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Driven: Corolla sedan here for small-car showdown

More popular: Toyota projects a 40 per cent sales boost for the Corolla sedan courtesy of this new-generation version.

Toyota’s best-selling Corolla is boosted for its fight against the redesigned Mazda3

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19 Feb 2014

TOYOTA’S new-generation Corolla sedan variant made in Thailand will give the company the shot in the arm it needs to fight Mazda and its new 3.

The battle between the two small-cars will decide which is Australia’s top-selling model in 2014. The new sedan completes the Corolla range, replacing its aged predecessor that until now has sold concurrently with the newer hatchback.

The new 170-series Corolla sedan finally gives Toyota an up-to-date three-box offering at this end of the market, and is better specified, more refined, larger inside and designed to offer a sportier drive than before.

However, even though it is built in Thailand rather than Japan, and therefore can be made with cheaper overheads and be imported here via a free-trade agreement, it is also $750 more expensive than its hatch sibling at base level.

At the new 3 launch last month, Mazda said it fancied its chances of knocking off the Corolla and returning to the top. For its part, Toyota says the new sedan will sell far better than the old one, albeit still in smaller numbers than the hatch.

“We expect sedan sales to rise from 600 to around 1000 per month,” said Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing Tony Cramb at the sedan’s local launch in Launceston this week.

“There is not a lot of cross-shopping between sedan and hatch… and so we do not expect a great deal of cannibalisation between the two models.”

However Mr Cramb stopped short of announcing the annual sales projections, and flatly refused to comment on the Corolla’s chances of keeping the just-released all-new Mazda3 from regaining the number one crown that it won in 2011 and 2012.

“We don’t talk about volume projections,” he said. “We expect this year’s sales to be in excess of 40,000 units. That is all I will say. It is not on our radar (to beat the Mazda3).”

From just over 15 per cent of total Australian Corolla sales the previous model achieved last year, the latest sedan should come close to matching the 30 per cent total it has historically averaged.

Priced from $20,740 plus on-road costs, the entry-level Ascent manual and its $22,990 automatic counterpart are expected to snare the lion’s share of orders.

Toyota reckons the sedan’s extra rear-seat legroom courtesy of a 100mm longer wheelbase stretch over the hatch will help justify its $750 premium, particularly when the newly standardised reversing camera, rear parking sensors and bigger 6.1-inch multi-media touchscreen set-up are also factored in.

“The added value now standard in the new Ascent sedan is conservatively put at $2000,” Mr Cramb stated.

Other base car features include cruise control, a full-sized 15-inch steel spare wheel, Bluetooth telephony, a USB port and seven airbags with knee protection, as part of a comprehensive safety protocol that also runs to anti-whiplash front-seat head restraints, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control and electronic brake-force distribution.

Already tested but with the outcome not as-yet published by the relevant authorities, Toyota says it is anticipating a five-star ANCAP crash-test result. Meanwhile the SX nomenclature returns to the Corolla after a 24-year hiatus, simultaneously edging out the previous-generation Ascent Sport and 1994-vintage Conquest variants for $500 more than the former and $1500 less than the latter.

Kicking off from $22,990, it 16-inch alloy wheels, front-parking sensors, keyless entry and start, front fog lights, two-dial (rather than three-dial in the Ascent) Optitron instrumentation, and Toyota-link Apps – bringing smartphone app connectivity to the Corolla for the first time.

The old Ultima nameplate dies after 23 years, replaced by the $30,990 ZR Sedan.

Along with being $1000 cheaper, it includes auto transmission, wheel-mounted paddleshifts, noise-reducing acoustic windscreen, satellite navigation with Suna real-time info availability, a power-operated driver’s seat, auto on/off LED headlights with auto self-levelling, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air-conditioning and leather seats.

Driver comfort has been improved thanks to increased seat and tilt/telescopic wheel adjustment – with the latter also set at a less-acute angle for better ergonomic properties – while the seats themselves have been redesigned and sit lower to the ground by the tune of 5mm for an 8mm hip-point drop.

Wider-opening doors help with access, while once inside, extra soundproofing should ensure a quieter environment.

