Corolla gets its mojo back

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 07:49 07/11/2012
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TOYOTA COROLLA
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TOYOTA COROLLA

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There are plenty of almost eye- watering statistics that underline the massive popularity of the Toyota Corolla.

The first-generation model was launched in 1966 and in the 46 years since then sales have averaged the equivalent of

TOYOTA COROLLA

POWER PLANT: 1.8 LITRE DOHC PETROL ENGINE WITH VARIABLE VALVE TIMING, 103KW AT 6400RPM, 173 NMR AT 4000 RPM.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed manual transmission or continuously variable automatic with seven- speed electronic manual override. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam setup at the rear. Electric power steering. Stability control, traction control, hill start assist on auto models.

HOW BIG: length 4275mm, width 1760mm, height 1460mm, wheelbase 2600mm.

HOW MUCH: GX manual $33,490, auto $34,990. GLX auto $37,490. Levin SX auto $38,990. Levin ZR auto $43,690.

WHAT'S GOOD: Body design more characterful, lowered prices, quiet and refined drive.

WHAT'S NOT: Performance remains modest when compared to some of the opposition.

OUR VERDICT: This new Corolla is clearly better than the model it replaces. It could be claimed, therefore, that the model has indeed got its mojo back.

100 Corollas every hour. Every hour! That's more than 39 million cars.

These days the Corolla is assembled in various parts of the world. Ours come from the sprawling Takaoka plant in Japan that each year produces 601,000 of them. That's 2557 a day, or 116 an hour, or almost one every 30 seconds.

Little New Zealand takes only a fraction of what that plant builds - in fact our country's cumulative sales of 222,500 Corollas since the model was first introduced here in 1969 represents not much more than three months' production at Takaoka. But it is still easily the most popular car here. It's been the small car segment leader for 28 years in a row, and the country's favourite car for 15 of the last 25 years.

So with all that as background, last week at a media conference in Palmerston North, Toyota New Zealand's general manager of sales, Steve Prangnell, caused a few smiles when he uttered the motoring understatement of the year - that he considered Corolla to be the foundation stone for the Toyota franchise here.

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That's for sure. These days Corolla is responsible for close to 50 per cent of all Toyota's passenger vehicle sales in New Zealand, so it's little wonder that Prangnell and the rest of the management team at TNZ hold the model in very high regard.

But although Corolla has enjoyed an extraordinary career in this country, its very popularity and dependability has resulted in it developing a reputation in some quarters for being a boring product.

And that is true about the last couple of generations of the model. They haven't exactly pushed the envelopes via introduction of new-age safety and technological features either - Toyota has been happy to let other manufacturers do all that in their attempts to challenge Corolla's dominance At last week's media conference TNZ managing director Alistair Davis admitted as much when he said he felt Corolla had "lost its mojo" in recent times.

But now it is back, he claimed. And he could be right. That's because a new, 11th generation Corolla has arrived, and it is a major improvement on the old. Not only that, but the range now includes a couple of sportier models via the introduction of the Levin badge that was last seen on the second generation E20 model in 1976.

For the record, Levin does not refer to our town of Levin, even though there was once a well-known motorsport track there. It is actually an Old English word that translates to Lightning, which is why the Japanese chose it in the first place.

In this new Corolla range the Levin SX and ZR join the more conventional GX and GLX models in a selection that ranges in price from $33,490 for a GX with six-speed manual through to $43,690 for a Levin ZR with a seven-step, continuously variable, automatic transmission.

Despite the fact all the new Corollas are much better equipped than before, these cars are up to $2000 less expensive than the models they replace. They also appeal as much better drives. Last week's media event included a tour through back-country roads to Greytown and back, and the two models I drove - both Levins - were fun to drive.

The cockpit area features a considerably more upright and more imposing dash area than before, the front seats now sit slightly lower, which means you are sitting a little more behind rather than over the steering wheel, and this seems to contribute to a more dynamic driving experience.

All four grades are powered by Toyota's well-known 2ZR-FE 1.8-litre petrol engine that now offers 103 kilowatts of power and 173 Newton metres of torque. This power figure is 3 kW more than before and it is reached 400rpm further up the rev counter in the interests of sportier performance. Meanwhile, the torque is 2Nm less than before but it reaches this maximum at 4000 rather than 4400rpm for more flexible operation.

My immediate impression of this new Corolla is that it is a very flexible car to use. Around town it has an ability to cruise at very low revs, and at the higher speeds there is the choice of simply relying on the CVT's efficiency, or using it manually as a seven-speeder.

The car's average fuel consumption, when fitted with the CVT is 6.6 L/100km, while the figure for Corollas fitted with the six-speed manual is 7.1 L/100km. That underlines just how efficient the auto transmission is. Contributing to the improved fuel consumption figure is the fact the new Corolla's body uses a lot more high tensile steels, which has reduced kerb weights by up to 60kg. This has also helped give the car better handling than before.

In marked contrast to the rather bland body of the hatch it replaces, this new Corolla has a sculpted appearance that is fresh and attractive. It is longer than before even though the wheelbase remains the same, and the roofline is 55mm lower.

The entry GX grade has equipment levels that include Bluetooth, voice recognition, electric power steering, cruise control, 16-inch wheels, a multi- information display, stability and traction control, and hill-start assist on models with the CVT. The GLX model gets a touch-screen display, fog lights, reversing camera and rear privacy glass. Meanwhile the Levin models get sports seats and 17-inch alloys, with the top ZR version getting leather, heated front seats, dual zone air conditioning, and keyless entry and start.

Overall, it all appeals as a much better Corolla selection than before, and you can guarantee the models will keep the name plate at the top of the sales ladder in New Zealand. But if anyone wants a sedan version, they will have to wait - it won't be arriving until 2014.

- Taranaki Daily News

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