Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - sedan range
Cabin space and quality, styling, practicality, rear camera and sensors, good all-round vision, well specified
Room for improvement
Suspension thump and jitters over corrugations, road noise, monochrome dashboard, no digital speedo
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17 Nov 2014
WAS the previous Corolla sedan the most vanilla in the model’s 47-year and 1.25-million unit sales history in Australia?Dreary, noisy and uninspiring, this car came to represent the old pre-recall, pre-86 sports car, pre-Akio Toyoda era of Toyota complacency.
It felt built down to the lowest common denominator. Little wonder its share of total sales paled in comparison to the hatch.
Well, after 250km in the midrange ($25,290 SX) and flagship ($30,990 ZR) automatics, we reckon the 11th iteration of the evergreen Toyota is back on track.
From the onset, it is clear the T-brand has tried a whole lot harder to please this time around.
For starters, the design is far more appealing, with better proportions and far less fussy detailing than its 2007-vintage predecessor. From every angle the Corolla sedan is quite pretty. This car will sell on styling alone.
It is too bad Toyota insists on drab monotone greys for the entire range because a bit of colour and brightness would really lift an otherwise distinctive and extremely functional interior.
Step inside – now easier via wider doors – and there is space aplenty for a small car. Like the Holden Cruze and Kia Cerato, the Corolla’s cabin is virtually medium-sized.
Looking around, we’re finding it particularly difficult to find fault right now.
Comfy seats, an excellent driving position, extremely natural switch placement, heaps of storage areas, good vision out (enhanced by standard rear-radar and a camera) and high quality fittings (that only look cheap in the drab hues) speak of a concerted interior effort.
If we must criticise, we’d like to see an auxiliary digital speedo display the console lid felt a little tinny in the SX and the placement of the digital clock seems overly prominent.
Toyota’s decision to have us driving the Corolla over some challenging Tasmanian roads reflects the confidence it has in the revised chassis.
Now, keeping in mind that nobody is going to expect a BMW 3 Series sedan competitor dynamically, the sedan continued to surprise, if not exactly delight.
With a more rigid base and better-tuned suspension underneath supporting it, the electric steering’s response and actions are pleasingly measured and seamless, with a satisfying fluency through corners that its hapless predecessor sorely lacked.
Likewise, wearing 205/55 R16 wheels and tyres, at speed over a series of winding roads, the Corolla behaved with confidence and control. The Toyota doesn’t exactly egg you on to sniff out every tight turn, but it is certainly up for a play if you’re in the mood.
Push harder than usual and the electronic nannies will cut in immediately, so there is a high degree of safety built in here. But the turgid old dynamic reluctance of the previous version has been expunged – and not before time.
On the other hand, with three adults on board the ZR CVT, there was quite a bit of surface noise intrusion finding its way into the cabin, while road bumps were regularly heard as well as felt.
Driving two-up in the SX CVT, with the same-sized rubber in tow, the ride was less thumpy over similar bitumen, but a persistent knock from the rear off-throttle on cat’s eyes reminded us that the Corolla might still be some way off the Golf, Focus and Mazda3.
We never did get to drive the base 195/65 R15-shot base Ascent, so we cannot comment on how it behaved in the backwaters of Tasmania.
Likewise, you will have to wait for our verdict on the improved six-speed manual gearbox’s shift and feel quality.
However we can tell you that the updated 103kW//173Nm 1.8L twin-cam four-cylinder engine/new Multi-drive auto combination works a treat.
Only under hard and prolonged acceleration does that dreaded CVT drone make itself heard, and even then this isn’t too bad.
For the most part, the Corolla SX and ZR autos accelerate strongly yet uncharacteristically calmly, maintain a steady pace with equal civility, and yet will step-up when you press your right foot down.
These aren’t expensive sports sedans and do not profess to be, yet the Toyota is at last on the right side of competent in all the areas we could assess during our brief time with it dynamically.
Considering we are talking about the Corolla sedan so soon after this car’s wretchedly underwhelming predecessor, this is higher praise than we were expecting.
Of course, all the usual first-drive caveats apply: we need to assess the Toyota on more typical roads we need to obviously spend a whole lot more time both as a driver and a passenger and the base Ascent has yet to come under any sort of scrutiny.
Yet the 2014 Corolla Sedan basics look very promising. There is even a chance that it might be the best Toyota three-box small-car offering in many years.
From plain old vanilla, we seem to have a tastier Vanilla Bean in our midst.
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