TOYOTA has priced the base version of its completely redesigned Corolla at $20,990, positioning it against premium small cars such as the Mazda3, Holden Astra, Ford Focus and Honda Civic.
While the entry-level price represents a $1000 increase over the outgoing model, the latest Corolla packs in more features, space and performance while being longer, wider and (in hatchback guise) taller than before.
Toyota claims that the Corolla’s “keen” pricing puts it at a five to eight per cent advantage against similarly specified major rivals.
Now in its 10th generation, Toyota’s venerable small car – known as the 150 series – finally matches every opponent (except the current LS Focus) in offering anti-lock brakes (ABS) on every model.
This includes Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). Even the mid-range Corolla Conquest did not include ABS until June last year – the same time that dual airbags were finally standardised in the base Ascent.
An “Enhanced Safety Pack” featuring front-side and curtain airbags and a class-first driver's knee airbag is a $750 option on the Ascent and Levin SX, and standard on all other models.
Corollas fitted with the Enhanced Safety Pack score the maximum five-star rating in the European NCAP crash test results. Toyota Australia says it does not yet know what rating the non-safety pack models will achieve.
Stability control is not available for now. Toyota says it will be offered across the entire Corolla range from September 2008, perhaps as part of a MY09 model refresh.
Other new-to-Corolla features include height and reach adjustable steering, electric power steering, MP3 compatible CD/radio audio and a revised four-speed automatic gearbox with driver-adaptive shift technology.
On manual cars, six forward speeds replace five, which has been the standard gearbox in the Corolla since the four-speed manual vanished in 1989.
This six-speed manual transmission, unrelated to the unit found in the last Sportivo, is paired to a smoother, more durable clutch.
The Corolla also regains its 100kW power rating. This figure decreased when the old model’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine dropped to 93kW of power and 161Nm of torque (from 171Nm) in late 2005 to meet the 2006 Euro III emissions requirements.
Today’s engine is an all-new 1.8-litre twin-cam four-cylinder unit delivering 100kW at 6000rpm, 174Nm at 4400rpm and 2008 Euro IV emissions-meeting capabilities.
Derived from the 1.6-litre unit offered in European models, the powerplant is tuned to run on 91 RON regular unleaded petrol.
As before, Toyota’s VVT-i variable valve timing technology is utilised to improve both low- and high-rev performance, but this time it features a segment-first continuously variable adjustment on both the inlet and exhaust camshafts, rather than on just the former. Toyota badges this ‘Dual VVT-i’.
The result helps the Corolla manual hatch to hit the 100km/h mark in 9.7 seconds (11.0 sec for the auto/11.1 sec for auto sedan), on its way to a 200km/h top speed (auto: 190km/h).
Average combined fuel consumption drops in the sedan (by 0.1L to 7.3L and 7.4L/100km respectively in the manual and auto), remains steady in the manual hatch (7.4L/100km) and rises from 7.5L to 7.7L/100km in the auto hatch.
One reason for the disparity of economy between body styles is due to the hatch being around 10kg heavier, coming in between 1275kg and 1330kg against the sedan’s 1255kg to 1320kg range.
It is worth noting that Toyota more-or-less maintained the previous Corolla’s fuel economy figures despite weight increases in excess of 200kg.
For now, there is no sign of a harder-edged Corolla like the old Sportivo with its 141kW/180Nm 1.8-litre engine. That was discontinued in late 2005 when it could no longer meet emissions standards.
In Europe, as the Auris, the Corolla also offers 1.6-, 2.0- and 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel models. Australia is unlikely to see any of these, however, unless there is a massive rise in petrol prices.
Nor is there any word on a Ford Focus-style independent double wishbone rear suspension that racier versions of the Auris/Corolla cars boast in some markets.
Instead, Corolla version 10.0 continues with a variation of the old car’s MacPherson strut front-end and torsion beam and trailing-arm rear set-up, which brings cost and space-saving benefits.
Among the changes are new dampers, redesigned coil springs and a revised front anti-roll bar, to improve steering, handling and ride quality – all honed for Australian conditions. Toyota has deemed the rear suspension design strong enough not to require a rear anti-roll bar.
Also aiding dynamics is a stiffer body, through the use of high-strength steels (particularly in the roof and A-pillar areas) and ‘ultra high’ strength steels, as well as a flat rear floor section in the hatch (and almost flat in the sedan).
Extra bracing can be found in the body, floor and behind the dashboard cowl. This in turn makes the Corolla safer in an accident, more durable and more refined.
Helping the latter are improved aerodynamics and more extensive use of sound deadening.
Sitting on the same 2600mm wheelbase as before, the front and rear tracks grow from 1480mm and 1460mm respectively to 1525mm (Ascent 1535mm) and 1520mm for the sedan and 1525mm (Ascent: 1535mm) at both ends for the hatchback.
