Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - sedan range
Stiff and dynamic TNGA chassis, extra space of sedan body, quality hybrid powertrain, settled suspension, good NVH
Room for improvement
Drab interior, engines can get thrashy and noisy, some mediocre trim elements, no hybrid for top-spec ZR
Toyota raises bar significantly with dynamic and capable all-new Corolla sedan
6 Dec 2019
IN AUGUST last year, Toyota launched its all-new Corolla hatch, replacing the top-selling small car with a sportier version built on the brand’s TNGA platform, with Toyota promising a return to a fun and exciting driving experience for Corolla buyers.
More than 12 months later, the hatch is joined by the larger and arguably more practical sedan version, headlined by the availability of a hybrid powertrain for the first time in Australia for the four-door version.
Toyota expects the sedan to make up only about 30 per cent of Corolla sales, but after a day driving the new-generation version around Melbourne’s Yarra Valley, we are wonder if Toyota should be aiming higher.
First drive impressions
What words come to mind when you think of the word Corolla? Simple? Popular? For the cynics out there, maybe even boring? Whatever, sporty probably isn’t one of them.
However, with the new generation of one of Australia’s most popular passenger cars, that might have to change.
Like its hatch counterpart launched last year, the new-generation sedan is built on Toyota’s modular TNGA platform that also underpins other Toyotas including the Prius, Camry, RAV4 and C-HR.
In 2017 Toyota announced that its days of making ‘boring’ cars were in the past, and judging by the new Corolla sedan, it seems as if the brand is making the right moves to achieve that goal.
Driving the Corolla sedan through the winding roads of the Yarra Valley on the outskirts of Melbourne, it is clear Toyota’s engineers have made an effort to improve the driveability of the Corolla, which managed at times to put a smile on our face – not something one would typically associate with a Corolla sedan.
Toyota claims the new Corolla has significantly improved chassis stiffness and rigidity, and that improvement is felt when pushing through tight corners where the chassis now feels responsive and well-balanced.
We can’t help but feel driving the outgoing version in the same conditions would result in large amounts of understeer and tyre squeal.
This handling is complemented by light but responsive steering, giving the Corolla a pointed and precise steering feel through the twisty stuff.
It also feels well settled and comfortable on the road, thanks in part to its wheelbase, which at 2700mm is 60mm longer than the hatch. This gives the sedan a planted feel that helps it deal with bumps and road imperfections well.
Under the skin, the outgoing Corolla sedan featured a basic, torsion-beam rear suspension, while the new model sports a more sophisticated MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear independent set-up, resulting in a compliant and comfortable ride that is usually reserved for larger models.
Now, before you get all excited and start thinking the Corolla sedan is a genuine sportscar, the new version has its dynamic limitations, starting with the modestly powered but fit-for-purpose powertrains.
The 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre normally aspirated petrol engine from the outgoing model has been replaced by a larger and more powerful 2.0-litre unit that increases output to 125kW/200Nm, driving the front wheels by either a six-speed manual or ‘10-speed’ continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
Also available for the first time is Toyota’s self-charging hybrid powertrain that teams a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine with a pair of electric motors developing 53kW/162Nm, for a combined output of 90kW.
Both powertrains are decent choices, but the hybrid is clearly the pick of the bunch with its blend of superior fuel economy and torquey throttle response.
Neither version is quick off the line, with low-down torque found wanting in both engines. It is when the Corolla is up to speed and in suburban driving conditions where the hybrid shines, with the electric motors capable of providing a good boost of mid-band thrust when the petrol would otherwise struggle.
On the downside, both powertrains are prone to thrashy engine noise, not helped by the fitment of CVTs that lend themselves to a droning sound made more obvious when the tachometer is positioned around the 4000-5000rpm mark.
Given the hybrid powertrain is the more favourable of the two engine choices, it is disappointing that Toyota has not offered the top-spec ZR grade with the fuel-saving technology, with the brand saying it is studying the case for bringing a hybrid ZR here. Sooner rather than later please, Toyota.
During our time in the Corolla sedan we recorded a fuel economy figure of 4.0 litres per 100km in the hybrid, not far off the official combined figure of 3.5L/100km.
The petrol sipped 7.6L/100km, up from its 6.5L/100km claimed figure, showing the real-world difference the hybrid can make for fuel savings.
In the past, Toyota’s interior designers have opted for busy, button-heavy dashboard layouts that feel cluttered and overwhelming, but recently there has been a clear shift towards a more simplified cabin look for which we are clearly on board.
In the Corolla sedan, however, it has struggled to shake the drab, boring feel that plagued previous Toyota offerings, with plentiful cheap black plastic and dark cloth upholstery reminding buyers of its affordability.
While not the best offering on the market, Toyota’s latest infotainment system ticks most boxes for usability and practicality. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility ensure the 8.0-inch system is a good fit for most buyers.
While a hatch body style is often more practical than a sedan for storage and packaging, the Corolla sedan trumps its hatch counterpart in the this regard, with its 470-litre boot clearly outstripping the hatch that can swallow either 333L in the ZR hybrid, which foregoes a spare tyre, or a paltry 217L in other grades.
Its longer wheelbase has also allowed for greater rear legroom, which is comfortable for adult passengers and should resonate with ride-share drivers – particularly with the frugal hybrid engine.
Corolla was once a name that invoked yawns from automotive fans, but with the new generation, that age seems to be over. It would seem as though Toyota is sticking to its promise of making no more boring cars, and we’re keen to see what’s next from the Japanese auto giant.
Model release date: 1 December 2019
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