We use the word ‘competitive’ advisedly, Australians are showing a strong preference for small passenger vehicles rather than the large family sixes they used to love with a passion.
The Mazda3 has been at the top of the sales tree for the last two years, but is getting on in years and Toyota wouldn't mind a tilt at the crown. Nissan Australia is also in the race with it’s all-new Pulsar. Toyota and Nissan have both priced their entry level models at $19,990.
When the big three car makers start to get really serious about maximising sales buyers are the real winners. These cars are all very well priced, but you may still be able to squeeze another few dollars out of the transaction.
New Toyota Corolla is powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that’s based on the one used in the outgoing model. It has significant changes to improve power and torque characteristic and reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
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.
Corollas have long had a reputation for being sensible, logical buys that are on the boring side – until now. Toyota’s new chief, Akio Toyoda, a direct descendant of the man who set up the company, didn’t like the ‘boring but sensible’ tag being given to his company’s products, so he suggested to designers and engineers that more character might be nice.
When the big boss says he would like something it makes sense to listen and respond. From a styling point of view the 11th generation Corolla is right up to date, with a clean front where the lights and grille blend neatly and in the side view which has a real Euro look.
At this stage the Corolla is being sold only as a five-door hatchback, sedans won’t be seen till fairly late in 2013; for competitive reasons Toyota Australia won’t reveal the date. In the meantime the existing old model Corolla sedans will remain on sale.
All models come with a solid range of primary and secondary safety equipment, with stability control, ABS brakes with assistance, seven airbags and lap-sash safety belts on all five seats.
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 down changes through the preset ratios on the CVT. However, the above comments on the CVT are based on our test drives of the Corollas at the press launch late in 2012. Toyota Australia is very wary of adverse reports on this type of automatic transmission, so gave us a manual for our extended test.
We found the manual to be light and easy in its actions. It mates well with the engine, which is happy to pull at low revs if throttle pressures are minimised to save fuel. However, the car wasn’t as economical as we anticipated, typically using nine to eleven litres per hundred kilometres in heavy-duty driving around town. This came down to about seven to eight litres on easy paced country trips.
Handling of the new Corolla is excellent, all the more so when you remember it’s a family hatchback with no pretensions to sportiness. Australian engineers were involved in the earliest stage of development to ensure our local drivers got what they wanted.
Turning in is neat and the car responds promptly to driver inputs. The Corolla can be steered on the throttle if you want to really push it hard. The electrically assisted power steering is nicely weighted and gives good feedback.
Comfort on poor 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 happy with the comfort / handling compromise, but if you demand comfort ahead of all else it might be worth checking it out on some rough roads during your own road testing.
Toyota’s Corolla has been a favourite in Australia for almost five decades, even being built in this country for quite a few years. We see no reason why our love affair with this car shouldn't be every bit as strong as in the previous 10 generations. Can it oust Mazda3 and fight off Pulsar to pick up the top spot? Time will tell…
Ascent 1.8-litre five-door hatch: $19,990 (manual), $21,990 (CVT automatic)
Ascent Sport 1.8-litre five-door hatch: $20,990 (manual), $22,990 (CVT automatic)
Levin SX 1.8-litre five-door hatch: $23,990 (manual), $25,990 (CVT automatic)
Levin ZR 1.8-litre five-door hatch: $28,490 (manual), $30,490 (CVT automatic)
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR
Price: from $28,490
Warranty: 3 years 100,000km
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed CVT, FWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100Km CO2 166g/km (manual), 6.6L/100km CO2 152g/km (CVT)