One decade ago, you'd sweat to make $21,840 to buy a five-door Corolla without airconditioning and just one airbag. Today, the equivalent Corolla is $19,990 with airconditoning, seven airbags, electronic stability control, a six-speaker audio, cruise control and Bluetooth.
The price has gone down, the feature - and safety - list is so good it's in prestige-car territory, and the Australian average weekly wage has jumped 32 per cent. Oh, and interest rates - as defined by the Reserve Bank's official cash rate, are now 3.25 per cent compared with 5.0 per cent a decade ago.
With so much cheap money, cheap cars and bigger wages, it's no wonder car sales are so strong. What are you waiting for?
Cheap as chips. The Corolla has always been affordable but it's getting even more desirable. The latest hatch - a sedan may come late next year - is a pearler. The top-line Levin ZR tested here has an automatic transmission ($2000), a panoramic sunroof ($1500) and metallic paint ($425) as options to its $28,490 tag.
It has a heap of goodies including LED daytime running lamps, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone auto climate-control aircon, electric lumbar support for the driver, heated front seats, leather upholstery, button start, sat-nav and a reverse camera. Capped-price service and guaranteed resale value are big bonuses.
That's very good value but it has very good rivals - even the outgoing Volkswagen Golf is $31,990 for an auto with similar specs - and wins because of its bulletproof durability and concrete resale value. But you don't have to reach to the top shelf for Corolla value. Look also at the Levin SX auto for $25,990.
This is an evolution of Toyota's cautious styling strides but it has broad buyer appeal. There's some Yaris in there and a bit of Prius. Overall, the hatch looks contemporary and certainly ages rivals such as the Nissan Pulsar which hasn't even been launched yet.
Good room inside for four adults (though the rear seat is hard and unsupportive), an upmarket dash with stitched leather and soft plastics, good switchgear and simple placement and a biggish boot win friends. But a narrow rear window makes for poor rear visibility (thankfully there's a rear camera in the Levin), the A-pillars are wide and the bonnet droops into the unknown. But it's still a nice bit of gear.
The Corolla is as simple as it was 10 years ago and the biggest techno change over the previous model is the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) that succeeds a conventional four-speed automatic. CVTs can be hot or cold but Toyota has got it right. The two Levin models also get paddle shifters. The car's basic platform remains but the new bodyshell is more rigid and there's now tweaked electric steering and suspension. The 1.8-litre engine continues but has more power (up 3kW to 103kW) at an extra 400rpm at 6400rpm compared with the old model. It has the same torque (173Nm) that conversely arrives 400rpm lower at 4000rpm. Fuel economy is down with the CVT version claiming 6.6-litres/100km. The previous auto got 7.4 litres/100km.
The new toy has seven airbags, a five-star crash rating, all the necessary electronic aids, hill-start assist and an emergency brake signal which automatically flashes the hazard warning lamps during hard braking to alert following motorists. The Levin ZR also gets a space-saver spare, auto-levelling high-intensity headlights that see around corners, and a reverse camera.
This is such an accommodating car that everyone will feel at home in the cabin. Same on the road. The driving experience is unthreatening and without any surprises. The engine sounds the same as in the past 10 years and the performance is also the same - a bit lacklustre but completely predictable.
There's more perkiness from the engine, however, thanks to the CVT that offers a multitude of ratios, plus seven preset gears available by operating the steering wheel paddles. There's a bit of the inherent CVT elastic-band character that feels like a slipping clutch but compared to many CVT-equipped rivals, this is a good one.
The claim of an extra 3kW at 6400rpm must be an in-house Toyota joke as the only owner who will visit those high revs will be either insane or has bought the wrong car. That aside, the hatch is a more confident car through the corners than ever before.
It also feels more comfortable and quieter, though the noise levels deteriorate on coarse bitumen as tyre roar intrudes. Same problem with the Mazda3. Everything about the Corolla is better than before, but only marginally, and sadly none of this comes as a huge surprise.
It's better than before and no one's going to complain. But as an excitement machine, you may have to buy something else.
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash rating: 5-star
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl petrol, 100kW/175Nm
Transmission: CVT auto; front drive
Thirst: 6.6L/100km; 91RON; 152g/km CO2
Dimension: 4.3m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)