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Driven: Toyota’s all-new Corolla touches down

Twelfth generation brings Toyota’s Corolla hatch up to the mark – and beyond

7 Aug 2018

AUSTRALIA’S most popular passenger car and one of the most recognisable nameplates in the business, the perennial Toyota Corolla, has entered its 12th generation and is being launched this week in five-door hatchback form, priced from $22,870 plus on-road costs.
This is a $2680 increase over the $20,190 starting point for the outgoing Ascent manual – which has no direct replacement, leaving the door open for a cheaper version to come later – while Ascent Sport, now positioned as the baseline variant, is priced $1660 higher than before. Auto adds $1500.
Other price increases model-for-model are kept to a minimum. The auto-only SX now starts at $26,870 (+$870) and the flagship ZR at $30,370 (+$350), while hybrid versions extend beyond a single mid-to-high-series standalone variant to every trim level, adding just $1500 to the bottom line and making the fuel-saving, petrol-electric technology more accessible than ever. 
Although Corolla, and the small-car segment as a whole, has been leaking sales to crossovers such as Toyota’s own C-HR based on the same platform, this class of vehicle remains one of the biggest in the market, routinely trading podium places on a monthly basis with utes and medium-size SUVs.
Toyota is confident the new generation – which officially goes on sale from August 15 – will return Corolla to a growth phase after three consecutive years in the red, sliding from almost 44,000 sales in 2014 to 37,350 last year – and edging further downward this year with a 4.1 per cent decline as at the end of July.
Notwithstanding these negative results, Corolla, now in its 51st year on sale in Australia, has been the highest-selling passenger car for the past five years – a period in which it was the number-one vehicle outright from 2013-15 and second only to Toyota’s HiLux in 2016 – although it slipped to third last year behind HiLux and Ford’s Ranger and remains in this position in the overall standings this year.
To recover lost ground, the new generation brings with it a full-scale overhaul in all major areas including exterior aesthetics, interior design, powertrain, chassis and safety technology.
On the latter, Toyota is claiming class-first positioning with the fitment of active cruise control across the range, while pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning (now including steering assist) and automatic high beam systems – previously standard only on ZR – have filtered down to the lower tiers.
Bringing Corolla further up to date, a speed-limit recognition system (a first for Toyota in Australia) and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) – the latter with pedestrian and cyclist detection – are also standard, as is an electronic ‘active cornering assist’ handling device that distributes brake pressure between the left and right driven wheels. 
LED headlights and tail-lights, daytime running lamps and rear foglights are included, and variants with an automatic transmission now carry a ‘lane trace assist’ function that operates in conjunction with the active cruise. 
As before, further safety equipment runs to seven airbags, a reversing camera, electronic stability control, ABS brakes and brake assist, although a first-for-Corolla blind-spot monitoring system only kicks in at SR level, and an equally new head-up display is restricted to ZR.
Corolla becomes the third Toyota model after Camry, Prius and C-HR to be built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that is said to deliver a lower centre of gravity, improved front-to-rear weight balance and a 60 per cent increase in body rigidity.  
The hatch is slightly bigger in most key dimensions, resting on a 2640mm wheelbase (+40mm) and measuring 4375mm long (+45mm) and 1790mm wide (+30mm). The 1530mm front/rear wheel tracks are also wider (+5mm).
Overall height is an anomaly, the 1435mm figure marking a 25mm reduction (the cowl height is 47mm lower), and while interior room is said to be greater, cargo volume has dropped significantly from 360 litres to 217L with the rear seats in place. 
The one exception on the latter is the ZR hybrid, which does not have a spare wheel and therefore offers 333L of luggage space.
Despite the bigger body, extra steel, higher equipment levels and so on, kerb weight has increased by no more than 110kg on the petrol models and only about 35kg on the hybrids.
Lightweight solutions include a tailgate made from a combination of Toyota’s patented high-performance polypropylene resin material and a thermoplastic polymer.
The powertrains in question are a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a revised version of the 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid.
