Toyota hatches a smooth Corolla

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 09:42 14/11/2012
Fairfax Australia

Now in its 11th generation, we step back in time to one of the earliest versions of the world's best selling car.

Toyota Corolla
Sharper edges: The new Corolla has straighter, more mature lines and an interesting double side-crease at hip level.

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There were two yellow cars on display at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1968. One was a canary yellow Morgan plus eight, appearing for the first time and gaining attention at the time as much for the scanty models draped upon it, as any importance it held for the average new car aspirant.

AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Transverse FWD 16v DOHC fuel injected 1.8-litre four. Six-speed manual or seven-step Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
Outputs: Max 103kW at 6400rpm, 173Nm at 4000rpm, 215kmh, 0-100kmh 9 secs (man) 10 secs (CVT), 7.2-6.6L/100km, 166g-152g/km CO2.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts; rear torsion beams; vented front, solid rear disc brakes; 16-inch and 17-inch steel and alloy wheels.
Safety: Front, side, driver’s knee and front and rear curtain airbags; ABS, EBD, VSC stability control, traction control, hillstart assist with CVT.
Dimensions: L 4275mm, W 1760mm, H 1460 to 1465mm, W/base 2600mm, Weight 1250 to 1310kg. Luggage seats up 360L; Fuel 55L.
Pricing: 1.8 GX $33,490 (manual) $34,990 (CVT). 1.8 GLX $37,490, 1.8 Levin SX $38,990, 1.8 Levin ZR $43,690.
Hot: Sharper looks; superb refinement levels and real life economy; crisp handling; wellsorted ride.
Not: Over-light steering; clifflike dash-console; no engine choice; not enough manuals; sedans a year away.
Verdict: After standing still for generations; the Corolla is hauled to the top of the segment with intelligently wrought improvements.
The other yellow car was a two-door Toyota Corolla, a custard-toned newcomer that had the gall to offer a radio AND a heater for hundreds of pounds less than the price of a similarly sized European car without such equipment.

It has to be said that most petrolheads took more time at the Morgan stand than at Toyota's in 1968, but that's all changed now.


Click on photo at left for more views of the 2013 Toyota Corolla.


They wouldn't have predicted it at Earl's Court all those years ago, but the Corolla is now the world's best-selling vehicle, with more than 39 million units finding first owners in more than 140 countries since its debut in 1966. The Toyota is also something of a star in New Zealand, having been the leader in the C-segment here for 28 years in succession, and the country's favourite car for 15 of the last 25 years.

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It has to be said that while the car has been a consistent performer in the New Zealand market for 30 years, of late it has been looking a little dull and cynically under-equipped when compared with its competitors from other Japanese makers and Europe. So it's just as well that Toyota says that its pride and joy, in its new 11th generation guise has been rethought and re- engineered. It's all the result, says the company of "a total vehicle approach to improving driveability and dynamic performance". While they've been at it, emissions and fuel economy have also been improved.

At 55mm lower and 30mm longer than the car it replaces, the new Auris has a far sleeker profile, despite using the same wheelbase and a modified version of its predecessor's underpinnings. The extra length is in the car's overhangs - up 15mm front and rear, and this is visually reinforced by the lower roof height, especially in the top- spec Levin SR model, which has a dark 2340 x 12800mm glass roof panel, that looks terrific. It's good news for the boot too, with a 360-litre load area - up from the previous 334 litres.

While we're talking about numbers, to sharpen the car's dynamics, the Corolla XI has been made 14 per cent stiffer than before and 40kg lighter on average and the car ends up with a 20mm lower centre of gravity.

The outgoing car's dull exterior has been dealt with very effectively with this new, lower, more angular look which is highlighted by slim, slanted headlights and bold feature lines, with the car's waistline featuring a unique "double crease" which works well, linking to those slim "eyes" to give the model a much more modern cohesive appearance than before. With dark, metal-rimmed chin and tail treatments that wrap under the front and rear valances, the new styling also invests the car with a very emphatic on-road stance, and even if you opt for the base GX with 16-inch steel rims, the wheels and tyres fill the wheelarches well, though the alloys on other models (16-inch on the GLX and 17-inch on the Levin versions) look even better.

Inside, the cabin is crisper and cleaner too, with some nice choices of fabrics and plastic materials, with the added class of stitched leather-look panels in the dash and fascia on top models. The centre stack area is a little dark and cliff-like, despite some brightwork, but the overall effect is of a driver-focused set-up with leather touch surfaces for the wheelrim and gear lever in top models.

The new model starts off with GX and GLX models (cheaper by $1000 and $2000 respectively than before) but the range now adds posher Levin SX and Levin ZR versions.

