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Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - SX sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious, comfortable, successful transmission and suspension retune, new safety tech works well
Room for improvement
Poor touchscreen, lack of digital speedo, numerous shrill warning beeps, lacks rivals’ substantial feel

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Toyota logo8 Jun 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

The biggest news equipment wise for the Corolla sedan facelift is the addition of standard autonomous emergency braking, with the $750 safety pack comprising lane departure warning and automatic high beam fitted to the mid-spec, $26,070 (before on-road costs) automatic SX variant tested here (the SX manual is $23,820).

These safety features cost $1500 on the steel-wheeled Ascent base model ($21,210 manual or $23,490 auto), with 15-inch alloys helping sweeten this otherwise pretty raw deal.

SX customers are also treated to standard satellite navigation through a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that was added to the Corolla hatch some time ago and is now standard range-wide from Ascent up, as is the 4.2-inch colour multi-function trip computer between the instruments dials.

The auto-only, top-spec ZR sedan ($31,920) is thankfully saved the ride-ruining 17-inch alloys of the equivalent hatch but it has all the available safety gear as standard, along with the addition of full LED headlights.

All facelifted Corolla sedans get LED daytime running lights and LED tail-light clusters as part of the restyle that includes new front and rear bumpers, a narrower grille between slimmer headlights and a bit more chrome brightwork throughout. Essentially, it now looks more like a scaled-down Camry.

The standard SX equipment list includes keyless entry and start, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear selector knob, cruise control, six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary audio inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, AM/FM radio and CD player, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels with full-size alloy spare, and front foglights.

Overall the boosted standard equipment list is almost competitive, with the Toyota’s $26K sticker lost in limbo between rivals priced at $24K and $27K.

Many of the less expensive options are actually better equipped. But that is nothing new for Toyota buyers.

Interior

The Corolla sedan has finally received the effective interior makeover applied to the hatch in 2015.

A bigger 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system is visually well integrated with a large piano black panel on the dash to compliment the new 4.3-inch colour multi-function trip computer display. The fascia is still slab-like but the surface is better broken up with contrasting finishes, new circular air vents and an overall feel that the quality of materials has taken a step up.

The harder plastics used lower down are also pleasantly textured and mostly solid-feeling, although the centre console housing the large twin cupholders is pretty flexible and we wish Toyota would realise it’s the 21st Century and stop using a staggered automatic gear selector gate. The gear knob is also an abomination of absolute disinterest in design. Likewise the awful fonts used for switchgear and touchscreen that had our inner graphic designer wincing.

Also dated are the graphics of the newly standard sat-nav system, which is accessed through a clunky interface that often takes at least half a second to respond to inputs. In heavy congestion, it would offer to recalculate the route almost every 100 metres or about 20 metres from an intersection. Sometimes its suggested detours would add time to a journey, which surely misses the point.

As with most Toyotas, the voice control isn’t even worth using either. We also found the shortcut touch buttons a bit daft, for example the only way to access navigation being through the Home option, then tapping the map half of the split-screen to enlarge it and access the full range of functions.

On the upside, Bluetooth pairing was up there with the industry’s easiest and both telephone and entertainment sound quality were better than in similar-sized German offerings costing at least 50 per cent more than the Corolla. Bluetooth streaming functionality was particularly impressive for its ability to navigate various genres and playlists of a paired phone. Some systems can only do this when the device is connected via USB, so hats off to Toyota.

The trip computer panel still lacks a digital speedometer and has too many distracting and useless information options when all you really want is fuel consumption screen and occasional sat-nav directions. With the optional safety pack fitted to our car, the lane-departure warning flashes up an icon when it detects deviation and the standard forward collision warning similarly grabs attention with its flashing red background and accompanying chimes.

Activating and deactivating lane departure warning is via a steering wheel button, which is handy for getting rid of the alerts on twisty roads when taking the best line through a corner results in more beeps than a TV show narrated by Gordon Ramsay. It switches itself off when travelling slower than 50km/h, which we wish we could also say for the foul-mouthed celebrity chef.

