ALTHOUGH our Corolla test unit arrived fi nished in a rather attractive metallic crimson red, this test is all about being green. The idea behind replacing the solid “old” 1,4-litre with a smaller (in capacity, physical size and mass) 1,3-litre engine, is quite simply to save on fuel. Toyota’s “Optimal Drive Technology” has been implemented in the engine’s design, with the aim of improving economy and thereby reducing exhaust emissions to help our planet to live a little longer. A more immediate bonus will be felt by less frequent visits to the petrol station…
A variety of petrol-sipping tweaks have been implemented in this engine, including a longer stroke than bore dimension, reduced piston skirt length, and an offset crankshaft to reduce side thrust. Pistons have shed 36 per cent of their mass, and thinner crankshaft and con-rod bearings are also employed, together with roller bearings for the rocker arms. This all-aluminium unit is a full 12 kg lighter than the 1,4.
Toyota’s dual VVT-I continuously variable inlet and exhaust valve timing helps deliver 74 kW at 6 000 r/min and a healthy (for a 1,3) 132 N.m of torque at 3 800, which compares favourably with the larger engine’s 71 kW and 130 N.m.
While the engine may be small, the car isn’t. Corollas of the past were compact cars, but this new body is actually getting seriously large. If one compares the length of this saloon to some other supposedly larger cars, you may be surprised to find the Corolla is actually bigger. Still, the flowing lines hide the garage-filling dimensions well. Of course, not all find the styling attractive, and the fact that so many Corollas are sold means that there are plenty of them around, so there’s no exclusivity here. Swoopy and stylish, yes, but not exactly sexy in the mould of some European A smaller, lighter engine that offers more power and uses less fuel rivals. But the functionality and the fi- nish quality are evident.
The interior is particularly pleasing, with titanium touches on facia and door handles to break the blackness, and the use of soft-touch plastics providing a tactile improvement. It is obvious throughout that the Japanese are bowing to European desires for an upmarket feel.
The audio system’s volume knob is placed quite far to the left of the unit, but all other switchgear is easy to reach and straightforward in operation. Instrumentation is well backlit in yellow, and fuel and temperature gauges are positioned in the centre of the rev counter, with the standard trip computer located within the speedometer. Oh, you don’t have to worry about the fuel gauge still reading empty after you have just filled up – the needle takes a few minutes to overcome the damping effect. Units of the trip computer can be switched from litres/100 to km/ if you prefer.
Driver comfort is well catered for with height adjustment on the seat, and height and reach for the steering wheel. Upholstery is comfy, but some would have liked more lumbar support. The front occupants are provided with a centre armrest, with a storage bin and lidded drinkholders just ahead. Legand headroom all-round is good, and a wide, fold-down centre armrest with drinkholders for the rear passengers adds a touch of luxury. Rear door pockets incorporate water bottle mouldings.
Luggage space is very close to class leading, with a boot size of 368 dm3, expanding to 992 dm3 with the rear seats collapsed.
As for the green blooded heart of the car, the engine, the only small criticism we have is a hesitation to get going if you don’t apply an inch of throttle to lift the revs slightly – possibly a consequence of using as lean a mixture as the tuners can get away with. The gearbox receives an extra cog, ostensibly to help keep the engine “on the boil”, although sixth is essentially an overdrive that can only be used at higher road speeds. Shift quality harks back to the first front-wheel drive Corollas, with gears positively and easily snicked into place. The synchromesh was impossible to beat in our acceleration tests.
The ride is excellent, and the car copes admirably with all manner of bumps. Complementing the ride are low levels of noise, especially from the road and the mechanicals, contributing to the “high-class” ambience. Steering feel is acceptable, with just the right level of resistance, but the car tends to lack directional stability in windy conditions, giving the worrying impression of having a flat tyre on a cambered road surface.
The only downside to this car is the same one that will affect all small-engined cars: you need to use lots of throttle to keep up with the rest of the traffic. We feel that, while acceptable at sea level, high altitude owners might want something a bit stronger. Otherwise, the 1,3 Corolla offers smoothness, economy, an excellent gearbox, superior ride quality, space and comfort and, of course, longterm customer satisfaction. A five-year service plan over 90 000 km is standard. Can’t really go wrong, can you?