Suc­cess is no ac­ci­dent

The Corolla is no stand­out but it nails the things im­por­tant to most own­ers

Mercury (Hobart) - Cars Guide - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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