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Toyota Corolla Ultima 2011 Review

The perennial Corolla toughs it out in a brutal small-car market.

THE Volkswagen Beetle was once the world's most popular car until technology made it obsolete. Now it is the Toyota Corolla that has the mantle. More than 37 million have been sold since 1966 and the formula of simplicity, value for money, high resale prices and reliability is as integrated into its latest 10th generation as it was 45 years ago.

But the competition has become sharper. Compared with the Corolla, the style of its rivals is more athletic and better dressed. The opposition more readily embraces the latest technology and with it comes new economies in fuel use and ownership costs. And their value for money - predominantly through competitive prices and a soaring feature list - is eroding what once made the Corolla great.


The $31,490 Ultima automatic sedan tested gets a bigger 2-litre engine, leather interior, xenon low-beam headlights, reversing camera and rear spoiler for only $800 more than the previous 1.8-litre model. That puts it hard up against other key players from Mazda, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru and into an extremely competitive market.

Like Mitsubishi's 2.4-litre Aspire version of the Lancer, the Ultima bridges the price and performance gap between its less expensive, high-volume versions and the manufacturer's bigger car models - in this case, Camry.


The bigger 2-litre engine promises more power and performance but is hamstrung by the Ultima's extra weight - up to 50kg more than the 1.8-litre Corolla models - and retention of the uninspiring four-cog, non-sequential auto. This auto is actually a new unit but has a tough time against the five and six-speed autos used by rivals to enhance economy and performance.

The engine produces barely any more power and torque than the 1.8-litre version - disappointing - but is one of the very few on the market with a zero-maintenance camshaft drive chain.


The Ultima comes only as a sedan and looks neat - albeit conservative and with an unfortunate strong resemblance to its big sister, the Camry. It sits on the same wheelbase as the 2000 model yet the car's body is now longer, so no real advantage to cabin space.

The rear spoiler does nothing but defines the bootline. Women, apparently, like it because it looks sporty. So do I in Adidas shorts but believe me, the sight is appalling and hides the fact I couldn't run a warm bath.

Cabin style is simple but works really well and incorporates features that will make your life easier - the rear camera with its screen within the rear-vision mirror is borrowed from the Koreans yet is so effective it should be mandatory.

The boot is big, the rear seats split and fold down (not quite flat) and there's a full-size spare wheel. Two adults can fit in the back seat and thanks to the flat floor, you could persuade a third occupant of smaller stature to come along for the ride.


Seven airbags, electronic stability control and a five-star crash rating. All good news.


Big advances have been made to quieten the mechanicals and resist ambient noise. The ride also feels more supple than my 2000 Corolla Ultima. But I expected more zing. There is an improvement in low-end torque which helps the car get of the mark and allows the four-cog box to flick quickly up the ratios.

Annoyingly, hitting the accelerator to downshift when overtaking drops one extra the gear but makes the engine scream. A manual mode would greatly help the driving experience, even if that function is only needed in extreme circumstances.

Performance isn't its middle name. Punching out only 3kW more than my 1.8-engined Corolla, yet weighing heaps more, means it'll run around the same (uninspiring) time to 100km/h.

But drive it more cautiously and the car makes a lot of sense. The controls are perfectly placed, the steering feel is actually quite good and if you don't hammer the accelerator the journey is quiet and relaxed.

Fuel economy could be better. Around the suburbs the test car returned up to 8.5 litres/100km on the same route my Corolla gets 7.4 l/100km and a diesel Golf sucks only 6.1 l/100km.


It's well built, practical and durable. But it's simple and conservative in a market that wants - and is prepared to pay for - fresh meat.


Origin: Japan
Price: $31,490
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl
Power: 102kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 189Nm @ 4400rpm
Fuel: Standard unleaded
Fuel tank: 55 litres
Economy: 7.7 litres/100km (official), 8.2 litres/100km (tested)
Greenhouse: 181g/km (1.8 Corolla: 174g/km)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic; front-drive
Brakes: 4-wheel discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist
Turning circle: 10.2m
Suspension: MacPherson struts (front); multi-link, coils (rear)
Wheels: 16-inch alloy, 205/55R16 tyres; full-size steel spare
Dimensions: 4545mm (l), 1760mm (w), 1470mm (h)
Wheelbase: 2600mm
Weight: 1360kg
Tow (max): 1300kg
Boot (seat up/down): 450/1121 litres
Warranty: 3yr/100,000km
Service: 15,000km


  • Dual-zone climate airconditioning
  • 6-speaker 6-CD/iPod/USB Bluetooth audio
  • 7 airbags
  • Rear camera
  • Leather

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Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist


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