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Car reviews - Toyota - Corolla - Ultima sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth, refined, reliable
Room for improvement
Pricey, bland styling

15 Feb 2001

TOYOTA'S Corolla has been the company's bread-and-butter model since its introduction to Australia in 1967. Although the Camry is now Toyota's biggest seller here, the Corolla still plays a key role.

Successive generations of the Corolla have grown in size to the extent that the current model has similar dimensions to its ancestor's bigger brother, the Corona.

Its price has gone up accordingly - a well-equipped Corolla will set you back as much as a base model Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon, both of which are significantly larger and more powerful.

The Corolla is obviously pitched at a completely different set of buyers - predominantly those with no kids to haul around. Those with families usually opt for the larger Camry or Mitsubishi Magna.

In its market segment the Corolla is king - outselling the likes of Nissan Pulsar, Mitsubishi Lancer and Mazda 323.

The Corolla's success could be attributed to the general perception that they are reliable, well-engineered cars. This perception is fundamentally true - Corollas are, on the whole, dependable cars.

There is no reason to believe the latest generation Corolla will prove any less reliable than its predecessors.

Its overall build quality is good, although not perfect. The interior is well put together but the odd squeak and rattle can be heard. Exterior fit and finish is also good but the inside door pressings appear ripply and poorly moulded.

Toyota has given the Corolla a new 'four-eyed' face with its aggressive, slanty headlights setting it apart from its rivals. But the rest of the car is notable only for being a typical example of Toyota's trademark conservative styling.

The new Corolla is not likely to turn many heads but it is an equally safe bet that few onlookers will find its styling offensive.

The bland, inoffensive theme is carried over to the interior that is upholstered in a sea of grey trim.

Ergonomically, the Corolla is up to the mark with easy-to-read instrumentation and all switchgear positioned within easy reach of the driver.

The front seats are comfortable enough but rear seat accommodation is a bit tight in terms of legroom and headroom, especially for tall passengers.

Boot space is generous at 417 litres but care must be exercised to avoid knocking the back of your head on the latch protruding from the bootlid when loading and unloading bulky objects.

All Corolla models are now powered by a 1.8-litre engine that generates 85kW at 5800rpm and 154Nm at 4800rpm. Toyota has a reputation for producing smooth, refined engines and this powerplant is no exception.

It is reasonably tractable at low speeds yet winds out quite effortlessly to its redline. Relaying power to the front wheels is a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission.

The manual gearbox is reasonably user-friendly, even though the throws between gears are relatively long and shift quality is a bit on the notchy side.

The optional auto delivers smooth changes and its four ratios are well matched to the power delivery of the engine.

Refinement is one of the Corolla's fortes and it is an effortless cruiser at highway speeds.

Its economy proved somewhat disappointing with the automatic test car returning an average of about 11 litres/100km during a mixture of highway and city driving, but it should be pointed out the air-conditioner was on at least half the time.

Ride quality is beyond reproach, the suspension dealing with the majority of road surface undulations in its stride.

Overall noise levels are also commendably low, making the Corolla an ideal vehicle for long-distance trips.

In typical front-wheel drive fashion, the Corolla tends towards understeer when pushed hard into corners, although this is easily rectified by backing off the throttle.

Driving the Corolla left no lasting impressions on the Automotive Networks team but perhaps this is partly due to the car's run-of-the-mill styling and its lack of any glaring deficiencies.

One of the few things that proved even mildly irritating about the Corolla is that the keyless entry system beeps the horn - rather unnecessarily - when locking or unlocking the car remotely. This usually results in passers-by looking around to see if someone is trying to attract their attention.

Overall, the Corolla is a thoroughly competent car although some of its cheaper rivals - particularly the Holden Astra - are every bit as capable.

However, if you are swayed by the Corolla's understated styling and enviable reliability record it is by no means a bad choice.

It is not the most exciting choice but, then again, it is aimed at buyers who are seeking no-fuss motoring rather than thrills and spills galore.

Did you know?

Forty-two percent of the Corolla's body (by weight) is pressed from high-tensile steel, for increased strength and rigidity, and reduced weight

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