Yes Yes Yes oh YES!: nippy, modern looks, economical engine, gadgets
Oh dear me no: lifeless steering, generally uninspiring, still beige
Remember those beaten up old 70’s Corollas driven by students? They were either bile green or sunburst yellow and all had rust holes the size of Tasmania. We have all either owned one, or know someone who has. This trusted old nomenclature has been with us since just after the big bang. I for one have never been much of a fan because somehow it always missed me even though it was probably aimed at a demographic I was once part of.
The new Corolla is a different kettle of fish. The outside is an evolution from the previous model. The sedan isn’t half bad for those of us who fancy a small four door. The interior is another thing altogether and is a leap of galactic proportions. The ZR has had a bunch of stuff thrown at it and so it should for near on 35 grand. This price puts it firmly in the upper Golf territory. Although Toyota haven’t gone down the uber-restrained, tasteful yet impeccable avenue of the Golf, the interior is asymmetric swirl of surfacing and instruments, and juxtaposing materials. It could have gone horribly wrong but, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, it works and what’s more I like it. I’d even go so far as to say it is kind-of tasteful if you cock your head the right way.
In a canny move, Toyota gave us the full enchilada with rice and beans with gadgets galore. I’ve already said the outside is “quite ok” and the pics tell that story so there isn’t much more I can add. Inside is a different story and is classy with a comforting atmosphere. There is leather, EUREKA! Adding to this, the Corolla has lots of gizmos, and so no longer feels like a rusting pov-model only driven by out of work actors and uni professors. Rather cheekily the infotainment system sports the grandiose name of “T.E.C.H.” can you believe it? There is a Gen Y with a marketing degree who is enjoying a neatly jagged holiday on a sandy beach somewhere thanks to that little gem. It’ll give the Gen Z’s and Gen Alphas something to aspire to when they grow up. TECH!!! Jesus Mary and Joseph that’s GENIUS. After that bombshell it wouldn’t matter how rubbish the system was, you can still say “my car is chockers full of TECH” and not be lying through your back teeth. People at dinner parties will no longer be sniggering at you when you mention Corolla and TECH in the same sentence. I have now finished taking the piss.
The TECH system (no Toyota I simply refuse to wear my fingers out typing unnecessary periods), which is being implemented fleet-wide, is actually fabulous. I use this word often but rarely in the same sentence as Corolla. It is easy to use, even in the models with the notoriously fidgety Satnav. You’ll no doubt remember I tore my hair down to a few meagre strands recently. I was trying to use the otherwise-excellent Volvo’s diabolical Satnav. It was inherited from the Ford marriage (and divorce). You had to faff around for an eon turning stupid dials and pressing a seemingly infinite number of buttons in an input method slightly slower than a geriatric’s 50 course degustation. There was no touch screen so input was juristically slow. The new Toyota system is different. Think of it as a rooly rooly big mobile phone with big friendly icons all over the place. You press the icon you want, and in a jiff the function is displayed with no time at all to prepare cheese and nibbles (like there was with the Voilvo). There is even an icon for APPS. Apparently you can manacle yourself to the Toyota-link somehow or other. Since I wasn’t invited to the launch I have no idea how that works, and the user manual was as helpful as an oar made of lettuce leaves, but I digress. Once the icon is pressed, the screen displays a map, and it’s a touch screen, Hallelujah-praise-the-lord-can-I-get-an-AMEN-up-in-here! About Bloody time!
Power is a slightly anemic at 103kw and it’s delivered via my pet hate, a CVT transmission. These spawns of Satan sap power wherever they find it. The engine always trying to err on the side of economy so the revs rush downwards faster than LNP polling figures. No matter what size engine you have, the revs go between “almost asleep” and “screaming its tits off” and is very annoying. It always sounds broken. There are no gears as such but rather a continuous changing up and down of ratios so that the car goes faster but the revs don’t go up and down as in a conventional automatic. I took the ZR on a run into rural Queensland and discovered quite a lot of it outside the confines of Brisvegas. While zooming along a dual carriageway the CVT was fine, but the merest hint of a hill and the engine sounds like it’s playing the chorus of the Ride of the Valkyrie. The quite country roads are even more baffling. Inexplicably the revs climb and descend as if trying to keep you from nodding off. For this reason I’d buy a manual if the only option was a truly dire CVT (no matter what brand).
