That Levin feeling
It's still a Corolla but with slickers styling and more goodies for less money
A DECADE ago, you’d sweat to make $21,840 buy a fivedoor Toyota Corolla without airconditioning and with just one airbag.
Today, the ‘‘ equivalent’’ Corolla is $19,990 with airconditioning, seven airbags, electronic stability control, sixspeaker audio, cruise control and Bluetooth.
The features list is so good it’s in prestige terrain.
The Corolla has always been affordable. The latest hatch— a sedan may come late next year— is getting desirable. The top-line Levin ZR ($28,490) tested here has automatic transmission ($2000), panoramic sunroof ($1500) and metallic paint ($425) among its options.
It has a heap of goodies including LED daytime running lamps, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone auto climate-control aircon, electric lumbar support for the driver, heated front seats, leather upholstery, button start, satnav and reversing camera. Cappedprice service and guaranteed resale value are big bonuses.
But you don’t have to reach to the top shelf for Corolla value. Look also at the Levin SX auto for $25,990.
This is an evolution of Toyota’s cautious styling but it has broad buyer appeal. There’s some Yaris in there and a bit of Prius.
Overall, the hatch looks contemporary and certainly ages rivals such as the Mazda3 and Nissan’s Pulsar— which hasn’t even been launched yet.
It wins friends with good room inside for four adults (though the rear seat is hard and unsupportive), an upmarket dash with stitched leather and soft plastics, good switchgear and simple placement and a biggish boot. But a narrow rear window makes for poor vision aft (thankfully there’s a rear camera in the Levin), the windscreen-pillars are wide and the bonnet droops into the unknown.
The Corolla is as simple as it was 10 years ago and the biggest techno change over the previous model is the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that succeeds a conventional fourspeed automatic.
CVTs can be hot or cold but Toyota has got it right. The two Levin models also get paddle shifters. The car’s basic
platform remains but the new bodyshell is more rigid and there are tweaks to the electric steering and suspension. The 1.8-litre engine continues but has a fraction more power (400rpm up the rev range at 6400rpm) compared with the old model. The torque is unchanged but the peak arrives 400rpm lower at 4000rpm.
Fuel economy is down almost a litre to 6.6L/100km.
There are seven airbags, five- star crash rating, all the necessary electronic aids, hillstart assist and an emergency brake signal that automatically flashes the hazard warning lamps during hard braking.
The Levin ZR also gets a space-saver spare, auto-levelling high-intensity headlights that see around corners and reversing camera.
This is such an accommodating car that everyone will feel at home in the cabin. Same on the road. The driving experience is unthreatening and unsurprising.
The engine sounds the same as in the past 10 years and the performance is also the same — a bit lacklustre but predictable. There’s more perkiness from the engine, however, thanks to the CVT that offers infinite ratios plus seven pre-sets available via the steering wheel paddles.
There’s a bit of the inherent CVT elastic-band character that feels like a slipping clutch but, compared to many CVT-equipped rivals, this is a good one. The claim of an extra 3kW at 6400rpm must be an inhouse Toyota joke as the only owner who will visit those revs will be one who has somehow bought the wrong car.
That apart, the hatch is a more confident car through the corners than ever before. It feels more comfortable and quieter, though the noise gets harsher on coarse bitumen.
Everything about the Corolla is better than before, though only marginally.
It’s better than before and no one’s going to complain.