DOU­BLE-DOWN DARE

Toy­ota isn’t just aim­ing for driv­ing fun, it’s gam­bling on a new Corolla for­mula

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

D o not ad­just your spec­ta­cles. This is the new Toy­ota Corolla. Best known for bor­ing but de­pend­able cars, the brand is dar­ing to be dif­fer­ent with the bold­est de­sign yet for Aus­tralia’s — and the world’s — top-sell­ing pas­sen­ger car.

With more than 45 mil­lion sold glob­ally and in ex­cess of 1.4 mil­lion on Aus­tralian roads, Toy­ota is tak­ing a gam­ble mess­ing with such a suc­cess­ful for­mula. A Corolla is sold some­where on the planet ev­ery 30 sec­onds.

The 12th-gen­er­a­tion Corolla, com­pletely new from the ground up, is part of Toy­ota’s prom­ise to de­liver fun-to-drive cars with emo­tional de­sign, hence the over-the-top styling. How­ever, this gi­ant leap comes at a cost. The start­ing price for a Toy­ota Corolla au­to­matic has been $22,990 drive-away since early 2017 but the cheapest ticket into a new one with auto is a snip over $27,000 drive-away, a price rise of more than $4000.

Toy­ota has elim­i­nated the base model As­cent and the range now starts with the As­cent Sport. How­ever, like-for-like, that’s still an in­crease of $3000 be­cause the out­go­ing As­cent Sport had been $23,990 drive-away for the past 18 months. This puts the new Corolla at the ex­pen­sive end of the small-car class. Most au­to­matic hatch­back ri­vals have drive-away start­ing prices in the low-$20,000 bracket.

The Kia Cer­ato is $19,990 and the Holden Astra starts from $20,990. The Corolla is dearer than the Hyundai i30 ($22,990), Mazda3 ($23,490), Ford Fo­cus ($24,490) and Honda Civic ($24,990).

It’s even dearer than the cheapest VW Golf au­to­matic ($26,490 drive-away). Toy­ota head of sales and mar­ket­ing Sean Han­ley says: “We’re con­fi­dent buy­ers will see the value in the new gen­er­a­tion Corolla.”

The value he refers to is the amount of stan­dard equip­ment in Corolla, which is more than its ri­vals. Some of the tech is class-lead­ing for a base model.

Each of the three grades — As­cent Sport, SX and ZR — has a hy­brid op­tion. All come stan­dard with au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing, radar cruise con­trol, speed-sign recog­ni­tion cam­era and lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance, the lat­ter not very good at de­tect­ing line mark­ings.

Dur­ing our pre­view test drive it zigzagged in the lane and more of­ten than not didn’t de­tect the edge of the lane or the road — it’s one of the less con­vinc­ing ex­e­cu­tions of this tech­nol­ogy.

Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent are Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. The smart­phone mir­ror­ing apps now on most ri­vals are avail­able on the new Corolla in the US but Toy­ota won’t say ex­actly when the tech will come to Aus­tralia — it can’t be retro­fit­ted.

In part to com­pen­sate, all new Corol­las come with a mas­sive cen­tral touch­screen that’s one of the largest among its peers. The screen also gains vol­ume and tun­ing knobs and a hand­ful of but­tons to make it easy to op­er­ate on bumpy roads.

The in­stru­ment clus­ter now has a dig­i­tal speed dis­play; higher grades have a dig­i­tal read­out re­flected on to the wind­screen, a classier and clearer head-up im­age than in other brands that re­flect info into a small plas­tic shield that pops out of the dash.

In­te­rior qual­ity and pre­sen­ta­tion take a step up, with soft-touch ma­te­ri­als on the dash (al­though not the doors) and new seat de­signs.

Toy­ota has scrimped on some of the ba­sics in the base model, with only one USB charge point and 12V socket in the cabin. Dearer mod­els get mul­ti­ple ports and rear air vents.

The new de­sign looks bold in­side and out but it comes at an­other cost: space. The back seat is squeezy and the rear doors don’t even have pock­ets, only a small drink holder each.

Head­room in the new model is gen­er­ous but the pre­vi­ous model had more knee­room. Toy­ota de­serves ku­dos for main­tain­ing a full-size spare in the base model — and leav­ing space for one in the SX if cus­tomers want to add it.

That means the boot is small even by class stan­dards, though, with just 217L of space. Most ri­vals are in the 350L-380L bracket. Without a spare the space is 333L.

As the new Corolla is longer and wider than the pre­vi­ous model, its smaller in­te­rior is a puz­zle. Chief en­gi­neer Ya­sushi Ueda ex­plains the ex­tended wheel­base was de­signed to im­prove the po­si­tion­ing of the driver, rather than add space.

“I un­der­stand some space is re­quired (for the rear seat) but for Corolla hatch­back … we wanted to put the driver in the ideal po­si­tion.”

He says the smaller boot ca­pac­ity is the re­sult of Aus­tralians’ pref­er­ence for a full-size spare and Toy­ota’s de­sire for a sleeker body de­sign and “low cen­tre of grav­ity for sporty driv­ing”.

ON THE ROAD

The pow­er­ful new 2.0-litre fi­nally brings the Corolla up to speed with its ri­vals. And it can still run on reg­u­lar unleaded — in­clud­ing the hy­brid, which pre­vi­ously de­manded pre­mium.

An in­ge­nious “launch gear” on the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion helps get off the mark briskly and without the drone that blunts most CVTs.

It’s one of the bet­ter CVTs avail­able; fans of reg­u­lar au­to­mat­ics may even ap­prove.

It has more than enough oomph for around town but if you drive it like a rental car you’ll cer­tainly hear the engine try­ing hard. It’s not the nois­i­est in its class but nor is it the qui­etest. If you pre­fer a serene ma­chine the hy­brid could be the bet­ter op­tion, avail­able for a mod­est $1500 pre­mium over the equiv­a­lent petrol model.

It has a less pow­er­ful elec­tric mo­tor than be­fore but ac­cel­er­a­tion seems about the same. On our brief test it seemed to spend a lit­tle more time in elec­tric mode, even though the bat­tery is the same nickel-metal hy­dride unit.

The new sus­pen­sion does a de­cent job of deal­ing with bumps and thumps. Its con­trol in lumpy bends is up there with the class best.

To bet­ter han­dle more mun­dane driv­ing — such as ne­go­ti­at­ing round­abouts — the steer­ing is smoother and more lin­ear.

More sure-footed than be­fore, the sporty ZR cor­ners with con­fi­dence on sticky, low-pro­file tyres.

The big­gest dis­ap­point­ment is the choice of tyre on the base model. As with many brands, Toy­ota has fit­ted low-fric­tion eco tyres to im­prove fuel econ­omy.

There’s a trade-off, un­for­tu­nately: grip. On our test drive, the tyres squealed pre­ma­turely even though we weren’t try­ing to pro­voke them.

VER­DICT

Toy­ota is about to dis­cover whether buy­ers pre­fer style over space.

Pic­tures: Paul Brad­shaw

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