My comedy hero Jerry Seinfeld once did a fantastic bit about the “golden boy”, referring to the life of his favourite shirt; when new, it would always be the first plucked from the cupboard and worn. New Year’s Eve, engagement parties, you name it, it had its moment to shine at the finest social events. Then, with time and use, the colour faded, the threads unravelled … golden boy was slowly dying. Until, one day, an all-new replacement arrived from the store, ready to take over golden boy’s mantle as the numero uno, bumping it down to casual midweek fare and supermarket visits before, finally, becoming just another something to wear around the house.
In a manner of speaking, this is not dissimilar to the life of cars on our long-term fleet. When they first arrive all shiny and new and full of promise, their mileages low, their cabin’s squeaky clean, they are the golden boy. They go for their introductory photoshoot, the team fawns over them, debates what sort of fuel economy they’ll achieve and, if suitably impressed, even try to snag the keys away from the assigned tester for a weekend (often ruining the long-term economy that tester had been so carefully nurturing). Invariably, once the novelty wears off though, no one pays the vehicle much heed. They’ll look at it parked in the CAR garage and think, “Meh, I’ll take the G400d, M5, GTI …” and so on.
Except, here’s the rub that none of the other team members will suss out on a lone drive somewhere; the Corolla Hatch might just be one of the best all-round commuter cars I’ve ever tested for an extended period of time. Without fail, it was the one I wanted to use for the twice-daily slog to the office. It’s well-judged 85 kW and 185 N.m from a 1,2-litre turbopetrol isn’t over the top and fit for purpose to effectively navigate built-up areas and keep up with M3 highway traffic in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. Its 0-100 km/h in 10,5 seconds and a top speed of 190 km/h is all the performance you’ll ever need in the real world. Any more and your once-relaxing commute would descend into rush-hour argy-bargy as you flex on all and sundry.
The key to this laid-back drive is the adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistance that forms part of Toyota’s Safety Sense active safety suite, added to flagship XR models in 2020. With a simple touch of a button on the steering wheel, you are cosseted in a world of semi-autonomous technology that doesn’t by any means drive for you, but it does act as an additional layer of safety and convenience as you’re paced with the car ahead in steady flowing or bumper-to-bumper traffic. If you wander near the edge of your lane, it gently tugs you back in line with requisite feedback feel through the steering wheel. This is made possible, in part, to the continuously variable transmission which can be easily and affordably calibrated to work with semi-autonomous tech. Of course, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed the six-speed manual option for sheer involvement but, on balance, the CVT is the better drivetrain for the Corolla Hatch and the one that will see bigger buy-in from consumers.
As is the case in these COVID-19, business-unusual times, the Toyota took on a slightly adapted role as my long-termer. Our team was forced to work remotely during the “second wave” in the early part of the year and I had to somehow get around the sub-par cellphone reception that surrounds our neighbourhood. My only solution was to schedule all my calls one after the other and take a drive to a spot where there’s decent reception. For several weeks, the Corolla was a mobile office, with post-it notes of meetings and magazine flat plans strewn throughout the cabin. I can report the standard hands-free Bluetooth is excellent.
This constant tooling around the suburbs taking phone calls wasn’t ideal for the fuel economy, of course, which steadily climbed throughout the test period; starting on 8,00 L/100 km and ending on 8,70 L/100 km, with the best economy coming on a weekend away to Ceres in which it returned a figure of 6,90 L/100 km after some open-road driving. Although this is some margin off the claimed figure of 6,20 L/100 km, we think our CAR fuel index figure of 7,70 L/100 km is a fair reflection of what it will do in the real world.