Sedan widens Corolla appeal

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 09:36 19/03/2014
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Corolla sedan

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Toyota has completed its triumvirate of latest- generation Corolla models with arrival of a new sedan version. Rob Maetzig files from the vehicle's launch.

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As sure as the sun comes up in the morning, a media launch of any Toyota Corolla model in New Zealand will feature statistics on the astonishing success of the world's most popular car.

Here are some examples from a media briefing at Toyota NZ headquarters in Palmerston North last week.

Since the first-generation Corolla was launched in 1966, cumulative sales are now approaching 44 million which is 20 million more than the next- best seller the Volkswagen Beetle. It's been the world's best-selling car for the past 16 years in succession. Last year alone there were 1.26 million Corolla sales globally.

It was easily the best-selling car in New Zealand last year, with 5993 sales which represented 25 per cent of Toyota NZ's new vehicles sales volume. A total of 230,000 of them have so far been sold here. In fact, if the Corolla was a stand-alone vehicle franchise it would be the seventh- largest in this country with a 5.7 per cent market share.

But there was one statistic presented last week that underlines the fact that although the Corolla's success in New Zealand mirrors the rest of the world, there are differences in how that success is being achieved.

That statistic is that of the 44 million Corolla sales thus far, 31 million of them have been sedans. That's 69.5 per cent - far higher than in New Zealand where sedan sales represent just 5 per cent of total Corolla sales volume.

The obvious reason for the dramatic difference in sedan sales worldwide compared to those in New Zealand, is because in North America and Asia where the Corolla is massively popular, the sedan bodystyle remains king - in fact the hatch isn't even sold in the United States and is only just being introduced in Japan.

Whereas down here our market prefers the younger styling and lifestyle practicality of a hatchback, those other markets prefer the superior space, improved legroom, better rear visibility, lower noise and vibration levels, and most particularly the security against theft that comes via a car with a boot.

Now Toyota NZ intends convincing more people to appreciate all those benefits, because it aims to double Corolla sedan sales to 10 per cent - 535 cars - via the launch of a new 11th generation Corolla sedan.

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Naturally it is still a sedan and will never sell in the same volume as the hatch, but the new model does boast a number of features that will potentially create more buyer interest. Although it is powered by the same 1.8-litre 2ZR-FE four cylinder petrol engine as the big- selling hatch, it is bigger and with a longer wheelbase, and as a result it offers more interior room - more even than the last of the New Zealand-assembled Toyota Corona sedans on the early 1990s.

And despite that bigger size, which one would normally expect to result in bigger retail pricing, TNZ is giving the sedan every chance to improve its sales performance by launching the four-car sedan range with specification levels that mirror the Corolla hatchbacks, and exactly the same pricing as the five-door models. The range begins with a GX model at $33,490 with six-speed manual and $34,990 for the auto, moving up to $37,490 for a GLX auto, and tops out at $43,690 for a highly specified ZR.

So how big is the new Corolla sedan? It is 4.62 metres long which is 75mm more than the sedan it replaces, 90mm more than the last of the Coronas, and 345mm more than the current Corolla hatch. Wheelbase is 2700mm which is 100mm more than the hatch, width has gone up 16mm over the hatch, and front and rear tracks are also wider.

About the only measurement that is shared with the hatch is height.

All this means there is much improved interior room particularly for those in the back seats who benefit most from what is known as the front-plus-rear "couple" distance which has gone up 75mm.

Boot volume has also increased by 20 litres over the previous Corolla sedan and is now a substantial 470 litres, which beats even the Holden Cruze sedan which has garnered a bit of a reputation for its 445 litre load space with all seats in use. The rear seats also split and fold 60:40 for more room when required.

The Toyota designers have taken advantage of that improved interior space by redesigning the driver position for greater comfort, with adjustments to the steering column angle and 15mm more travel in the driver's seat height function. The front seats also have thinner backs so there can be more legroom for those in the back - as if they need it, because there really is good room back there anyway.

This new Corolla sedan is a good-looking vehicle that to my eyes has an appearance more akin to the Camry than the Corolla hatch. Obviously that's because it has the boot. Frontal design is shared between all three Corolla model styles - wagon, hatch and now sedan - with the headlights connected by a signature chrome-plated strip across the width of the nose.

GX models have fabric seats and soft-touch interior trim, a full factory audio system with a 6.1-inch liquid crystal display which provides access to audio functions and trip fuel consumption data. The display also doubles as the display monitor for a reversing camera fitted as standard.

All Corolla sedans feature Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, and voice recognition software as standard, all accessed via a multi-function steering wheel.

Whereas the GX has 15-inch wheels, the GLX has 16-inch alloys. It also gets front parking sensors, fog lights, a smart key system with remote sensor, leather wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, chrome accents, and higher-grade instrumentation.

Meanwhile the range-topping ZR has leather seat upholstery, eight-way power adjustment of the driver's seat, automatic climate control air conditioning, a smart key system with push- button start, and a factory navigation system with the SUNA traffic channel. It also gets LED daytime running lights and LED low-beam headlights with automatic levelling, leather-like door trim, and paddle shifters for its continuously variable automatic transmission with seven-speed manual mode.

All models are powered by a 1.8-litre DOHC petrol engine that offers peak power of 103 kW and torque of 173 Nm. It provides sound performance - it can get all versions of the vehicle to 100 kmh in less than 10 seconds, and average fuel consumption is 6.6 L/100km for CVT models and 7.0 L/100km for the manual.

Perhaps because of its longer wheelbase, the new Corolla sedan does offer rather good ride and handling. A drive programme south over the Pahiatua Track and down to Martinborough via some winding Wairarapa back roads showed the drive characteristics of the new model to be potentially the best of the Corolla fleet.

They are certainly good enough for more people to add a Corolla sedan into their consideration list. That's what Toyota NZ is hoping for too - and therefore make the model more competitive against the two big sellers in the medium sedan segment, the Holden Cruze and the Mitsubishi Lancer.

- Taranaki Daily News

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