It’s the world’s best selling car with over 41 million sold since being released close to half a century ago and has been seen in three, four and five door versions. Australia was the first market outside of Japan to receive the Toyota Corolla and Australia was the first country to build it outside of Japan. A Wheel Thing had the rare privilege of being able to review three versions of the hatch, back to back, with the Toyota Corolla Ascent manual hatch, the Toyota Corolla SX hatch and rangetopping Toyota Corolla ZR hatch, with both fitted with a seven ratio CVT.Sitting comfortably amongst its competitors, such as the Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, the Corolla sports a 1.8L alloy blocked four cylinder. Peak power is 103 kW at 6000 revs, torque a decent 173 Nm at 4000 rpm, with a handy amount of that being felt once the tacho swings past 3000. Toyota claims the hatch will sip from the 50L tank at a rate of 6.7L (manual) to 6.1L (auto) per 100 klicks on the combined cycles. The ZR hatch finished on 7.3L/100km and that was virtually all freeway.The manual transmission is a delight; sweet shifting, an almost perfectly balanced take up point for the clutch but a perhaps too light feel for the travel itself. This, of course, depends on the strength of the leg pushing the pedal and with far too many cars in Australia being of self shifting means, it’s not likely to trouble a buyer. Speaking of self shifting, the SX and ZR came with a constant variable transmission, programmed with seven shift points for those that like a manual auto.There’s a well weighted shift mechanism for the auto’s gear selector, it’s not flimsy in feel to move it, plus there’s the paddle shifts on the column. In order to extract the most from the engine with the auto, it does need to be taken up to around 4000 rpm, with that noticeable change in attitude at about 3000, but it’s better done with gradual to moderate acceleration, as a heavy right foot has the engine “slipping the clutch”, with the CVT feeling as if the power isn’t fully utilised.
The changes are reasonably sharp, using the paddles, but forward motion is much more noticeable, with response from the engine at a higher plane than using the right foot alone, especially when the needles is above 3000. The manual has a completely different character, the tacho zipping around nicely regardless, and with no feeling of losing power to the transmission when pressed, unlike the CVT.
There’s different levels of ride quality, not unexpectedly, with the Ascent the most plush of the three. Compared to the tight SX and the taut ZR,the Ascent simple sponged over bumps, exhibited a small measure of body roll when pushed, a touch of tyre understeer and did pass through a bit more road noise as well. The SX was defineably tighter and the ZR, although not as much of a gap between Ascent and SX, was noticeable in being tighter again.Turn in was more precise in the SX and ZR, understeer negligible and felt more stable on the roads. Undulations on the freeways were followed as if the cars were part of the surface, with the body of each following each dip, ripple, curve as if it were glued evenly across the surface, with the suspension dialing out rebound or pogoing swiftly. Both the SX and ZR left the driver feeling confident and safe thanks to the tied down chassis, plus the ZR’s damper rates were just that bit quicker than the SX, imbuing an even higher level of feedback.
Having lower profile tyres on slightly bigger wheels helped as well, with the Ascent rolling on 205/55/16s, the SX with Michelins 215/45s on 17s and the ZR the same. Outwardly, the three look similar, with sports styling on the bumpers. The ZR ups the ante, with LED running lights and self levelling headlights for the ZR, plus a massive glass roof, known as Skyview, for the ZR.The current design philosophy of the Corolla hatch is of a slinky, laid back profile, edgy tail light design that wraps around into the rear flanks of the hatch. The head lights have a similar look, with LED running and headlights for the ZR, as mentioned. The front bar of the ZR and SX are of a more sporting bent than the Ascent, understandably, with an almost Formula 1 appearance, with wings wrapping around the bottom corner globe lit driving lights. The rear of the SX and ZR reflect that same design styling.
