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Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - Ascent Sport hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Dynamic steering, sporty looks, proper six-speed manual, no-nonsense cluster, ergonomic interior
Room for improvement
Limited torque, over-sensitive brakes, awkward fifth-door aperture

Toyota’s entry-level Corolla Ascent Sport has no right to be this exciting

Toyota logo20 Mar 2019

Overview

 

WHEN Toyota released its AE86 Corolla in 1984, I doubt anyone could have predicted that thirty years later, it would have become one of the most highly lusted-after vehicles in Japan’s automotive history.

 

On the surface it didn’t have much going for it as a sporting proposition. It wasn’t much to look at, featured next-to-no creature comforts and was powered by a low-output naturally-aspirated twin-cam motor.

 

It was ‘just a Corolla’, after all.

 

The range-topping AE86 Sprinter had some success in various motorsport racing circuits, and the standard fifth-generation platform – like all Corollas before and after – was a hot-seller as a reliable, grocery-getting passenger car.

 

But unlike most old Toyotas carting around trying P-platers and the elderly, some ‘Rollas from that era now garner the more money in the used-car market than they did when they were new.

 

While low in power, the 1.6-litre engines were spritely and free-revving and rewarded spirited driving. It’s front-engine rear-drive layout, manual transmission and sub-1000kg kerb weight made for sharp and tail-happy handling, and its under-stressed mechanicals meant it could be driven hard without racking up scary maintenance bills.

 

With last year’s release of the latest-generation Corolla, it’s possible that Toyota engineers have done it again, with the entry-level Ascent Sport – in particular – providing the same kind of thrills as its mid-80s predecessor.

 

Here’s why...

 

Price and equipment

 

The 12th-generation Corolla consists of seven variants across three grades – Ascent Sport, SX, ZR.

 

Each grade is available with either a petrol or a hybrid powertrain matched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but crucially, the entry-level Ascent Sport offers a fair-dinkum manual transmission.

 

Pricing starts at $22,870 plus on-road costs, with the VCT pushing the price up to $24,370, followed by the SX at $26,870 and the ZR is priced at $30,370.

In all three cases, the hybrid powertrain commands a $1500 premium.

 

Our test vehicle is the most affordable in the fleet and is powered a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and paired to a six-speed manual transmission.

 

During regular driving, we averaged 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres.

 

Standard kit includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a 4.2-inch multi-function display, a six-speaker sound system, an electronic park brake, power windows, heated side mirrors, driver’s seat height adjustment and a multi-function steering wheel.

 

Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are fitted to the Ascent Sport petrol, while a full-size spare is in the boot.

 

Interior

 

While it can make no claim to be hot hatch, stepping into the new-gen Corolla certainly feels like it.

 

The seats are low-mounted and hug your waists like racing bucket seats. The dash and window sills are high and the pedal box is closely arranged.

 

We have no doubt that Toyota wanted this car to feel sporty.

 

The interior design won’t blow your mind, but it is ergonomic and easy to use and has a number of entertainment features keeping it up-to-date.

 

Toyota Link apps, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, Siri eyes-free functionality and USB/auxiliary outlets come as standard.

 

There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however, with Toyota opting to not offer the technology on any of its models just yet.

 

During our time with the car, we were required to cart a load of band equipment including amplifiers, guitars, keyboards and bass speakers.

The Corolla swallowed an impressive amount of gear, however, the boot’s narrow aperture meant some items needed to be loaded through the rear doors.

 

If you plan on carrying a significant amount of luggage, we would suggest testing this out before committing to the car.

 

Engine and transmission

 

In the engine room sits the new M20A-FKS ‘Dynamic Force’ 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine. Remember that engine code, kids, it may be a cult hit in 20 years.

 

The donk delivers … wait, are you sitting? A total 125kW of power at 6600rpm and 200Nm of torque from 4400-4800rpm.

 

Okay, that’s not a lot of go by any stretch of the imagination, but it behaves impeccably.

 

Turbochargers, automatic transmissions, electrified powertrains and driver-assistance systems – all these technological innovations have done wonders for the automotive world, this is certain.

 

But in some cases, the aforementioned changes, for the worse, how the engine behaves.

See, the Corolla Ascent Sport builds power evenly, and while lame of the line, delivers a healthy acceleration curve in the higher revs.

 

This is what we used to call ‘climbing onto the cam’.

 

Drive is sent to the front wheels through an ‘intelligent’ six-speed manual with rev-matching on downshifts, allowing you to squeeze out every ounce of performance the ‘Rolla can muster. Herein lies the excitement.

 

Ride and handling

 

On an outing along Victoria’s Surf Coast, we pushed the car through some tight bends, and surprisingly, found ourselves treating the car like, well, a sportscar.

 

The front suspension uses a heavily revised MacPherson strut set-up, while an electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering column carries over.

 

The Ascent Sport/SX grades deliver an impressive 11.0 metre turning circle.

 

It’s dynamic, with a sharp turn-in and stable handling. It felt like it was trying – it wanted to be fast.

 

Are we being overly dramatic? Quite possibly, but in a time of high safety and autonomy, these experiences from regular passenger cars are becoming fewer and further between.

 

And a regular passenger car it is, with a comfortable ride, room for five passengers and an economical tyre and wheel set-up keeping running costs down.

 

The new Corolla features bigger brakes than its predecessor, with 283mm ventilated rotors up front and 265mm discs at the rear.

 

In our test car, we noticed that the brakes were particularly sensitive. This is fine during spirited driving, but tedious in stop-start traffic.

 

Safety and servicing

 

All seven variants in the 12th-generation Corolla range have been given a maximum five-star safety rating by the Australasian New Car Assesment Program (ANCAP).

 

As standard, the Toyota Corolla is fitted with seven airbags, electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, ABS brakes, automatic headlights with adaptive high beams, a reversing camera, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.

 

All Toyota models bought from January come with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

 

Furthermore, the Toyota Warranty Advantage includes a money-back guarantee on vehicles that break down and cannot be driven in the first 60 days of ownership.


Verdict

 

Having seen near-universal praise from our colleagues about the new-generation Corolla, we were not surprised to have liked it.

 

It’s safe and practical, well-equipped and inexpensive.

 

But unlike many cars that fit that description, the Corolla is far from boring.


As an affordable passenger car for everyday duties, Toyota has continued the Corolla legacy of affordability and tough build quality but has managed to provide a dynamic and playful driving experience while it is at it.

 

Who would have thought?

 

Rivals

 

Hyundai i30 Go/Kia Cerato S (from $19,990 plus on-road costs)
The mechanically related Hyundai i30 Go and Kia Cerato S feature a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated motor and are available with a manual transmission, making them natural rivals to the base Toyota Corolla.


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