WITH the order books bursting their bindings long before the first vehicles came off the local production line, we already know that the new Toyota Corolla models won’t spend much time gathering dust on showroom floors. But what, exactly, does the new car have to offer those who perhaps aren’t yet sold on the Toyota way of transport?
Since 1975, Corolla has been providing South African motorists with reliable and carefree driving experiences. This relationship, built on trust, has continued to grow through the years, and has seen a fiercely loyal customer base develop. This is a sensible market, peopled by folks who enjoy the value for money, reliability, and continuously higher than average re-sale values that their Toyotas deliver. And, as if to underline all this, white has long been the most popular colour selected on Corolla order forms. It’s a finish that is regarded, like the vehicles themselves, as the “safe” option. Non-converts would say “boring”…
Despite that, the new Corolla does come in some bright new colours other than white. And it must be said that the new range of hues does complement the smart design of the car.
This latest Corolla is larger than the outgoing model in every direction, although the sleek profile does well to disguise this. Viewed from the front, a hint of Toyota’s luxury model range, Lexus, can be discerned, although we would have liked to have seen some even stronger identity, some “stand out from the crowd” feature to make the new Corolla less generic. But, at the rear, somewhat bold (for Corolla) taillight clusters add some spice to the package.
Our first encounter with the latest generation of Toyota’s bestselling nameplate was with the almost oddly named “Advanced” specification level of the popular 1,6-litre model, fitted with a manual transmission. Its interior is all about functionality. Where the hatchback sibling Auris model gained a sporty bridge design console that lifted the cabin from the norm, the more conservative saloon sticks to a more traditional facia. Fit and finish seem good though, and the audio system, especially, finds a neat home near the top of the facia’s centre console.
Satellite controls on the steering wheel are a welcome feature as the round switches for volume and tuning on the system itself have an unfriendly, smooth finish. Fortunately, the same does not apply to the manual air-conditioning system, whose large controls are easy to grip.
As one would expect of a vehicle marketed as family transport, there are plenty of storage options scattered around the cabin, including a split-level compartment that doubles as a driver’s armrest. Another split level can be found in the traditional glovebox, where a separate opening reveals a flat upper shelf. We would have liked to see a more grippy finish on its surface, though.
The cloth upholstered seats are comfortable and, thanks to the clever packaging of this larger new car, legroom for all passengers is good. The luggage area is fair, although some way off class-leading.
The driver’s seat offers plenty of adjustment, including a lever for height, and is certainly cosseting enough, even on long distance journeys. Although the steering wheel also offers height and rake adjustments, our taller testers nevertheless struggled to find a happy seat/ wheel relationship setting to suit their preferred driving position. It was felt that the wheel needed a lower default setting.
Another slight criticism of the steering wheel is that it is just that – a wheel. There are no comfort bulges or indents to make it at least look less ordinary. What it does do is operate an effortlessly light powerassisted set-up that makes for for easy manoeuvring. Lacking any speed-sensitivity, the steering persists in its lightness at cruising speeds, which is good to bear in mind during lane changes and overtaking.
Also worth remembering while overtaking is that the 1 598 cm3, dual VVT-i engine requires plenty of revs in order to generate extra momentum should you need to get out of the “cruising band” for any reason. This, despite the fact that rather low overall gearing means that sound levels are fairly intrusive at the national speed limit.
On mornings when the school and office runs become a bit boring, owners might take heart from the fact that we were able to achieve a 0-100 km/h sprint time of just under 11 seconds, the test unit going on to complete the standing kilometre in 32,22 seconds. With 91 kW at 6 000 r/min, and 157 N.m of torque available at 5 200, the in-line four engine, mated with a five-speed manual transmission, delivers smooth and drama-free propulsion. A top speed of 195 km/h was achieved on our test day. Traction control was seen by the Toyota bean-counters as an unnecessary expense on a vehicle of this type, and we tend to agree. With a suspension set-up biased towards comfort around town and at cruising speeds, the 1,6 Corolla struggles a little to settle into corners when pushing on, and never really feels comfortable being thrown around twisty bends. Worth remembering, but not really something that your average Corolla buyer would be concerned about.
ABS-modulated brakes feature Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist to ensure that stopping power is solid. An average emergency stop time from 100 km/h, of 2,96 seconds gets a “good” rating in our records. A total of seven airbags, including a driver’s knee bag, together with standard Isofix anchorage points and a 5-star EuroNCAP rating for adult occupant protection, add peace of mind to the package.
Toyota has an uncanny knack of hitting the marketing nail on the head when it comes to satisfying its customers’ needs and requirements. There are more exciting cars on the market in terms of both design and dynamics, but there is a huge population to whom these factors take a back seat to motoring peace of mind and proven reliability.
The new Corolla is a marked improvement on the model that it replaces, with more upmarket looks and a well put together interior. It is sure to be a success, and we just hope that Toyota South Africa’s new world class paint shop facility gets some appreciation for the gleaming finish and corrosion resistance it brings to this top-class consumer product by customers specifying any colour other than white…