The interior of the three, naturally, had a commonality. Of note was the lack of DAB radio, alloy pedals, electric seats and heating/cooling for the ZR. There’s plainish black cloth in the Ascent, red stitching and red highlights in the SX with the seat print looking like (out of place) tyre tread, while the ZR gets machine leather with the squabs of a perforated design.Cheapish looking and feeling faux carbon fibre inlays span the dash for the Ascent and SX whilst, somewhat confusingly, the sportier oriented ZR gets a matt black finish. There’s old school dials for the aircon for the Ascent and SX; the ZR had flick switches and the somewhat counterintuitive light for the Dual zone being OFF, not on…
There’s the same basic dash design, with a small binnacle arch for the driver, tying the look back to the seventies but with a catch. The airvents are the throwback, the future comes in the form of a 6.1 inch (Ascent) or 7 inch (Ascent Sport/SX/ZR) touchscreen with deliciously blue backlit tabs on either side. The Ascent has a basic info centre screen laid into the speedo, with tacho and fuel gauge either side, whilst both SX and ZR get the higher res and more info screen in a central position between blue backlit dials, as seen in Camry and Aurion.
The ZR gets satnav, as did the SX, with the SX reading out, audibly, speed camera zones and road entry/exits to certain suburbs. The ZR didn’t, but that would be a setting that hadn’t been enabled within the menu system.
The system provides an option to connect a smartphone, accessing apps built in via ToyotaLink, plus all cars get Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Auxiliary inputs. Safety wise, a reverse camera image is shown on the screen and a nice surprise, with the steering column across the range being adjustable for tilt and reach.
There’s keyless start for the ZR, extra buttons on the tiller for SX/ZR to access the centre screen info, Sports mode button in the centre console in the upper two models, alongside the traction control seen in all three. Cruise is also standard. At the rear, the Ascent and Ascent Sport get full sized spares (the sedan gets a 470 litre boot), SX and ZR cop the lightweight spacesavers.
Toyota being Toyota, there’s safety by the hatful, with seven airbags including curtian, Hill Start Assist plus emergency braking lights for following vehicles should your car need to suddenly stop. VSC, Vehicle Stability Control, is standard, as is Traction Control.
Warranty wise, Toyota is somewhat behind the Koreans,with “just” a three year,100,00 kilometre warranty. Compared to the five and seven years offered by Hyundai and Kia….There is capped price servicing, Toyota’s own Comprehensive Vehicle Insurance and Extra Care Roadside Assistance to sweeten the pot, however.
Corolla isn’t the world’s best selling car for nothing. Toyota have made sure that the little battler doesn’t just appeal to your wallet, it goes for your soul as well. There’s always a measure of charm but A Wheel Thing feels it’s time that Toyota did to the Corolla what it has done with the bigger siblings: leave the past behind and give the interior a more modern feel overall.
Hyundai’s i30 has been outselling or been so close behind in sales numbers to the Corolla of recent times, Mazda’s 3, Ford’s Focus and even the forthcoming Holden (Opel) Astra have gone “clean sheet” for the dash, the part of the car a driver sees more of than any other. With the top of the ladder ZR omitting simple but expected items, surprising omissions given its intended market, some will look at the opposition and look at what’s included.
With the three cars tested, there’s something to like in each. The Ascent delighted with the manual, the SX sat nicely in the middle of the model road and the ZR offered a great view upwards. On the flipside, the Ascent’s somewhat softish ride, SX’s interior trim and ZR’s lack of extra niceties as a top range model lose a few brownie points. Plus, the mix of throwback seventies and today’s tech is a jarring combination. However, Toyota’s core Corolla buyers are generally those that aren’t a fan of massive change yet appreciate the newer things in a car.
The recent exterior updates are mild, enough of a refresh to keep Corolla fresh, but not too wild as to alienate those that haven’t bought a new Corolla for five years. With manual adjustment only for the seats in all but the ZR sedan, Toyota have cannily guided those that may have considered Camry but didn’t need a physically big car into the Corolla funnel, with the “old school” touch of being able to “do it for myself”.
Were A Wheel Thing to choose a Corolla, it’d be the ZR with the Skyview roof and a manual gearbox. For your choice, head here to look at the Toyota Corolla range