Well-schooled in the art of re-engineering outgoing models, Toyota SA has once again cracked the code with the Corolla Quest...
The numbers don’t lie. From the days of the Volkswagen CitiGolf and Toyota Tazz to more recent projects like the Polo Vivo and Corolla Quest, the South African public’s relentless pursuit of value for money and established brand loyalty has seen the market potential for prolonged lifecycle vehicles soar. In many cases, these re-engineered adaptations based on highly regarded previous-generation models often outsell their modern counterparts. In the second half of 2019, for example, the Corolla Quest – based on the 10th-generation Corolla – outsold the 11th-generation model by three units to one. Since its introduction in 2014, the humble Quest has sold more than 64 000 units locally, undoubtedly aided by its popularity with fleet buyers and e-hailing services.
Joining its hatchback sibling and completing the modern, 12th-generation Corolla line-up in our market, it’s clear Toyota has position its midsize sedan more upmarket than before. This model will be imported, so the stage was always set for Toyota South Africa to continue on its, er, Quest by re-engineering and producing the outgoing Corolla for local purpose.
As expected, the new Quest adopts many of the sleek design cues introduced with the 11th-generation version, including a front-end largely shared with the current bestselling car in the US, the modern Camry (as well as, dare we say it, Toyota’s current Nascar entry). While colour-coded mirrors and door handles have been carried over to the new six-model-rich Quest programme, top-of-the-range Exclusive specification is identified via chrome accents on the grille as well as standard-fitment LED headlamps; 16-inch alloy wheels are fitted to both this and middle of the range Prestige models.
One of the cost-cutting measures introduced with the latest Quest project is the adoption of the IMV colour palette shared with local Hilux and Fortuner production. A total of five colours are available, including the Seaside Pearl Metallic lining our test unit. Further re-engineering includes locally sourced materials for the headliner, cabin fabrics and seat cross braces, as well as the seat brackets.
As spacious as the car on which it’s based, the cabin of the Quest feels generally well put together despite some notably firm plastics and a curious amalgamation of surfaces around, for example, the driver’s side air vent. Via the aforementioned specification grades, owners can choose between an entry-level (standard) model that includes electric windows and air-conditioning; an upgrade to introduce a leather-bound steering wheel, a touchscreen-based infotainment screen and cruise control; or this top-of-the-range derivative that adds leather upholstery, keyless entry, a 60:40-split rear backrest and a TFT colour trip computer.
It would be optimistic to want for navigation in a package at this price point but the omission of smartphone-mirroring technologies from an otherwise slick infotainment system is disappointing. Outward visibility from behind the standard multifunction steering wheel is excellent, while rake and reach adjustment of the column – combined with height-adjustment on the driver’s seat – means a preferred driving position for most. The absence of parking sensors is offset by the inclusion of a reverse camera in the top two specification levels.
Despite its re-engineered stance, it’s interesting to note that our fully specced Quest test unit weighed just 6 kg less than the top-of-the-range Corolla tested in April 2017.
New to the Quest package is the adoption of the brand’s naturally aspirated 1,8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Offering 103 kW and 173 N.m of torque at 4 000 r/min and mated with a six-speed manual or CVT, this new drivetrain introduces 13 kW more power and 19 N.m more twist force to the party than in the previous range. Despite this additional performance, as suggested by our fuel route figure compared with the outgoing 1,6-litre model tested in July 2014, average fuel consumption remains respectable at around 7,0 L/100 km.
It’s not all plain sailing, though, as most testers reported a slightly clumsy clutch that makes smooth progress – particularly off the line – trickier than it ought to be in such a basic setup. On the move, the precision and fluidity of the manual transmission are impressive. It’s not punchy by any means but there’s enough performance at the coast to satisfy most, even with its large 416-litre luggage compartment filled to the brim.
Underpinned by the same suspension arrangement widely lauded in the outgoing Corolla, the Quest presents impressive compliance and all-round comfort. Yes, the electrically assisted steering remains a touch too light and, as a result, is vague in its straight-ahead position, yet it’s an arrangement that suits the easy-going nature of this package, proving useful in terms of low-speed manoeuvrability.
A welcome inclusion in the modern Quest’s standard specification list is an ABS-assisted braking system, stability control, a hill-hold function (useful with that tricky clutch action) and Isofix anchorage points. While the two entry-level models (manual and CVT) are fitted with front airbags and a driver’s knee bag, the broader range gains additional side items for the two front occupants. A tested average emergency braking time of 2,83 seconds received an excellent rating by our standards.
Not only did the previous-generation Quest outsell its more contemporary Corolla sibling but, by its proven, well-rounded and value-packed nature we consistently voted the re-engineered older model ahead of the newer car in our annual Top 12 Best Buys issue. Simply put, as impressive as it remained, the fresher 11th-generation car didn’t deliver enough of an upgrade to tempt the buying public and us away from a then more affordable outgoing version.
The new Corolla is destined for a more premium market pegging than before and the new Quest is poised to once again dominate in offering a long-suffering South African buyer difficult-to-replicate value for money in a package that simply ticks all the boxes. Spacious, comfortable and compliant, despite some rough edges in the interior, there’s little the Quest does wrong (although, don’t expect to be entertained). Forgo keyless entry, leather upholstery and a folding rear seatback and the Prestige derivative looks like it’s the pick of the range.
Considering Toyota South Africa Motors’ extensive dealership network, relatively affordable parts and, of course, enviable resale values, it’s easy to see why the new Quest took over from the outgoing model as a Top 12 Best Buys category winner in 2020.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Toyota Corolla Quest price and specs here