In hatch models, length/width/height are 4220/1760/1515mm, representing increases of 45/65/45mm. The sedan’s dimensions are 4540/1760/1475mm, up by 150/65/5mm.
The sedan’s boot space of 450 litres puts it within 10 per cent of a VE Commodore (with the added benefit of a split/fold rear seatback) while the Hatchback is rated at 283 litres.
Fuel tank capacity is 55 litres and the Corolla’s braked towing capacity is 1300kg.
Bolt-on front and rear panels make crash repairs easier and cheaper, while Toyota has worked hard to make the nose more pedestrian impact-friendly and the overall vehicle more recyclable.
Real-world fuel consumption savings result from having electric-powered rack-and-pinion steering, according to Toyota, since it only consumes energy when assistance is needed, whereas hydraulics add to the engine load, weight and complexity.
Employing electricity also allows Toyota to better tailor steering weight and feel for each market’s requirements. Our Corollas have 2.9 turns lock-to-lock and a 10.4-metre turning circle.
Brakes are 275mm (up 20mm) by 22mm ventilated front discs and 259mm (down 10mm) by 9mm solid rear discs. Both employ single-piston sliding calipers.
Ascent rides on 15-inch steel wheels shod with 195/65R15 tyres, while all others upgrade to 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/55R16 rubber.
With the demise of the wagon, only the hatch and Japanese-designed four-door sedan remain.
Designed at Toyota’s ED2 studio in the south of France (also responsible for the Echo and Yaris), the five-door hatch aims to snare private-use “image conscious” under-35 year-olds – who make up almost 25 per cent of all small-car purchases.
Toyota in Australia resisted pressure from head office in Japan to switch to the global ‘Auris’ name, citing the 40 year-old Corolla nameplate's high consumer recall, reputation and affection.
However, it is believed that Toyota might be open to adding the Auris name as an adjunct to the Corolla hatchback in the future, should it not succeed in winning over younger buyers.
Conservative consumers are catered-for by the four-door sedan, a cab-forward design penned and developed at Toyota’s Nagoya facility in Japan. For inspiration, its creators spent four months in Turin in Italy.
All Australian-bound Corollas are built in Japan.
The Corolla’s interior differs between the sedan and the hatch.
Describing the hatch as a “short and tall” design, Toyota says it went for an “inside-out” approach to maximise cabin space (this is meant to be a European family car, after all), with extra attention paid to aesthetics and tactile quality.
A Volvo S40-style ‘bridged’ centre console creates room around the driver’s legs, for instance.
For a more natural driving environment, the gear lever has been moved closer to the driver while the steering wheel is now further away.
Rear legroom has risen significantly, aided by installing thinner front seat backs and the adoption of a flat floor in the rear.
Meanwhile, the sedan has a more traditionally presented cabin.
As before, the lower-end model range consists of the Ascent and Conquest hatch and sedan. Among other items, air-conditioning, central locking, dual front airbags, ABS and CD audio is standard.
Conquest adds the aforementioned “Enhanced safety pack”, alloy wheels, cruise control, improved audio, front foglights, powered rear windows and steering wheel audio controls.
Mimicking the highly successful Mazda3 Maxx and Maxx Sport, Toyota has created the Levin SX and Levin ZR, introducing affordable-sporty and sporty-luxury additions to the Corolla hatch range.
“We are absolutely determined to lift sales of (these) upper models,” said Toyota Australia senior executive director for sales and marketing, David Buttner.
Over the Ascent, the SX brings alloy wheels, a bodykit and most of the Conquest features, minus the safety pack, but that is standard on the ZR, along with “Smart” keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air-conditioning, high-intensity discharge headlights, Lexus-style Optitron instrumentation, auto headlights and uprated seat trim.
Most of these items are also in the flagship Ultima sedan, along with leather seats.
Toyota is offering a fixed servicing plan of $120 for six services over three years or 60,000km.
Last year, Toyota sold 46,256 Corollas, just 159 units short of 2005’s record result, with 62.9 per cent going to private buyers.
Toyota expects the sedan’s sales to rise from almost 40 per cent in the outgoing Corolla to achieve parity with the hatchback, particularly now that the wagon is no longer available.
Japan could not justify engineering the Japanese-market Fielder wagon variant because of the low take-up in Australia (last year the wagon accounted for less than 10 per cent of total Corolla sales).
The company is serious about gaining new buyers to build on the high brand loyalty rate it has created in Australia since May 1967.
Corolla is also far-and-away the oldest small-car nameplate, and will be second only to Ford’s Falcon once the Fairlane dies next year.
Since the nameplate’s 1966 global debut, 32.5 million cars have rolled off the production lines, equating to about one sale every 40 seconds since.