The Toyota Corolla Sedan goes upmarket. Does its price justify it over the new Quest?
Following 11 generations and more than a million units sold in South Africa, the final locally manufactured (since 1975) Corolla rolled off the assembly line in 2019. With the introduction of the 12th generation – which is now imported from Japan – Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) has repositioned the Corolla Sedan as a more premium product alongside the expanded new Quest range.
TSAM has trimmed the Corolla Sedan line-up (remember, there’s a hatchback, too, sharing much of the four-door’s componentry) from 11 in the previous iteration to three. A fourth, hybrid variant will likely be introduced at a later stage. Tested here is the priciest of the trio: the 2,0 Xr CVT. Priced as is, this flagship derivative demands R100k more than the top-spec Quest. Does the box-fresh Corolla Sedan set the bar high enough as an upmarket product to justify its price tag?
Adopting design cues from the Hatch, the Corolla Sedan cuts a dashing figure. It’s far less conservative with arrow-shaped headlamps (LED units with auto high-beam functionality in Xr trim), LED daytime-running lights (standard across the range) and the trapezoidal grille endowing the front facia with some pizzazz. Track widths fore and aft have increased by 11 and 22 mm respectively, lending the Sedan a more imposing stance than before. The rear light units also incorporate LEDs. There are eight colour options, seven of which feature a metallic finish. Our test unit was wrapped in Satin Silver Metallic. Eighteen-inch diamond-cut alloys are standard on the Xr. Finding favour among the CAR team, we did wonder whether buyers traditionally associated with the Corolla will find the exterior too edgy.
The new Corolla Sedan’s interior is suitably upmarket (a word various testers used to describe our test unit) and contemporary. Perceived build quality is typically Toyota solid. Xs- and Xr-badged derivatives feature Rezatec upholstery – a synthetic fabric resembling hide – and a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel and gearshifter. Blue contrast stitching in top-specification level complements the illuminated switchgear. Soft-touch materials are used on the facia and door cards, while (fingerprint-attracting) gloss black finishes are kept to a minimum.
The uncluttered dash is a highlight. An eight-inch touch display is within easy reach of front occupants. As crisp as the graphics may be, the software does feel dated and isn’t as user-friendly as its rivals. Two CAR team members mentioned they would have preferred a setup similar to the more modern one in the Mazda3 Sedan, which eschews a touchscreen and is less fussy to navigate. The Japanese firm may want to consider this when the Corolla is handed a mid-cycle update.
Infotainment features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto screen-mirroring and Bluetooth functionality, and in-car Wi-Fi. A USB port is sited in the centre console, while another is conveniently hidden next to the cubby on the passenger’s side. Volume and frequency as well as the automatic climate control system are modulated via refreshingly physical dials. The instrument cluster comprises a digital speedometer and 4,2-inch trip computer. Although legible, one tester noted navigating through the menus can be confusing, while another would have appreciated a numeric speed readout. An analogue tachometer and fuel indicator flank the digital items. In terms of styling, the Corolla Sedan’s interior nearly matches the more expensive Mazda3 Sedan’s.
The CAR team universally praised the comfortable seats. Perched behind the manually adjustable (rake and reach) tiller, drivers can easily dial the electrically assisted chair to their preferred position. Outward visibility has improved thanks to narrower A-pillars, while a reverse camera aids manoeuvrability. The absence of park-distance sensors (despite the camera) and electrically folding side mirrors had testers scratching their heads. Again, Toyota might want to consider adding such features in the future. Electric windows are standard all-round.
Specified in Xr grade, the Corolla Sedan boasts a suite of driving aids and safety equipment. In addition to the Xs’ standard cruise control, seven airbags and Isofix child-seat anchorages, the flagship gains adaptive cruise control and Toyota’s Safety Sense driver assist package, replete with blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure assist and a pre-crash braking system.
Based on the Japanese automaker’s widely utilised TNGA platform, the 12th-generation Corolla Sedan measures 4 630 mm bow to stern and 1 780 mm in width (up by 10 mm and 5 mm respectively). The wheelbase, however, remains 2,7 metres. Although the height has been lowered by 30 mm (likely to advance its sharp bodywork), the cabin is roomy. Head- and legroom fore and aft are sufficient and tall adults will be comfortable in the rear. Accessing the luggage compartment is a cinch, with the loading lip at just 646 mm. Packed to the brim with our industry-standard ISO blocks, the boot measured 376 litres. Fold down the 60:40-split rear bench and you free up 856 litres of utility space. However, more cabin stowage space on the facia and centre console would have been appreciated. Located beneath the boot board, the Xr makes do with a 17-inch space saver.
The ride is pliant, even when fitted with these 18-inchers. The suspension and 40-inch profile rubber soak up most road imperfections with aplomb. Subtle at cruising speeds, the free-breathing 2,0-litre mill does become noisy under hard acceleration. A few testers contemplated whether the Corolla sedan line-up would have been better off with a derivative employing the hatch’s more refined 1,2-litre turbocharged four-pot. With its dedicated first gear smoothing pull-aways, the CVT, however, impressed.
Producing 125 kW and 200 N.m of torque (the latter available from 4 400 to 4 800 r/min in the rev range), the Corolla completed the 0-100 km/h sprint in 9,43 seconds on our test strip. Overtaking acceleration from 80 to 120 km/h was recorded as 5,97 seconds. Braking was rated “excellent” with a 2,91-second average over 10 emergency stops. Fuel consumption, too, is commendable. On our mixed-use fuel route, the test unit sipped just 0,1 L/100 km more than Toyota’s claimed consumption.
The new generation of Toyota’s much-loved family car has raised the bar even higher. Although a few testers rated the pricier Mazda3 Sedan higher, overall, the Toyota was awarded the top accolade. Glitzy as it may be, the Corolla Sedan retains its appeal as a comfortable, practical family car; something we’ve come to expect from the Japanese four-door. It’s now even more so, with an elegant, well-built cabin, loads of standard tech and safety equipment, daring exterior design and a sublime ride. Compared with the value-based Quest, the new Corolla Sedan is expensive but what you get is a far more polished product.
Sure, a 1,2-litre turbopetrol model would lift the range, but there’s no denying the peace of mind that comes with a naturally aspirated Toyota engine. Taking into account the cost of its rivals, the Corolla Sedan is an impressive new addition to the extensive Toyota stable (which offers 194 dealerships compared with Mazda's 47) and should hit the mark with brand-loyal private buyers.
ROAD TEST SCORE
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