That Levin feeling
Weall know what $19,990 buys. Nine grand more gets everything
HAROLD Holt succeeds Sir Robert Menzies, Jack Brabham is Australian of the Year, St Kilda beat Collingwood by a point in the VFL grand final, a royal named Charles goes to school in Geelong and Toyota enters the small car market.
It was 1966. While St Kilda have yet to reach those heights again, almost 50 million Corollas have been sold in the five decades since. Now in its 11th generation, it’s fighting the Mazda3 for small car— and total market— supremacy.
The Levin ZR is the Corolla hatch flagship, starting at $28,490 (the same as the superseded car) and adding $2000 for the continuously variable automatic.
The test car also has the fulllength glass roof with electric sliding cover, which adds $1500 and is great at night— but far from ideal in Australian summer daylight.
The top-spec model has no shortage of gear. It sits on 17-inch alloys, has a touchscreen, six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and USB (although I couldn’t get it to work for the music player), satnav, trip computer, leather trim, cruise control, reversing camera, adaptive front bi-xenon headlights with auto-dipping high beam, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition and and heated exterior mirrors.
In contrast to the graphic exterior changes, the carryover 1.8-litre
four-cylinder petrol engine gains all of 3kW and has less torque. But it is more flexible now and that means kinder fuel consumption.
The manual gearbox on token offer remains a sixspeeder but the veteran fourspeed auto has been ditched in favour of a continuously variable auto with a sevenspeed manual mode controlled by paddleshifters.
The CVT claims 6.6L/100km on the combined cycle— down from 7.4L in the old auto, 0.5L better than the manual and 1.0L down around town.
There’s an aggressive sport mode; the engine is willing but doesn’t always sound enthusiastic.
Kerb weight has dropped by as much as 55kg, which also affects fuel economy.
‘‘ Nice car, mate’’ is not something I’ve often heard through the driver’s window of a Toyota, except the 86 sports coupe. The exterior of the new Corolla prompted that remark from a security guard on the gate at the Clipsal 500. Need we say more?
We shall. The Corolla’s exterior shares much with the Lexus CT200h, sharp-edged looks and poise on the road. There’s narrowed headlights and air intake, part of the new ‘‘ Keen Look’’ styling strategy.
It’s got a bit more shape to it, which turns heads on the road. There’s a quality feel to the cabin, with comfortable seating and easily operable switchgear. It’s let down by the upright and in-your-face dashboard that erodes the spacious feel a little.
Another distraction is the narrow rear vision. You need that rearview camera.
No shortage of ultra-highstrength steel within the body structure has helped score five stars in the NCAP testing regime, as well as seven airbags (including a driver’s knee bag).
The automatic high-beam, headlights and dimming centre mirror all contribute, although rain-sensing wipers wouldn’t be out of place.
I’mnot a fan of the way CVTs flare, revving like a car with a slipping clutch, when all is asked of the powerplant.
The Corolla’s not the worst but nor is it the best at turning noise into motion, although its progress on part-throttle is better than you might expect. Smoothness, quietness and an admirable thirst are all benefits.
It looks sharp but doesn’t ride that way. The base model that ran in Carsguide’s Car of The Year impressed with its ride quality and despite the taller, lower-profile wheel-tyre package, the ZR also impressed with its road manners.
It’s no hot hatch, although it behaves admirably when pressed. There’s no mass of bodyroll, nor are there screams from the front wheels through corners, but the ‘‘ others to consider’’ list has a couple of contenders that amuse more in the bends.
A brief sojourn on an unsealed road didn’t detract from the good ride impression but Toyota’s electronic safety systems can still be confounded on dirt,
taking a long time to allow the driver to accelerate again, even when the stability and traction control were, supposedly, off.
The driver gets plenty of gear and information, although there’s no digital speed readout in the centre display.
The brand and the nameplate will bring the hordes running when a new model arrives, so it’s not likely Toyota will have a problem selling Corolla. But renewed competition from Nissan and Volkswagen will mean this comfortable and capable hatchback is set for a much heavier workload than it has yet to shoulder.