FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE
FEW CARS are as important as the Toyota Corolla. The model’s demure image belies its significance to the bottom line of one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. If you average out the sales figures, a Corolla is sold somewhere in the world roughly every 30 seconds. Now there’s a new one, and it has a hell of a job on its hands.
Thankfully, it seems the days of Toyota resting on its laurels are over. The brand’s long-term survival depends on a change in strategy and for the twelfth-gen Corolla, that strategy is led by technology – in the engine bay, wheel wells and behind the dash.
The base Ascent Sport comes with a six-speed manual with downshift rev-matching, but the rest of the three-variant line-up receives a CVT by default, whether your choose 2.0-litre petrol or 1.8-litre hybrid power. Toyota, conscious of the CVT’s reputation for rubber-band response, has engineered a solution in the form of a mechanical ‘launch gear’.
Only available with the 2.0-litre petrol, it sharpens take-off while improving response to sudden demands for acceleration. It’s no gimmick – it works a treat.
Attractive styling; ride and handling; capable 2.0-litre petrol
PLUS & MINUS
Rear seat space sorely lacking; boot space trails segment rivals
The 125kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol is perky (though noisy) and provides plenty of urge right up to the 6400rpm redline, and the CVT also does the neat trick of behaving like a regular automatic when you floor the accelerator, moving up through 10 ‘gear’ steps rather than slurring through constantly-changing ratios. Shift paddles are also there should you feel a little frisky. It’s a shame the 90kW/163Nm hybrid’s CVT isn’t the same unit, but it’s no deal breaker given a focus on efficiency rather than sportiness.
The new multi-link rear suspension is a massive step up over the old car’s torsion beam. Its calibration feels well suited to Australian roads, delivering outstanding pliancy over rough sections, along with keen cornering. It seems the standard brake torque vectoring system helps here too.
The top-grade Corolla ZR, which replaces the 16-inch alloys of the Ascent Sport and SX with 18s wearing Dunlop SP Sport rubber, is sharper, but brings a more brittle ride and increased tyre roar.
Underpinning a 60 percent more rigid body is Toyota’s fresh TNGA platform, which brings multi-link rather than torsion beam rear suspension. It’s good stuff: both the C-HR and new-gen Prius are built on TNGA bones, and they’re both tidy handlers. The Corolla is no different.
Lift the hatch and prepare to be disappointed. The bulk of the range only offers a 217L cargo bay, which is way off the small hatch pace. Even Toyota’s Yaris light hatch has more room. The ZR Hybrid is the only one to escape this with a 333L bay as an inflator kit replaces the spare wheel.
All Corollas get a fat standard equipment list, with keyless start, active cruise control, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning and auto high-beam on every grade. Step up the range, and niceties like wireless phone charging and a head-up display are added.
Toyota top brass keep dropping hints that a proper performance version of the Corolla is high on their wishlist, including Yasushi Ueda, the car’s chief engineer. The TNGA platform can certainly handle it, and while some reports suggest a sportstuned hybrid powertrain could give the humble Corolla a shot in the arm, a turbocharged version of the car’s brand-new 2.0-litre ‘Dynamic Force’ four-pot is equally as likely.
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