Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - 5-dr hatch range
Improved ride and handling, styling, CVT transmission better than old four-speed auto, decent rear seat space, quieter than before, bulletproof quality
Room for improvement
Plain dashboard, cheap-feeling touch-screen, cramped boot, tight on headroom, anaemic engine, no diesel or sportier petrol option
22 Oct 2012
TOYOTA had to tread a fine line with its new Corolla – the 11th generation model since 1966.
The company wanted to inject a hint of sizzle and driving spice to its bread-and-butter small hatchback, while retaining the solid-and-simple traits that have won it so many admirers (almost 40 million sales around the globe, at last count).
The compromise has resulted in a sleeker and more dynamic model than those that preceded it, but one that retains most of the core qualities – it is well-built, easy to drive and good value – that have served it so well.
Toyota Australia’s choice of roads for its launch program was brave – twisty and corrugated asphalt on the outskirts of Sydney bound to show up overt dynamic flaws.
We came away pleasantly surprised by the strides the company has made in ride and handling, and in the suppression of road noise.
The electric steering system is quicker than before, and while there is a characteristic lack of ‘feel’ through the wheel, the tweaked ratio and stiffer bodyshell combine to make the new model feel appreciably more agile.
As before, the suspension consists of front MacPherson struts and a cheaper, space-saving rear torsion beam, but the damping feels firmer and the lower roof line helps alleviate bodyroll.
At low speeds the Corolla feels zippy, while pushing it harder round bends yields predictable front-drive understeer, though its abilities outstrip a fair few mainstream small-car rivals.
A fair supply of sizeable mid-corner bumps failed to throw the Corolla off-balance, and Toyota has struck an impressive balance between good road-holding and a compliant suspension tune that soaks up bumps and ruts.
Likewise, noise suppression has been improved, with less tyre roar and wind noise than the old model. The engine is still raucous, and the CVT transmission has a characteristic lifeless drone, but again it’s a step up on the previous generation.
The engine itself is a weak point. As mentioned, it’s the same basic 1.8-litre unit as from the previous model, and its 103kW output is scarcely more than the car was developing two decades ago.
It is fine for doddling around town, but results are less fine when pushing for some extra grunt on an overtake, or punching the throttle when exiting a corner.
Peak power arrives high in the rev band, meaning the engine needs to be revved hard and often, and while maximum torque is available earlier that before, there is still a noticeable lack of pulling power until the tacho hits 3500rpm.
A revvy engine is a noisy engine, and as a result it occasionally undoes the strides made elsewhere in noise suppression. Thankfully, both the six-speed manual gearbox and brand new CVT automatic transmission perform relatively well, all things considered.
Around 80 per cent of Corolla buyers opt for the automatic, and the CVT is a quantum leap on the old four-speed torque converter unit.
While prone to the typical drone – CVTs have no distinct ratios, and therefore lack the familiar sound of gears changing – the manual override is slick and the seven designated ‘steps’ or ratios are well calibrated.
Even more impressive is the fuel consumption. We easily managed to achieve the claimed 6.6-litres per 100km on our test route, and you can be sure we were hardly driving with unnecessary caution.
Still, we can’t help but think Toyota needs to follow the lead of all its key rivals and offer something else alongside the 1.8 here, such as its Europe-only diesel or hybrid powertrains.
The company would do well globally hasten the development of a sporting GTI equivalent, too.
It’s a shame, also, that the new Corolla’s cabin fails to match its sexier exterior visage. Everything feels well-built and there’s no lack of standard gear, but there is a lack of cohesion in the design, a feeling that it was all kind of slapped-together.
The old version felt mildly sporty, including a rally-style gear shifter mounted high, but the new version has goes without that touch, and features a flat slab of plastic and a rather aftermarket looking touch-screen that proved tough the see it the glaring sun.
On the bright side, the satellite navigation system on Levin variants is excellent, with constant live traffic updates, and the leather steering wheel feels good in the hand. Over the harsh roads we tackled, there was not even a hint of any squeaks or rattles.
Legroom in the front and rear is fine, though the lower roofline and smaller windscreen give the cabin less airy feel than before and tall drivers should steer clear of the space-robbing panoramic sunroof.
The back seats fold almost flat, freeing up plenty of cargo room, but the 280-litre storage capacity with the seats in place is pokey for the class. We liked the bag hooks in the rear – a thoughtful touch.
To sum it up, the new Corolla is rarely spectacular, but on the other hand it doesn’t get anything drastically wrong either. The engine lacks fizz and the cabin lacks sparkle, but we can rather easily imagine ourselves living with one.
Toyota has towed the line between adding some pizzazz to the design while retaining the basics that appeal to its core buyers. Its not a paragon of new technology, but it is well-priced, specified and better to drive than before, and that gets some kudos from us.
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