Aided by a 2700mm wheelbase, the 4260mm long, 1776mm wide and 1460mm high sedan’s interior has grown, with front-to-rear couple distance increased by 75mm (to 960mm), 92mm more rear-seat knee room (those new front seats are thinner than before), a wider back seat and a larger cavity beneath the front seats for rear-seat occupants to tuck their feet in.

Boot space jumps 20 litres to 470L, there’s now a handle to help pull the lid down, while the rear seats have a split/fold function.

At the other end of the car, where there is now less front overhang, there is a revised version of the Corolla’s long-serving 1798cc 1.8-litre dual-VVT-i variable-valve timing four-cylinder petrol engine.

Delivering 103kW of power at 6400rpm (up 3kW) and 173Nm of torque from 4000rpm (down 2Nm), this Euro-V emissions compatible twin-cam multi-valve unit gains an acoustic control variable induction system for improved low-rev response.

The upshot sees the sedan breach the 10-second barrier (by 0.2s – a 0.6s improvement) to 100km/h from standstill.

Toyota has also been fettling with the six-speed manual gearbox by incorporating a new pre-load differential for more equal power distribution in light-pressure driving situations and 4.1 per cent better fuel economy (from 7.3 to 7.0 litres per 100km).

But the big news is the turfing out of the outmoded four-speed automatic transmission at last, for an upgraded version of the seven-speed CVT Continuously Variable Transmission that debuted in the latest Corolla hatch.

Dubbed the K313 Multi-drive transmission with a manual tip-shift mode, it uses a torque converter to help eliminate CVT droning while significantly improving acceleration responses.

Better still for parsimonious owners, the combined average fuel consumption rating tumbles by 0.8L/100km to 6.6L/100km – a 10.8 per cent improvement over the old auto sedan – while carbon dioxide emissions slide from a 173 grams per kilometre average to 153g/km. That’s also 9g/km better than the manual.

A number of other factors have also helped make the sedan both quicker and more frugal.

For starters, kerb weights have dropped by an average of 30kg – ranging from 1250kg (Ascent manual) to 1295kg (ZR auto) and aerodynamics improve due to better underbody as well as over-body airflow (you can see the aero foils on the wing mirrors and in the tail-light extremities).

This is a laudable achievement considering the 170-series uses a heavily modified version of the old 150-series Corolla platform.

Toyota says the newcomer has benefitted from some Australian-road tuning to the steering and suspension conducted last year, with an emphasis on improving high-speed stability and braking, as well as a better ride comfort and reduced noise intrusion through fender-based insulation application.

The body-in-white is 5.7kg lighter yet more rigid with a greater amount of high-strength steel for better steering, handling and ride properties, while much of the carryover MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension system has also been modified.

Among the changes are new coils, upper supports, dampers, springs and spring rates employed, while the four-wheel disc brakes feature a more effective master cylinder design.

Similarly the old car’s electric rack and pinion steering system now boasts a lower gear ratio of 16.1:1 (down from 17.3:1) for quicker responses. Combined with the lower centre of gravity, longer wheelbase, wider tracks and fettled suspension tune, the sedan promises to be a more dynamic drive.

Broadening the 170-series Corolla’s audience appeal was one of the priorities, according to extensive customer research conducted by Toyota, with a development team visiting Australia as well as other markets, conducting interviews with owners of both the previous models as well as competitive-set vehicles.

“Our focus was to exceed customer expectations with more passionate design and better driving performance, dynamics, economy and value for money,” said Toyota Motor Corporation and Corolla Chief Engineer, Shinichi Yasui.

That included the implementation of the ‘Keen Look’ design language as found in the latest Corolla Hatch, Camry, Yaris and RAV4, as well as tighter panel gaps and higher-quality materials inside a more refined and intuitive cabin environment.

“We needed to get back to basics,” Mr Yasui added. “We’ve developed a car with constant focus on the customer.”

The Corolla Sedan is built in 16 plants and sold in over 150 countries.

This is the first time Toyota has offered a Thai-built passenger car in this country. The previous Sedan was made in Japan.

2014 Toyota Corolla sedan pricing*

1.8L Ascent $20,740
1.8L Ascent (a) $22,990
1.8L SX $22,990
1.8L SX (a) $25,240
1.8L ZR (a) $30,990
*Excludes on-road costs.

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