That Levin feel­ing

It's still a Corolla but with slick­ers styling and more good­ies for less money

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - NEIL DOWLING neil.dowling@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

It’s bet­ter than be­fore and no one’s go­ing to com­plain.

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