A TOUCH OF SPICE

Toy­ota expands the Corolla menu from bland to tasty, with safety still a sta­ple

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG DUFF

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.

VER­DICT

Toy­ota adds a touch of spice to the Corolla’s fuss-free com­mute cre­den­tials.

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