Success is no accident
The Corolla is no standout but it nails the things important to most owners
IN A business where numbers ultimately determine winners and losers, the humble Toyota Corolla is way out in front.
It’s been Australia’s bestselling car for the past four years and the world’s bestselling nameplate through 11 generations. More than 44 million have been sold in 150 countries since the first model in 1966.
It arrived in Australia in 1967, so this year marks Corolla’s 50th anniversary in our market, where 1.38 million have been sold. With the demise of Falcon and Commodore, Corolla has become our 21st century “people’s car”.
Why has it been so successful? We’re testing the recently updated SX sedan to find out.
The differences between Corolla sedan and hatch are more substantial than the size and shape of their boots.
Corolla sedan is a larger car than the hatch, much longer overall, with a 100mm extended wheelbase and wider body.
This translates to a spacious, comfortable back seat with bigcar legroom and a similarly voluminous boot.
It’s built in Thailand; the hatch is made in Japan.
Priced at $26,070 with the optional ($2250) continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmission, SX is the midspec model in the 2017 sedan range. Our test car also includes an optional driver assist safety pack, priced at $750, with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning (at speeds above 50km/h) and automatic high beam, plus automatic activation of the hazard lights to warn drivers behind if you have to jump on the brakes in a hurry.
Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, however, are not available, and in its overall safety specification Corolla still trails the Mazda3 and Subaru’s Impreza.
Styling changes for 2017 include a sharper front end, while the dash has been toned and tizzed with a sleeker instrument panel, piano black and chrome trim, groovy retrolook circular air vents and, on SX, standard navigation complemented by Toyota’s appbased Toyota Link2 system that offers deeper navigation functions and access to Pandora internet radio.
Corolla’s 1.8-litre four is one of the oldest engines in the class, but it has been regularly tweaked to improve performance, efficiency and refinement.
The CVT transmission and torque convertor are now more closely attuned to the engine’s performance and the way your right foot works the accelerator.
CVTs are an acquired taste. Some people hate them because they can feel like a slipping clutch under acceleration, wasting revs and and taking too long to deliver meaningful forward progress, but the Corolla gets off the line smartly and the CVT picks the revs your right foot requires, quickly and accurately.
Sport mode further sharpens throttle response and manual mode operates as a faux automatic, accessing seven defined shift points.
The Corolla ain’t fast, but it’s reasonably refined and stronger in the mid-range than the 1.8’s low numbers suggest. All you get at the top end is anguished noise and intrusive engine vibration.
Fuel efficiency is a highlight and the test car returned 7-9L/100km in town on regular unleaded.
Featherlight steering, unimpeded vision, a high, comfortable seating position, Bluetooth that will also read your messages and emails, a camera and parking sensors make Corolla an easy car to pilot around town.
Demerits include the absence of a digital speedo, no light touch, three-flash indicator function and a small, fiddly touchscreen, mounted low on the dash. A warning beeper that lets rip every time you engage reverse may quite possibly drive you insane. Why is it there? Does Toyota think all Corolla sedan drivers have dementia?
ON THE ROAD
Corolla cruises quietly and economically at 100km/h, returning 5-6L/100km. The CVT responds decisively when you want to overtake, and the 1.8 does the job with surprising enthusiasm. Cruise control can hold a set speed with acceptable accuracy.
Chassis tweaks for 2017 include larger dampers and more rigid suspension mounts. The Corolla lacks the balance and poise of a Golf, Mazda3 or Impreza, but it corners with minimal body roll. Roadholding is stable and secure.
While the electric steering is quite sharp when you point the car into a corner, it’s also overassisted at speed, so you get almost no feedback from the front end. On centre at 100km/h it’s extremely vague, so you have to constantly work to point the car straight, which is tedious and tiring on a long drive.
Corolla’s suspension is locally tuned to deal with our goat tracks, so big hits are efficiently absorbed. The ride is firm and a touch fussy on choppy surfaces, but acceptably compliant. Dunlop tyres are fairly noisy on coarse bitumen, too.
The Corolla is lowest common denominator motoring. That’s not a criticism. In fact it’s a compliment, because its success is based on the fundamentals of ownership that many other car makers either don’t understand or get horribly wrong: value for money, quality, durability, reliability, user-friendliness, safety and trust.
Ask an owner. They’re not hard to find.