New models - Toyota - Corolla
Sportivo packs price punch
Corolla Sportivo hits rivals with a knockout price
23 May 2003
By BRUCE NEWTON
THERE are going to be all sorts of argumentsabout who has the best figures in Australia's burgeoning hot hatchsegment, but Toyota's new Corolla Sportivo hasits rivals shot to bits on the most important numbersof all - price.
At $29,990 the new generation Sportivo is anamazing $7000 cheaper than either of its recentlylaunched close rivals - the Holden Astra SRiTurbo and the Ford Focus ST170.
It slots into the Corolla range $1700 above theprevious sports leader - the 100kW Levin manual- and $100 below the Levin auto.
And just as importantly, it does it withoutbeing a blatant stripper. There's still standardalloy wheels, climate control air-conditioning,leather seats and steering wheel, chromedgear lever, six-stacker CD player, dual airbags and a sportsbody kit.
How can Toyota Australia do it? There are several factors, an obvious one is the car's source, which is South Africa rather than Japan, where Corollas have been exported to Australia for the past few years. Toyota downplays that aspect, ascribing more of its ability to get the car into Australia so cheaply to the mysteries of Toyota's internationaltreasury system and the improving Aussie dollar exchange rate.
Whatever the factors - and it is probably a combination of all three - it's certainly a cheaper result than the Ford and Holden, which are built in Europe.
The other money-saver again downplayed by Toyota is the body. Where its rivals are the normal hot hatch three-doors, the Sportivo has the full set of fivedoors, just like the other four "standard" modelsin the Corolla hatchback (Seca) range.
AgainToyota argues this is a positive rather than a negativebecause it ties in more closely in promotionalterms.
On another level altogether, the pricing ismore evidence of Toyota Australia's determinedand apparently successful efforts to rip any pricingflab out of its line-up - all in the cause of gettingback to number one in the sales race.
Still, there are some figures that just do not tipthe Corolla's way. At 141kW and 180Nm, its1.8-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine is shy ofthe 147kW/250Nm Astra, and trading pros andcons with the 127kW196Nm 2.0-litre Focus.
In acceleration terms the Astra holds sway at7.4 seconds to 100km/h, while the Corolla andFocus are virtually lineball on 8.4 and 8.2 secondsrespectively.
The Corolla engine was thefirst naturally aspirated unit from Toyotato break the 100kW perlitre barrier, screaming to peakpower at 7800rpm and peaktorque at 6800rpm courtesy ofToyota's intelligent variablevalve timing and variable liftsystem (VVTL-i).
Toyota claims a frugal combinedfuel economy average of8.5L/100km, but you have touse the more expensive premiumfuel.
The 2ZZ-GE engine is matedto a close-ratio six speed transmissionand both are alreadysold in Australia in the two-doorcoupe Celica ZR sports car.
It's not as strange a combination as you mightthink because the two cars also share the sameplatform and 2600mm wheelbase.
Toyota is confident Sportivo will play a smallbut significant role in Corolla's starring performancein the Aussie small car category, which ithas led for the past three years. It sees Sportivoaccounting for 1200-1500 sales out of about30,000 Corollas in a 12-month period.
That's a whole lot more than the 10 or so STsFord thinks it will sell per month, or the 50 per month Holden is forecasting for the Astra.
"The addition of a performance flagship willfurther enhance Corolla's sports image," saidToyota Australia senior executive vice-presidentJohn Conomos.
"Corolla Sportivo will introduce many newpeople to the brand."And they are predominantly 25 to 35-year-oldprofessional males earning between $40,000 and$80,000 per year.
It's a bullish claim and a bullishsales estimate perhaps, but there's substance to it.
The drivetrain is backed up by a suspensionthat includes significantly higher damper rates atmedium to high damper velocities than the standardcar for the front MacPherson strut and reartrailing torsion beam suspension.
Capping that off are 16x6-inch, 10-spoke alloywheels combined with lower profile BridgestoneTuranza tyres that result in increased springrates. One noticeable omission is any form oftraction or stability control.
Brake discs and callipers are boosted in size front and rear andinclude the assistance of ABS, electronic brake-forcedistribution and Brake Assist.
Wrapping the package up is a body kit comprisingfront spoiler, side skirts and rear deck spoiler, which is almost identical to the one used for Levin.
Inside, silver facings and red instruments keepthe sports theme going.
HOW THEY COMPARE
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:IT'S hard to pick real fault in the Corolla Sportivo, not because it is a truly great hot hatch but because it's sold at a truly great price.
The bang-for-your-buck quotient in this car is quite exceptional. Okay, we're sure that the Astra is faster in a straight line and the Focus is probably a tidier handler but gee, it's hard to think of either as being $7000 better than the Corolla.
In some ways the Sportivo is the best of the lot, like the way that engine just loves to scream all the way to its 7800rpm redline, with a noticeable VVTL-i kick coming at 6000rpm as the camshafts go into high lift mode.
Sure, there's not a bucket-load of torque down lower in the rev range - an issue exacerbated by the Astra's excellence in this department - but it's not a thimbleful either.
Besides, rowing around in that six-speed gearbox is no pain at all and surely more shifts than a removalist is all part of the hot hatch experience.
The chassis is less attuned with the genre. Its ride is softer and more compliant than you would expect, without turning to mush or rocking and rolling too much.
Neutrality into understeer as you push harder is generally the order of the day in terms of grip, with little sign of torque steer or wheelspin from the front-wheel drive chassis.
All that is complemented by well weighted and accurate steering, although it is not particularly tactile. The brakes wrap up the mechanical package impressively, proving resistant to fade despite some pretty severe punishment.
Inside it is all a bit understated despite the leather, silver, chrome and red back-lit "Optitron" instrumentation. The seats themselves work well in holding you in, but there's no doubt you are in a Corolla.
In fact it is presentation where the cheaper price shines through most, as the outside is no more successfully separated from the rest of the Corolla range than the interior. You find yourself looking for GT stripes, more lurid badging - anything.
This is where the three-door body, meatier 17-inch wheels and more aggressive body kits work for the Ford and even more noticeably the Holden.
If anything, the Toyota's looks undersell its performance capacity.
But as we have already pointed out, the price is good enough to compensate for that!
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