All Corollas will have a slightly refettled version of its predecessor's 1798cc dual VVT-i petrol four, and on the surface the outputs look pretty similar, with a maximum output of 103kW and 173Nm. But with respective peaks generated at 6400rpm and 4000rpm, the engine has been retuned for flexibility and mid- range improvements. It has also been made to suit the Corolla's new automatic which is a seven- step Multi-Drive Sport Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Thus in one fell swoop Toyota has eliminated the weak point of the past two generation's powertrains: The inefficient four-speed automatic, which had begun to languish in a C-segment full of five, six and seven ratio units. The refettled power units enable economy and emissions ratings of 7.1L/100km and 166g/km for manuals and 6.6L/100km and 152g/km for CVT- equipped cars. Toyota says this has been achieved through aerodynamic improvements to the body and weight savings through the use of high tensile steel sheet metal.

The only manual in the Corolla lineup is in the range-starting GX model, at $33,490. You pay $1500 more for the CVT. The rest of the range has CVT transmissions only, with the GLX model at $37,490, the new sporty Levin SX at $38,990 and the luxuriously appointed all-the-fruit Levin ZR model at $43,690. The Levin models use a Multi-Drive Sport version of the CVT with column- mounted shift paddles. A panorama sunroof is available as an option in the Levin ZR model only, for $1800 and it has to be said the added airiness afforded the cabin makes it seem a worthwhile option if you can afford it, though this will make the model a $45,000- plus prospect, and for that you could get a larger Camry or Avensis model from just across the showroom.

Starting at more than $10,000 less than that, the whole Corolla range is quite well equipped, with even the entry-point GX including air conditioning and cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and audio streaming, all controllable through steering wheel buttons, along with auxiliary and USB inputs, voice recognition, and a multi- information display. The GX's chassis is well assisted too, with ABS, Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control, and a Hill- Start Assist set-up on the CVT model. It also gets electric power steering, an engine immobiliser, bi-halogen projector headlights with auto-off functionality, ISO- FIX child seat mounts, three-point seat belts and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. It, along with other Corollas fronts-up with driver and front passenger front, side and front/rear curtain shield airbags, plus a knee airbag for the driver.

For the additional $2500, the GLX model throws in a reversing camera, a touch screen display for the stereo and information system, front fog lights, smart-key locking and alloy wheels instead of steel items.

The Levin SX and ZR feature 17 inch alloy rims and sports seats - the latter's heated and leather-clad - each of which sit a sporty 40mm lower than those in the previous cars, and extra vertical seat height adjustment has been included so short drivers can feel as sporty as taller ones. Both cars get leather wheel and gear lever trimming. The ZR also adds dual zone climate control, a power lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, as well as heated, auto-retracting side mirrors, an alarm for the immobiliser and a touch-sensor facility for the smart-key set up on all five doors as well as push- button starting. High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights with an Automatic High Beam (AHB) system and Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) are also part of the ZR package.

The first thing you notice when driving the car is the quietness and the smooth, flare-free behaviour of the seven-step CVT. It turns the idea of a Corolla as an ordinary car into something much better than that. A 100kmh cruise takes a hair less than 2000rpm when throttled back on the highway, and with commendably calmed road noise and just a flutter of wind sighing around the side mirrors, it's a remarkably relaxed drive. Such quietness makes the standard cruise control a sensible piece of equipment if you want to keep your licence and maintain the promised 6.6L/100km economy rating.

On the launch route I managed that figure quite easily according to the on-board computer - which is refreshing, during a week in which Korean makers have been slammed for "overstating" their models' economy figures in the US. It was mainly open-road running, but in barely run-in cars and working the engine hard on the hills and pleasingly difficult backroad twisties in the Manawatu, such a figure is impressive indeed.

While the steering is unerringly accurate, I found it just a little overlight for my taste and it required much concentration in severe side winds.

However, the car's chassis is exemplary. It's particularly well-balanced and rides on the surfaces I encountered with no fuss at all, with the refettled underpnnings soaking up bumps and rills with rare aplomb for this segment. Comfortable doesn't mean wallowy however, and while there is a degree of body movement, it's well-contained and it does not get unsettled by mid-bend bumps.

With a similar wheelbase to the old car and a lower roofline, I didn't expect the Corolla XI to feel as spacious as it does. This is brought about largely because of the deeper side glasses and the 40mm lower hip point which conspire to impart a remarkably roomy feel. The car seems so much bigger inside than before, even if the actual dimensions say that's not quite the case.

However, sitting in the rear, I can't remember having quite as much space between the back of the front seats and my knees before. Toyota has slimmed down the seats to help achieve this, thankfully without compromising comfort or support.

The steering column is adjustable for tilt and reach and particularly with the sporting seats of the Levin models, the driving position could be made to feel very secure and comfortable. In the GX and GLX, the seating has cheaper cloth and the steering wheels are vinyl finished, but the sitting and driving experience is still good and among its lower- level competitors, the Corolla does feel special inside.

It feels special everywhere, truth be known. After two generations of adequate but ultimately disappointing Corollas, this 11th generation model is a cracker.

Despite having much of the old model in it, in the form of basic underpinnings and powertrain, Toyota's execution of the latest iteration of its staple range adds so much more style, character and desirability in the model than I can ever remember. Certainly a lot more than that first wee custard yellow one I remember from the late 60s.

- The Press

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