-packed Levin ZR with automatic transmission is priced at $30,490 plus on-roads.
The new Corolla is powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine based on the one used in the outgoing model. It has significant changes to improve power and torque characteristic and reduce consumption.
Transmission choices are a six-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic on all models. The CVT can act as a pseudo manual by choosing one of seven preset ratios should the driver feel they need to hold a particular ratio at any time.
On the road we were impressed by the characteristics of the continuously variable transmission. Some find the ‘slipping-clutch’ sound of the original CVTs irritating. The new Toyota unit is more gradual in the way the engine revs rise when you need power quickly. The result is an efficient engine / transmission combination that should please the revheads just as much as those who care for the environment.
Revheads will just love the way the engine is automatically blipped during manual downchanges through the preset ratios.
Handling is excellent for a small family hatchback thanks to input from Australian engineers from the earliest stage of development. The electrically assisted power steering is nicely weighted and gives good feedback. Turning in is neat and the car responds well to driver inputs if you need to change direction when a bend tightens or loosens. The Corolla can be steered on the throttle if you want to really push it hard.
Comfort on bad roads, not necessarily unsealed ones, isn’t as good as on previous Corollas due to the sporting revisions to the car’s character. Keen drivers will be more than happy with the compromise, but if you demand comfort ahead of all else it might be worth checking it out on some rough roads during your pre-purchase road test.
We have just completed an evening of technical presentations and a full day of driving the new Corolla, now in its 11th generation, and have been impressed with the improvements made, particularly in styling. This car is bang up to date in sleek lines and in the way the lights and grille work blend together.
Ascent: $19,990 (manual), $21,990 (CVT automatic)
Ascent Sport: $20,990 (manual), $22,990 (CVT automatic)
Levin SX: $23,990 (manual), $25,990 (CVT automatic)
Levin ZR: $28,490 (manual), $30,490 (CVT automatic)
Price: from $19,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 50%, Glass's Guide
Service interval: 12 months/10,000km (capped price)
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, ESP
Crash rating: 5 stars
Engine: 1.8 litre 4-cylinder petrol, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed CVT auto; FWD
Thirst: from 6.6L/100km, 152g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.27m (L), 1.76m (W), 1.46m (H)
Weight: from 1250kg Spare: full-sized (except Levin)