Forward collision alert has three sensitivity settings accessed by a button by the driver’s right knee, between the on/off switch for the parking sensors and door mirror adjustment controls. At its most sensitive, this system is more paranoid than the dictator of a rogue state.

Traffic calming chicanes have the system apoplectic about the oncoming obstacles picked up by its windscreen-mounted camera and lidar (light detection and ranging) sensor, but at least we never provoked it into slamming on the brakes.

As with the Corolla hatch, we found the front seats comfortable and progress generally refined and quiet. Engine drone did make itself heard in urban hilly areas but would fade far into the background once up to speed, even during our high-revving dynamic tests.

Wind and road noise are also well-insulated, with only the coarsest of coarse-chip bitumen producing a bit of tyre rumble, but a particularly rough stretch of road did cause a trim rattle to emerge from around the driver’s door area.

The Corolla does have too many annoying beeps, though, including one that chimes for as long as the car is in reverse. It prompted a passenger to ask whether this was for the benefit of bystanders – like those fitted to trucks – or the driver.

More pointless beeps arise when opening a door to exit the car, forgetting to turn off the automatic headlights when killing the ignition (in doing so missing the point of their existence) and numerous others that wore at our patience.

Like the Corolla hatch, the sedan’s front cabin is comfortable, with supportive seats, a good driving position, well-positioned central armrest and quality-feeling, well-shaped steering wheel with logical phone and audio controls built-in.

Unlike the sporty looking hatch, which is so stylistically different it deserves another name – it is badged Auris in some markets – the Corolla sedan is spacious in the back and has a generous boot capacity, which at 470 litres is not far off the mid-size Camry’s 515L. The rear bench also has a split/fold function for loading longer objects and beneath the boot is the welcome sight of a full-size alloy spare.

We managed to get two 189cm adults sitting in tandem without either having to compromise on legroom, with just enough rear headroom for a person of this height. The narrow, humped central seat is really for children only, but when not in use its fold-down armrest provides a pair of cup-holders beneath a bling metallic cover. There are no air vents in the back, but we never had any complaints about lack of flow from the front.

Good news for families is the presence of Isofix child seat anchorages for both outboard positions with easily accessible top tether points on the rear parcel shelf. Even better, tall front occupants retain plenty of space when bulky rear-facing infant carriers are installed in the back. You can’t do that in the hatch, which also struggles to accommodate a decent-sized pram whereas we managed to get one of those, plus an umbrella-style stroller, plus a weekly shop into the sedan.

It’s big enough in the boot and in the back seat for those not regularly carrying five passengers to realistically consider foregoing the bigger Camry for a Corolla sedan. Ironically the regularly discounted Aussie-made mid-sizer can often compete with the imported Corolla on price, so you might as well get as much car for your money as possible.

More practicality comes in the form of bins shaped to accommodate reasonably large drinks bottles in all four doors, the aforementioned large front cupholders, a generous glovebox (with another small one on the driver’s side), large two-tiered central bin and a couple of cubbies that are about half a centimetre shy of accommodating an iPhone SE, let alone the more common large-format smartphone.

Like any sedan the protruding boot makes reversing camera and parking sensors useful, although the camera resolution is quite grainy and the proximity display comprising five small lights that flash to show which corner of the car is causing the sensors to beep is plain odd in positioning and operation.

Compared with the hatchback’s wedge profile, narrow rear windscreen and small rear windows that can make it feel quite claustrophobic in the back and hard to see out of for the driver, the Corolla sedan has great visibility and the large rear door apertures make for easy entry and exit plus almost SUV-like ease for loading little ones in and out of their child seats.

Engine and transmission

Apart from minor fuel-efficiency tweaks such as a new oil temperature sensor and altered radiator fan voltage, for this facelift Toyota has not messed with the Corolla sedan’s 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit, which still produces 103kW of peak power at 6400rpm and 173Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

It is neither slow nor rapid but unlike some competitors with non-turbo powerplants, this engine is more than up to the task of hauling the Corolla, passengers and luggage without feeling strained. It is responsive and free-revving when asked but quiet and has a relaxed, low-revving nature in most other circumstances.

