JOHANNESBURG – Here’s a statistical nugget for you. In the second half of 2019, Toyota South Africa Motors’ cleverly positioned prolonged lifecycle model, the Corolla Quest, outsold the more modern, eleventh-generation Corolla sedan at a rate of almost three to one.

Yes, over that six-month reporting period, as many as 5 414 units of the locally built Quest-badged saloon (itself based on the tenth-generation Corolla) found homes across the country, while the outgoing Corolla sedan landed up just short of the 2 000-unit mark. Its success stretches back further, of course; since its launch in 2014, the Quest nameplate has racked up a hefty 63 966 registrations.

Sure, the Quest benefitted a little more from fleet sales (not to mention its popularity with Uber drivers) but the feat is nonetheless an impressive one. It’s a similar case with Volkswagen’s Vivo nameplate, which routinely finds itself placing ahead of the latest Polo hatch at the very top of the passenger-vehicle sales charts.

So, there’s clearly a market for re-engineered variants of outgoing models slotting in below the latest version at a somewhat more palatable price (remember the Tazz?). And now, ahead of the imminent introduction of the twelfth-generation Corolla sedan, Toyota has seen fit to launch a “new” Quest, set to appear on dealership floors in March 2020.

But before we get into that, it’s worth pointing out the twelfth-gen Corolla won’t be built at the firm’s Prospecton plant in KwaZulu-Natal, with the Japanese company instead gearing up to import this fresh-faced model. The new-generation Quest, though, will roll off the local assembly line, continuing a proud 45-year production run of the Corolla nameplate in SA. Interestingly, Toyota says it will also start building a new (as-yet unspecified) passenger vehicle at its Durban factory from October 2021.

So, back to the Quest. What’s changed with this latest line-up? Well, the range has doubled in size, now comprising as many as six variants. The 1,6-litre petrol engine has been ditched in favour of a similarly familiar naturally aspirated 1,8-litre unit, which offers the front axle 103 kW and 174 N.m via either a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (the old four-speed torque converter has finally been put out to pasture).

The firm says not only does this larger capacity unit deliver more grunt but also “cost and sourcing benefits” thanks to the fact it’s used across more Toyota models globally than the 1,6-litre engine. Furthermore, it’s a little more frugal than the smaller mill; we saw an indicated figure of 6,5 L/100 km (a mere 0,2 litres over the claim) after our drive in the CVT model, with that number climbing to a claim-matching 7,0 in the manual.

While a turbocharged unit would certainly offer more mid-range oomph (but also bring serious cost implications), the free-breathing four-cylinder powerplant revs pleasingly cleanly, offering sufficient poke for the three-box saloon to hit three figures from standstill in less than ten seconds (in the case of the manual, that is). More impressive, though, is the level of refinement delivered on the highway, reflecting the efforts of the local development team to at least match the NVH suppression of the eleventh-gen Corolla.

This was achieved despite a cost-cutting drive that included the local sourcing of certain materials as well as the adoption of the Hilux range’s exterior paint colour palette, headliner material and seat fabric (the two are assembled in the same factory, after all). The ride, meanwhile, remains very well judged, with the suspension set-up carried over unchanged from the outgoing Corolla sedan.

The revised range includes three trim levels, conceived to cover a broader section of the market (the incoming twelfth-generation Corolla will seemingly be positioned a little higher than before; local pricing has, of course, yet to be announced). The base Quest features items such as electric windows, manual air-conditioning, a four-speaker audio system and 15-inch steel wheels, and is ostensibly pitched at fleet operators.

The mid-tier Prestige derivatives boast a touchscreen infotainment system (with DVD playback and six speakers), a reversing camera, cruise control, leather trim for the steering wheel, partial leather seats and 16-inch alloys. The flagship Exclusive grade – effectively carried over from the eleventh-gen Corolla line-up – is extensively equipped and adds automatic air-conditioning, keyless entry (with push-button start), a colour TFT instrument cluster, full leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps and split-folding rear seats (other variants make do with a solid bench back there).  

Safety levels have been enhanced, too, with vehicle stability control, hill assist control, ABS with EBD, and Isofix child-seat anchors fitted as standard across the range. The base model ships with dual front airbags plus a driver’s knee airbag, while Prestige and Exclusive derivatives add side airbags to the mix.

While the new Quest obviously appears exceedingly similar to the model on which it is based, there are a handful of subtle styling differences once you look closely. The front foglamps and gunmetal-grey trim on the snout, for instance, have been scrapped, while standard and Prestige models employ a wide matte-black lower apron (Exclusive variants add colour coding at each end of the apron). The headlamps and grille, meanwhile, now feature trim in either black or body colour, depending on the grade (the same treatment has been given to the trim above the rear numberplate). The cabin design has changed little, although mid-spec derivatives gain the option of red accents.

And pricing? Well, while the old three-strong line-up kicked off at R235 000 and ran to R253 000, the fresh range starts at R249 900 and tops out at R317 700 for the CVT-equipped Exclusive model (for the record, the mechanically equivalent CVT flagship in the outgoing Corolla range is priced at R384 900, a difference of R67 200). Considering the vast upgrades, this seems like strong value, particularly when you also take into account the latest Quest is far larger than rivals such as Nissan’s Almera, the Honda Ballade and Suzuki’s Ciaz.

The Quest looks set to retain its place at the head of the segment, again thanks to shrewd market positioning by Toyota’s local arm. The new range offers more choice, more equipment and more power (covering more of the market) than its forebear, while still benefitting from tried and trusted underpinnings. And this time it can hardly be accused of coming across as a stripped-out version of the model on which it is based.

Ultimately, carefully considered prolonged lifecycle models work in South Africa and this latest version will be no different. The new Quest will again outsell its more modern sibling, although this time the margin will surely be even greater...



FAST FACTS

Model: Toyota Corolla Quest 1,8 Exclusive
Price: R307 400
Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder
Power: 103 kW @ 6 400 r/min
Torque: 173 N.m @ 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 9,8 seconds
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 7,0 L/100 km
CO2: 165 g/km
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Service Plan: Three-service/45 000 km