Downgrading is usually regarded in a negative light and, therefore, some question why Toyota opted to replace the pre-facelift entry level Corolla’s 1,4-litre engine with a 1 300. Be that as it may, the Corolla 1,3 Professional is still an excellent package.
There is little about the 1,3 Professional’s exterior that suggests that it is a bottom-of-the-range model. As is the case with its higher-spec brethren, the 1,3 has a bigger, more upmarket, presence than any of its predecessors. The sleeker exterior features stylish design kinks and angles – notably in the front bumper, headlamp design, shoulder line, lower section of the doors, rear bumper and tail-lamps. There’s no 1,3 badge and had it not been for the lack of foglamps, and the plastic covers that adorn the 15-inch steel wheels, it could have passed for any other Corolla.
At 4 540 mm in length, the Corolla offers plenty of cargo space and legroom for the rear passengers. As expected, the interior has a pretty basic spec’, but the initial quality is very good – particularly the dark plastic trim of the door panels and centre console. I also liked the three dimensional amber-lit instrument panel and attractive silver trim on the gearknob, centre console surround, and door handles.
The 1,3-litre engine features Optimal Drive Technology, which includes Toyota’s dual VVT-I continuously variable inlet and exhaust valve timing, and as a result it produces better outputs, but consumes less fuel, than the preceding 1,4-litre unit. The new powerplant, which puts out 74 kW at 6 000 r/min and 132 N.m of torque at 3 800 r/min (3 kW and 2 N.m up on the old car), is impressively quiet at cruising speeds. However, it took quite a bit of throttle depression to get the car ambling along and it was tricky to pull away on an incline without stalling.
Thankfully, the gearbox engaged each gear with authority and reassuring accuracy – leaving all my concentration balanced between the “impossibly easy” clutch operation and laid-back throttle. The engine felt tractable enough to engage fifth and sixth gears in the hustle and bustle of lunch-hour traffic, but don’t even think about using higher ratios to overtake slower traffic on the freeway.
The Corolla’s offers as much road holding as one may expect from a large sub-compact saloon and, although the power steering certainly made parking manoeuvres easier, it didn’t really weight up enough for when quick directional changes were required at higher speeds. The brakes bite hard with little pressure on the middle pedal – it took time to get used to it – but stopping performance was excellent.
Yes, the asking price of R177 200 is rather stiff for a 1,3-litre, but my biggest concerns are the lack of satellite audio controls (because the audio power/volume switch is quite a stretch), rear electric windows, and no boot-opening mechanism other than a twist of the ignition key – an annoyance some might never overcome.