Part of this is down to the reworked continuously variable automatic transmission that we can report lives up to Toyota’s claims of quicker, crisper and smoother shifting. The improved engine braking claim rings true, too, with this being one of very few Toyotas that does not habitually run away with itself down hills with cruise control engaged.

Only when paying close attention the sounds emanating from behind the dashboard can the continuously variable automatic transmission occasionally pretending to have fixed ratios be heard.

There is a pointless Sport mode that has the engine revving a bit higher relative to road speed, with slightly sharper throttle response and a red hue to the trip computer display, but the CVT’s misnomer Manual mode serves as the true ‘sport’ mode by letting the engine rev out before automatically up-changing, then automatically dropping through the seven virtual ratios when the driver slows.

We realised during our dynamic test that the CVT could realistically be left in Manual for the duration, but we didn’t, and rowing the manual gate revealed seriously quick shifts in either direction. But the Corolla is no sportscar.

Although it’s our job to think, feel and listen hard to what is going on under the bonnet, the Corolla is really at its best as a brain-off driving experience, much like the decision-making experience that leads people to their nearest Toyota dealership.

For the masses who drive these cars, this means the drivetrain generally fades into the background without drawing attention to itself, making for an effortless and smooth driving experience that does not need ‘learning’ like some of the over-complex European solutions. It does the job well, seamlessly, and will likely last forever. Typical Toyota.

After our week of hardworking family errand-running in the suburbs, with a bit of motorway and twisty country road testing thrown in, the Corolla sedan returned average fuel consumption of 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres. That’s not bad, while its motorway figure of 5.6L/100km was pretty frugal.

For comparison, the official urban figure is 8.3L/100km, the highway figure 5.3L/100km and the combined cycle consumption rated at 6.4L/100km. So we were not all that far off Toyota’s claims and their minor fuel-saving measures appear to have paid off.

Ride and handling

In the name of improved ride and handling, the Corolla sedan facelift brings some suspension modifications including beefed-up shock absorbers, an extra damping bush at the rear and more rigid mounting for the upper body and suspension.

We found a pleasing level of absorbency in almost all the diverse driving scenarios we threw at the Corolla, in which it successfully isolated passengers from poor surfaces.

The ride is definitely comfortable, but it did occasionally get bouncy and the way the Corolla sedan travels generally lacks the substantial, big car feel of its best rivals, as well as that achieved by the Corolla hatch.

It has that slightly tinny, lightweight (not in a good way) feel of small cars from a couple of generations ago – something that has been largely addressed in even some far smaller cars such as the Holden Barina Spark.

But coupled with the good visibility mentioned earlier, the Corolla’s accurate, well-weighted steering provides the driver with a quick familiarity and the confidence to tackle fast corners and tight bends, helped by the fact it does not roll excessively in the process and quickly settles once it has responded to the driver’s command.

These attributes also make the sedan a breeze to punt through urban and suburban traffic, and the easy steering weight at lower speeds helps around town, too.

Under high-speed cornering the 16-inch Dunlop tyres grip pretty well, during which the chassis does much more communication with the driver about what is going on beneath than the steering, which gets particularly vague during quick direction changes as the wheels pass either side of the straight-ahead.

Along our road test route are some pretty savage ruts, bumps and raised drain covers. Most of these are located in the worst possible location, mid-corner or while the suspension is under full compression due to elevation changes or braking zones.

None of this seemed to bother the Corolla sedan, which maintained its path through our chosen cornering line regardless of obstacle despite the handicap of torsion-beam rear suspension that in many cars has the back wheels skittering about when corners get lumpy.

It was remarkably easy to set off the automatic hazard light flashers without even approaching maximum deceleration, perhaps because the brakes themselves are pretty potent – and thankfully connected to a pleasantly progressive pedal.

