Well into its fourth decade in Australia the Toyota Corolla has consistently been a big player in our new and used-car scene. it has been fully imported from Japan since 1999. Before that the Corolla was built in Melbourne. Corolla was built in Melbourne until 1999 and has been fully imported from Japan since then.
During the period Corollas were made here changes were made to the original Japanese design to suit them to Australian conditions. In a compliment to Australian automotive engineering some of the local modifications were transferred to Corollas worldwide. To this day Toyota Australia provides feedback and engineering information to Japan.
Handling is competent enough, with an emphasis on comfort rather than sportiness. But over the years the way Corollas handle has moved more in the direction of handling and the latest generation, introduced in November 2012 will appeal more then ever before to those who consider themselves to be keen drivers.
Most Corolla are four-door sedans and five-door hatchbacks. A station wagon was sold until early the model change of April 2007. While it is a practical machine with a good load area it was never particularly popular as buyers preferred larger wagons or SUVs.
Toyota Corolla has reasonable rear-seat room and a good-sized boot so is large enough to be considered as a family car if the children haven’t reached their tall-teen years. Engines are all four-cylinder units with a capacity of 1.8 litres.
Anxious to get away from the Corolla's reputation for being a sensible but boring car, Toyota has had a stab at a couple of sporting variants. These Sportivo models didn’t have a lot of success because many of the so-called sporty models have been half-hearted styling-and-suspension jobs without any more engine performance than the standard cars.
The 2001 Corolla Sport model did have a turbo engine with plenty of grunt, but it was expensive and didn’t sell well. This can be an interesting car if you are looking for something out of the ordinary, but talk to your insurance company first as insurers often take a dislike to turbocharged engines.
From May 2003 until 2006, Toyota imported the Corolla Sportivo with what was virtually a hot Celica 1.8-litre engine. There’s plenty of power high up the scale, up to 141 kW at the peak, but down-low torque is noticeably lacking so driving can be irritating unless you are a full-on sports enthusiast.
Toyota Corolla manual gearboxes were five-speed units until the all-new model of 2007 when a six-speed was installed. An exception to this is the Celica-engined Sportivo which has a close-ratio six-speed unit.
The automatic transmissions are lagging behind many competitors in still being four-speed units. Performance from an automatic can be marginal in a car of this size so take it for a good test drive to check that it suits your needs.
Spare parts and servicing for these Toyotas are available through one of the biggest, most widely spread dealer networks in the Australia. Some outlets in the outback may not stock less common components for the Corolla but can have them shipped in promptly.
The Corolla has a simple layout and is easy for the good amateur mechanic to work on. But please stick to non-safety work unless you are a professional. Workshop manuals are readily available at specialist motoring bookshops as well as some general suppliers. We recommend you have one at your side before commencing work.
Insurance premiums are usually low on all but the turbocharged and full-house Sportivo models. If looking at the latter make enquiries in advance, particularly if you are a young and/or inexperienced driver as the premiums can be budget breakers.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Check for signs of panel damage or previous repairs. Look for ripples in the body, best seen by looking at the car end on in good light; watch for paint colours that don’t match correctly. Also check for tiny spots of paint on areas like glass, badges and rubbing strips that should be paint free.
Rust is not common in later-model Corollas, but can sometimes be found around the fuel filler cap and the hinges of the rear hatch. Check the bottom corners of the doors and mudguards, the door sill panels and in the lower edges of the bootlid or tailgate.
Look carefully at the interior for signs of damage or excessive wear. Drying out and cracking of the dashboard top or rear shelf probably means the car has seldom, or never, been garaged.
The engine should start within a couple of seconds and settle into a smooth idle within seconds. Listen for a rattle from it when it does start and check the oil light goes out quickly.
Look for smoke from the exhaust pipe when the engine is accelerated hard after having been idling for a minute or so.
Make sure the brakes don't pull the car to one side when they are applied hard and that ABS, if fitted, works correctly. A pulsation through the brake pedal under hard braking will tell you all is OK.
Budget on spending from $3000 to $6000 for a 2000 Toyota Corolla Conquest sedan; $5000 to $8000 for a 2003 Ascent sedan; $8000 to $12,000 for a 2005 Conquest hatch; $10,000 to $16,000 for a 2006 Ultima sedan; $14,000 to $20,000 for a 2008 Levin ZR hatch; and $18,000 to $26,000 for a 2012 Ultima sedan.
CAR BUYING TIP
The more popular the car the more choice you have on the used-car market – take your time and hunt up the best you can find.