You also find this “work of art” transmission making an appearance in most Hybrids as well. For reasons only known to blokes in white coats with pocket-protectors for their pens, CVT is the new black. If the point is fuel consumption being reduced, then the Toyota managed 7.7L/100k combined which is OK, I guess. 7.7L/100k isn’t enough to make me want to run naked through the streets singing choruses of “Oh what a wonderful feeling, oh what a wonderful day”, but it’s, OK. It would be churlish of me not to remind you all that I felt the same way about electric power steering once upon a time. Now I love it and find hydraulic steering to be a real chore. It’s a queen’s privilege to change her mind.
Now to the ride, which was OK, that is until a bump came along. Here the relative smoothness was banished and the little sedan boom-crashed-opera’d over the potholed mess masquerading as Australian roads. Considering the opposition’s models for a moment, the Corolla feels unsophisticated in comparison. The Euro-hatches feel nicer under the bum with less of the crashing-over-bumps being transmitted via the seat. Of course, for this you’ll be handing over more of your hard-earned shekels but there you have it. The ride is better than Holden’s Cruze too, but nowhere near the well-resolved as Ford wonderful Focus. Importantly, neither of the latter have CVTs so would get an extra vote from me anyway.
I like the audio system which sounds great for a car in this price range. It’s a quantum leap from the steaming pile of mediocrity it replaced. It does the job very well and is easy to use even you you can’t be arsed reading the user guide. As for the rest of the car, I’m not inspired. It doesn’t make me leap shouting “Oh What A Feeling” like they do in the ads. The Corolla is one of Toyotas top sellers and the new model is selling well but the buyers are not the trendy young urbanites. That demographic either catch buses and taxis, and would rather buy a smart outfit ready for a night sipping unique booze offered at a trendy inner city small-bar. They will not be tempted by a car if it isn’t special. Like the bigger sister the Camry, Corolla’s buyer will be older. They’ll be downsizing for one reason or another. You know the kind of headline “senior driver thought he was in reverse and drives into shop front” kind of thing. No, a snappily 20-something would more likely buy a Golf, and a GTi at that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the smart-key system, and the beeping in the cabin when you select reverse is genius, but it’s all so beige!
The top model is around $35k, but if I was to fork out that kind of dosh, I’d buy the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ. That feels like a precision scalpel that could take a head off at a hundred paces with a single swipe. The Corolla is more like a butter knife designed for homebrand margarine to be used on homebrand white bread. Like both of the latter, Corolla does nothing wrong, nothing at all. The problem is it’s a crowded market place where there is better for the same money. Such a car would Australia’s top selling model for 2013, the Mazda 3. There is a reason Mazda is the top seller and a comparison drive will show you why. The steering is sharp, the interior is just a little nicer, the exterior is just a little bit more handsome, and there is no bloody buggery CVT! Having said that the Corolla has been the top seller for the last few months for this year so watch this space, I may be talking out of my aXXX.
Would I buy one? Probably not. I’d buy Ford’s Focus, Mazda’s 3, VW’s Golf, or the car I really want, the Toyota 86 all of which are in this ballpark. The Corolla needs a model with a turbo, 6 Speed Manual and the steering from the 86 and then it might stand a hope of attracting younger buyers.
I’m still fuming that even in 2014 we have to pay the “Australia Tax” which means no matter what we buy, even if it is downloaded from the USA, we pay double. Can someone explain that to me in words of 2 syllables or less?
Price: $23,497 – $34,827 (on road in NSW)
Engine: 1.8 petrol, 103kw, 173Nm, 7.1L/100k(claimed)