Also, we found the stability control system a bit less intrusive for the keen driver than Toyota’s typically abrupt calibration.

So the Corolla sedan is pretty vice-free dynamically but at no time during finding this out did we feel it was particularly inspiring, rewarding or fun either. It just lacks the satisfying, mature and thoroughly engineered feel of alternative sedans such as the Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra.

As with the drivetrain, the Corolla sedan is best driven with the express purpose of getting from A to B in the least eventful way possible. Brain off, or at least the emotional side of it. For an emotional experience while driving the Corolla, you need to tune into your preferred talkback radio shock-jock.

Brief met, then.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP gave the pre-facelift Corolla sedan a maximum five-star safety rating in 2014, which carries over to the facelifted model. Compared with the hatchback version, the Corolla sedan scored slightly lower with an overall score of 34.88 out of a possible 37 (hatch: 35.25).

The discrepancy was down to its inferior performance in the frontal offset test, in which it scored 14.88 out of 16 compared with 15.25 for the hatch, but the sedan got a full 16 in the side impact test, whereas the hatch got 15 and both got 2 out of 2 in the pole test. The sedan’s seatbelt reminder score of 2 out of 3 was less than the hatchback’s perfect tally in this part of the assessment, but it scored ‘good’ in the whiplash test against the hatchback’s ‘acceptable’. Both were considered ‘acceptable’ for pedestrian protection.

Dual frontal, side chest and side curtain and driver’s knee airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control.

Service intervals are every six months or 10,000km and under Toyota’s capped-price servicing scheme, the first six scheduled services cost $140 each when carried out within the first 3 years or 60,000km (correct at time of writing).

Government, rental, fleet and not-for-profit customers are not eligible for capped-price servicing and are instead offered the maximum logbook service price of $232.51 for the first visit, $272.11 for the next two, $357.94 for the fourth interval, $232.51 for the fifth and $311.18 for the sixth.

The Corolla is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

Verdict

The Corolla sedan was predictably good at almost everything, surprisingly better than we expected for ride and dynamics without ever feeling exciting, and annoyed us in the way that every Toyota launched in the past five years has annoyed us.

Buying a Toyota Corolla Sedan is like adopting the ‘you’ll do’ approach to life. That’s fine, and ignorance is bliss for large parts of the population.

If you want more than basic transport, or more bang for your buck in terms of performance or equipment then look elsewhere.

But if you drive with your brain turned off and just want to cruise to the shops, as we are all prone to do sometimes, the Corolla is remarkably eager to please.

Rivals

Hyundai Elantra Elite from $26,990 plus on-road costs
As much Elantra as you can get without going for the sporty, turbocharged SR.

Loads of kit and tech including leather and dual-zone climate. Looks positively luxurious next to a similarly priced Toyota.

Subaru Imprea 2.0i Premium from $26,290 plus on-road costs
Best Subaru in years, its vast interior packed with value without counting the advantageous standard fitment of all-wheel-drive. If you are considering a Corolla and like Japanese reliability then seriously check this one out.

Kia Cerato Sport sedan $24,790 driveaway
Stylish, spacious, generously equipped, with a decent interior, long warranty and great infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. We wouldn’t pay more for a Cerato as the lower- to mid-spec variants offer best value.

Mazda3 Touring from $27,290 plus on-road costs
The touring is a bit more expensive than the Corolla SX, but the more you spend on a Mazda3 the better it gets, unlike many segment competitors. Competes more with Hyundai than Toyota on value, in return for a classy package only really marred by unacceptable road noise on some surfaces.

Honda Civic VTi-S from $24,490 plus on-road costs
Lots to like about the latest Honda Civic, not least the way it drives, the amount of space, the reasonably high standard equipment level – including versatile infotainment system – and overall feel of robustness.

Ford Focus Trend from $24,390 plus on-road costs
Excellent engine and beautiful dynamics let down by a slightly dated and cramped cabin. Some thoughtful features and a reasonable spec level – making the Trend our value sweet-spot of the Focus range.

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