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Toyota Corolla CVT 2012 review

Everyone in Australia, whether they know it or now, has craved a Toyota Corolla at some time in their life. Since the Corolla first landed in the 1960s, it has been the first choice for first-car buyers, young married couples, retirees and parents looking to launch youngsters on their first motoring adventure. Even if you haven't targeted a Corolla, you have almost certainly targeted a car that does a Corolla job.

Now we have another new Corolla, the 11th time the car has been renewed, which comes with everything from big promises to a great-value $19,990 starting price. After driving it this morning, I can confidently say ... But things will not be easy for small-car shoppers, even diehard Corolla fans.

Nissan is about to bring the Pulsar back to Australia with an all-new model also priced from $19,990, Hyundai has done an impressive job on renewing its i30 this year for less money, and the Volkswagen Golf is now the best small car in the world after a huge seventh-generation overhaul.

As you'd expect, this is the best Corolla yet. And it trumps anything else from Japan or Korea. But the aardvark in the room is the VW Golf. Even if we're still waiting to hear how the final pricing will affect its competitiveness in Australia.

Still, nobody is going to be disappointed in the new Corolla, thanks to everything from truly comfortable seats to an indicator sound that could have come from a Jaguar and not any other Corolla.

VALUE

The Corolla has never been better value. But, then again, the Australian dollar has rarely been stronger. Toyota has again cashed in its exchange-rate gains to boost the value in its favorite baby, just as it did earlier this year with the bottom line on the landmark 86 sports car.

The basic Corolla Ascent now has a $19,990 showroom sticker, a cut of $1000, while the Ascent Sport is down by $5,000 to $20,990 and the Levin SX has copped a $1100 cut to $23,990. Only the flagship Levin ZR is the same price as the outgoing car, at $28,490, but Toyota says it has more equipment with 17-inch alloys.

Toyota in Japan has also taken a cost-down approach to the car, but been careful to do the job without hurting quality or equipment. It also has to protect the resale values of all those other Corollas on the road in Australia, even the latest $18,990 driveway specials based on the outgoing model...

The only bad news on the money front is the $2000 price of the optional CVT automatic gearbox, up from the industry standard of $1500 for a self shifter. But Nissan says the CVT on the Pulsar is going to be $2250, so it's not as bad as it could have been.

TECHNOLOGY

Everyone wants to know about things like Bluetooth and big sound and aircon and power steering -- electric this time -- which are all standard on the Corolla. Every new Corolla also gets seven airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating, which is more important than things like power.

Still, Toyota says the updated 1.8-litre engine now makes 103 kiloWatts and the 173 Newton-metres of torque arrives in a more-accessible rev range. Importantly, and helped by the seven-speed CVT, fuel economy is as low as 6.6 litres/100kilometres running on 91 unleaded.

The new auto is a big improvement and Toyota claims it provides self-shifting convenience with manual-style shift breaks, for more response and a car that sounds less like it has a slipping clutch. The chassis is standard stuff for the class, there is ABS and ESP, but the body is more rigid and a lot of work has gone into cutting noise. 

Toyota is looking closely at a high-performance model but don't expect a Corolla diesel any time soon, although there is a hybrid for Europe. Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, promises the sporty DNA developed for the 86 will spread throughout the range and the Corolla's chief engineer says his new car is more rewarding to drive than any previous model.

DESIGN

The Corolla has never pushed the boat out on style, but the new look is nowhere near as blandoid as before. It's wedge and a bit edgy, with more contouring of the body panels and a nose which is much more prominent. Inside, work has gone into improving finishes and giving the soft of touch-and-feel satisfaction that Golf buyers get and Mercedes-Benz is promising with its upcoming baby A-Class.

The functionality is also better, with front seats that sit lower for better access and also have more adjustment so a wider range of owners can get comfortable. This is a very big change for a company which has always steered for the middle of the road. Trimming the seat backs also gives more knee room in the rear, while the boot has a longer floor and a wide opening to improve access and boost capacity slightly.

SAFETY

The Corolla is a five-star ANCAP car and that's enough for most people.
But Volkswagen recently included an auto-braking anti-collision system on its $13,990 Up, something that's missing from the Corolla.
I can still remember Toyota dragging and lagging on ESP for Australia, so it's hardly a safety leader, despite including things like HID lamps on the Levin ZR.

DRIVING

On paper and in pictures, the new Corolla looks very good. But, after driving the all-new seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf in Europe a week ago, Carsguide knows the Corolla has to be nothing short of brilliant to trump the new Euro champ. Visually, the Corolla finally stands out -- at least a little -- in the small-car herd. And the cabin reflects a totally different design approach. It's still Toyota efficient, but it breaks away from the blandness with the potential for some personalisation.

Visibility is great, despite a slightly pinched view through the rear window, but the real delight comes in the new driving position. Toyota has finally recognised that people don't like to sit with their hair brushing the roof or jammed up against the dash, which means you can sit back in comfort and also enjoy front seats that are nicely shaped and padding that's just right.

The steering is light, the car is easy to park and even thought the boot is no bigger it is easier to load. It's also good to find. Full sized spare in the starting price car. So, how does it drive? It's very, very good for a Corolla, and good for a Japanese car. But I've just been spoiled by Golf 7. The Corolla gets along nicely enough, promises great fuel economy and is pretty quiet on all but the worst surfaces. But it doesn't have the limo-like cushiness or the library-quiet cabin of the Volkswagen.

Now we come to the gearbox... And I have to say that CVTs are about as popular as brussel sprouts wi the Carsguide crew. But Toyota's engineers have added bearnaise sauce with a system that almost -- but not quite --eliminates the horrible flaring and slipping clutch sound while also giving a seven-speed drivers mode that's not as bad as a fake manual.

The overall impression is a car that's more complete, and returns the Corolla to the top of the small car heap. For now, anyway. When ou also consider the $19,990 starting price, it's a brilliant package.

VERDICT

The new Corolla ticks all the boxes, and has everything it needs to be Australia's best seller in 2013. If only there wasn't a new Golf just around the corner...

Pricing guides

$11,990
Based on 257 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,990
Highest Price
$18,888

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Ascent 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $8,490 – 14,990 2012 Toyota Corolla 2012 Ascent Pricing and Specs
Ascent Sport 1.8L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $5,990 – 13,990 2012 Toyota Corolla 2012 Ascent Sport Pricing and Specs
Conquest 1.8L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $11,998 – 12,990 2012 Toyota Corolla 2012 Conquest Pricing and Specs
Levin SX 1.8L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $8,140 – 11,440 2012 Toyota Corolla 2012 Levin SX Pricing and Specs