Replacing the previous 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre 2ZR-FE unit, which Toyota says was heavier and bulkier, the 2.0-litre M20A-FKS ‘Dynamic Force’ direct-injection engine produces 125kW of power at 6600rpm and 200Nm of torque from 4400-4800rpm.
It drives the front wheels through one of two newly developed gearboxes: an ‘intelligent’ six-speed manual with rev-matching on downshifts, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a mechanical launch gear (claimed to be a world first on a passenger car), 10 sequential shift steps, three driving modes (eco, normal and sport) and paddle shifters.
Fuel economy and emissions have improved with both transmissions, the official Australian combined-cycle test pointing to 6.3 litres per 100km for the manual (-0.8L) and 6.0L/100km for the CVT (-0.6L) while CO2 emissions come in at 148 grams per kilometre for the manual (-18g) and 139g/km for the auto (-13g).
The hybrid system is an upgraded version of the 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle powertrain claimed to be smaller, lighter and more refined than its predecessor courtesy of combustion engine revisions and newly developed motor generators, e-CVT transaxle, power control unit and nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
The total combined maximum output is lower than before – 90kW compared to the previous 100kW – with the petrol engine producing 72kW/142Nm and the main electric drive motor developing 53kW/163Nm.
Fuel consumption and emissions are also slightly higher than the previous model, standing at 4.2L/100km (+0.1L) and 97g/km (+1g).
In an age where multi-link rear suspension is becoming rarer among regular mass-market models, typically swapped out in favour of a more cost-effective torsion beam – the forthcoming fourth-generation Ford Focus being a case in point (on certain variants) – Toyota has taken the opposite approach with Corolla XII.
The twist beam has gone and in its place is a multi-link design with stabiliser bar that Toyota claims “sharpens responsiveness” and, in overall terms, reflects a new-found commitment from the Japanese auto giant to providing a more dynamically competent and sophisticated small car. 
The front suspension continues with MacPherson struts, thoroughly revised for the new generation, and an electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering system likewise carries over. The turning circle is 11.0m on Ascent Sport/SX and 11.4m on ZR (up from 10.4/10.8m). Bigger disc brakes are employed, the front ventilated rotors measuring 283mm in diameter and the solid rear discs 265mm.
Ascent Sport and SX variants have 16-inch alloy wheels and ZR 18-inch rims, although only Ascent Sport petrol has a full-size spare. All others have either a temporary fifth wheel or, in the case of ZR hybrid, a puncture repair kit.
As well as the new safety features, the Ascent Sport package includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen, 4.2-inch instrument display, six-speaker multimedia system (with Toyota Link apps, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, Siri eyes-free functionality and single USB/auxiliary outlets), electronic park brake, electric windows, heated exterior mirrors, driver’s seat height adjustment and a multi-function steering wheel.
The hybrid version is fitted with dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning and keyless entry/start, while satellite navigation (with SUNA live traffic updates) and privacy glass on all Ascent Sport variants are bundled into an $1000 option pack.
SX petrol and hybrid variants have all the Ascent Sport features and options as well as a wireless phone charger, DAB+ digital radio, higher-grade steering wheel/shift lever trim, rear USB port, and front foglights.
ZR comes equipped with a 7.0-inch screen in the instrument binnacle, a head-up display, leather/suede trim, sports front seats (with heating and driver lumbar adjustment), premium eight-speaker JBL stereo, ambient interior lighting, auto-dipping rearview mirror and bi-LED headlights. 
Toyota is yet to offer smartphone mirroring technology, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, on any of its models.
A company spokesperson told GoAuto at the launch in Queensland this week that “as Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay have become available globally, we are looking at introducing this compatibility into the Australian market at the soonest possible opportunity”.
“This would require testing for local conditions but it is definitely on our radar,” he said.
The exterior palette comprises eight solid, pearl, metallic and mica colours, with the premium paint adding $450.
The Corolla sedan continues in its current form, with no word yet on when the generational change will take place. A launch in 2019 is anticipated.

2018 Toyota Corolla hatch pricing*

Ascent Sport petrol $22,870
Ascent Sport petrol (a) $24,370
Ascent Sport hybrid (a) $25,870
SX petrol (a) $26,870
SX hybrid (a) $28,370
ZR petrol (a) $30,370
ZR hybrid (a) $31,870

*Excludes on-road costs

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