By Gordon Hall
There was a time when Toyota Corollas were criticised for being as bland as household appliances; they were somewhat plain, solid and reliable, expensive on first purchase but compensating with solid resale value. And, it was said, you never had to advertise your old one. Prospective buyers would hunt you down and hound you until you gave in.
But that insipid image is fading. This new car looks way more aggressive with its wider, shark-like mouth and slitty “eyes”. It even has gills on either side of the front bumper apron. Bland it is not.
The interior gains a tablet-style touchscreen, new steering wheel, restyled dash, new ventilation controls and new instruments. The seats were reworked too. Other new kit includes LED headlights across the range with Bi-LED automatic high-beams for XR models.
There are also plenty digital instruments; adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning; lane trace assist (keeps you centred within your lane); pre-crash brake synchronisation; and blind spot monitoring. That’s what the BSM lettering on the digital speedo face is about. No kinkiness here; this is a Corolla.
Unseen changes include the double wishbone rear suspension plundered from the Lexus warehouse and a new 2.0-litre engine with optional, and greatly improved, 10-step CVT for XR models.
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THE ENGINE: Part of a new range, the 2.0-litre Dynamic Force motor features wider valve angles that improve mixing for better combustion, 13:1 compression ratio for more power, and reduced energy losses to improve performance and fuel economy. Toyota claims 40% thermal efficiency. The bottom line is that it hauls ass; like a student hustling to the refectory at lunchtime.
THE CVT: Lighter and more compact than the one it replaced, it offers a lower centre of gravity and a newly-developed high-performance torque converter. This reduces torque loss by about 50% compared with a conventional six-speed automatic. Further, improved gear tooth surfaces and clutch materials reduce friction losses. Verdict: As usable as any conventional automatic, it changes quickly and smoothly, shows no detectable slippage and kicks down nicely.
Shifting manually, should you wish to, is via stick or paddles. Selections by paddle default back to Drive at the first opportunity while those chosen by stick remain selected for as long as required. Both options work in either ECO or Sport mode.
The old hand brake made way for an electric version that sets and releases automatically whenever Park is engaged or disengaged. Other new automations include keyless entry and starting, one-touch activation on all windows and a pushbutton option to unlock the boot lid. The old mechanical release lever, on the floor next to the driver’s seat, is still there as are the buttons to release each half of the rear seatback. The difference is that these are now pressed rather than lifted.
Size-wise, the new car is 10mm longer, 5mm wider and 20mm lower although ride height was raised by 10mm; to 135mm in the case of two-litre models. The body was stiffened and suspension reworked, both contributing to improved handling. The fuel tank has been reduced in size to 50 litres and XR versions now have spacesaver spare wheels.
Among all this, the car gained about 60kg in weight. That’s comparing like for like; 1.8-litre XS with seven-step CVT. On the plus side, boot capacity increased by 18 litres to 470. It still loads at about 70cm with a lip that’s 15.5cm deep.
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Safety kit, apart from the new items mentioned, remains plentiful and includes all that one really needs; ISOFix mountings but no top tethers, seven airbags, ABS with EBA and EBD, ESP, hill hold, and reversing camera but no parking alarms.
Storage space in the cabin is fair but not exceptional; there are two USBs; one of which is for recharging, both visor mirrors are illuminated and there are two courtesy lamps. The most-used controls are easy to operate and the menus are workable by adults.
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The new Corolla isn’t flamboyant, just solid and practical, with all the electronic gadgets you actually need. And a couple extra, just in case.
It’s handsomer than its predecessor and offers a good dose of performance when needed. Should you keep it 10 years or longer, you may yet find yourself buttonholed by complete strangers demanding you let them buy it. Because it’s a Corolla; still solid value but now somewhat sexy.
Test unit from Toyota SA press fleet
Price: R433 700
Engine: Toyota M20A-FKS, 1986cc, naturally aspirated, inline four-cylinder
Power: 125kW at 6600rpm
Torque: 200Nm between 4400 and 4800rpm
Zero to 100km/h: 8.6 seconds
Maximum speed: 195km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 7.7 l/100km
Tank: 50 litres
Luggage: 470 litres
Turning circle: 10.6m
Ground clearance: 135mm
Rated towing capacity: 400kg
ASEAN NCAP: 5 stars
Warranty: 3 years / 100 000km
Service plan: 6 services, 90 000km at 15 000km or annual intervals