A TOUCH OF SPICE
Toyota expands the Corolla menu from bland to tasty, with safety still a staple
A ustralia’s best-selling passenger car is about to get better. A lot better. The new Corolla, due here in August, is a visual and dynamic indication of what the global behemoth maker can do when it puts it mind to the job.
Toyota hasn’t reinvented the wheel but it has produced a vehicle that is good to look at and entertaining to drive, as distinct from the longstanding buyers’ expectation of reliable but bland fare.
Toyota Australia sales and marketing vicepresident Sean Hanley says the Corolla will be positioned as a premium hatch with classleading safety to ensure it continues its five-year reign as Australia’s best-selling passenger car.
“I think it will attract new customers, particularly in the private market,” Hanley says. “Our reputation for reliability is a given but we’ve now packaged that into a very stylish, very safe car.”
Early indications from the global launch in San Diego: if local suspension tune and pricing match the rest of the car, this could be the best bang-for-the-buck hatch in the small class — providing you don’t opt for the fleet-oriented base model.
That car lacks some of the sound-deadening found in the higher spec versions and is appreciably noisier at speed, both in terms of road and wind noise.
A key selling point is that every Corolla will have a full suite of active safety software. There will be three versions, all with the option of a 2.0-litre petrol engine or, in the hybrid, 1.8-litre engine and electric motor.
Those equipped with a continuously variable transmission — that’s every hybrid and likely the two higher spec petrol versions — will have the ability to steer around gentle corners, providing the driver keeps his hands on the wheel.
Standard on every car will be autonomous emergency braking up to 176km/h, which slows the car by 60km/h in any situation, so at speeds below that it should stop. Add to that cyclist detection during the day and pedestrian detection day and night.
Active corner assist applies the brakes to the appropriate wheel to offset understeer during “spirited driving” and stop the Corolla from ploughing straight ahead.
There are traffic sign recognition, radar cruise control and lane departure assist, which will keep the car between lane markings and which, Toyota says, also operates on any highcontrast surfaces such as grass verges or concrete kerbs. Upper-spec variants also pick up blind-spot monitoring.
That’s impressive for a car that will start in the low $20,000s (prices won’t be confirmed until closer to the car’s local launch).
About the only thing missing is smartphone mirroring (as fitted to the US test vehicles).
ON THE ROAD
Corolla owners who upgrade will have to relearn how to corner. This car has the balance, steering feel and grip to encourage corner carving.
The 2.0-litre (126kW/205Nm) engine loves to rev, sounding sweet all the way.
The Corolla is no hot hatch in terms of acceleration though it still has the feel of a very competent car. The suspension, now McPherson strut front and multi-link rear, enhances cornering and even with the customarily softer US preference the Corolla doesn’t wallow under brakes or around corners.
Expect to see a performance-focused Corolla sooner rather than later. Hanley is adamant there’s nothing being developed. Yet.
The CVT, one of the more convincing examples, has a physical first gear for taking off from rest, comparable to a conventional auto, after which it slips back into belt-and-pulleys set-up to improve efficiency.
Its sports mode holds revs for longer. Paddleshifters enable the driver to row through the 10 preset ratios.
The slick-shifting six-speed manual has an intelligent manual mode that might have been better as a default setting. It prevents stalling on hill-starts, while also blipping the throttle on downshifts to smooth the gear change.
Toyota adds a touch of spice to the Corolla’s fuss-free commute credentials.