Toyota Corolla: Next generation of Kiwi fave

By Liz Dobson

There's no doubt Toyota's hatchback will appeal to the legions of Corolla fans.

The 2013 Toyota Corolla GX. Photo / Supplied
The 2013 Toyota Corolla GX. Photo / Supplied

When I began work at a newspaper as a school leaver in the mid-80s there were Toyota Corollas in the fleet. Late-90s and again the Corolla was the work vehicle of choice for my publishing employer. And parked a few floors below me today are Corollas.

Yip, when it comes to picking a vehicle for employees to drive around New Zealand - and for tourists to take in our roads - it's bound to be a "Rolla".

But with the launch of the new-look five-door Corolla, it won't just be the fleet car to beat - it will be the hatchback to match. Not that finding sales will be a battle - the Corolla is the world's top-selling vehicle with one bought every 40 seconds. In New Zealand, it's been the top seller for 15 years and small car segment leader for 28 years, with a record 9817 sold in 1988.

And no surprise, 2013 is already set to be a success for the Toyota NZ. The company's general manager of sales, Steve Prangnell, predicts 5200 sales of the Corolla - covering this new hatch, the sedan (to be replaced in 2014) and the sturdy wagon - but it is considering if it will add the Corolla hybrid to the line-up.

The difficulty for them is that the hatchback hybrid, Prius c, is a hot favourite - with a six month waiting list here - and the Corolla hybrid would cost more than the c and less than the popular Prius.

There's still plenty of choice for buyers as Toyota NZ has moved from two variants to five for the 11th generation Corolla. The new line-up begins with a rental car favourite - the GX - the only one in the range with a six-speed manual transmission, which European tourists prefer.

Instead the rest of the variants - the fleet manager darling the GL and new comers Levin SX and top-of-the-range Levin ZR - are matched with seven-speed auto CVT transmission.

The name "Levin" is an Old English word meaning "lightning" and has been used for the top Corolla models in Japan - not as a nod to the town down the road from Palmerston North-based Toyota New Zealand.

If I were Toyota NZ I'd be teaching my dealers to pronounce it Lev-in (rhymes with heaven) to remove connection with the once bustling Manawatu town.

The range starts at $33,490 for the GX, with bluetooth, 16in wheels, cruise control and voice recognition standard. My favourite, the leather-seated Levin ZR is priced from $43,690 and gains 17in wheels, smart key and the option of the Panoramic Roof with electric shade.

All the hatch range have an in-line four cylinder 1.8-litre dual VVT-i petrol engine, boasting a maximum output of 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm of torque at 4000rpm with improved fuel economy and emissions (down to 6.6L/100km and 152g/km for CVT-equipped models).

But it's the exterior and interior redesign that will gain the Corolla new fans. The hatch has new headlights, a wider and tidier front grille, and rear lamp clusters that connect with the window design, giving it a European look. Inside, the console is cleaner in looks and has a cockpit feel to the instrument panel.

The hatch is longer and lower by 55mm than its predecessor creating a lower centre of gravity - that shows on the road with a more thrilling drive.

The Levin ZR easily handled the tight, numerous corners of the back roads from Palmerston North to Greytown. While the CVT auto can dominate I did override the system using the steering-wheel paddles, pushing the hatch through corners and testing the rev counter.

On the return trip, via the long, straight road of State Highway 2 the fuel economy of CVT on my Levin SX came to the fore. And it was on that stretch - with a Corolla hatch ahead and behind me - that I could appreciate the improved styling of the hatch that makes it a high rolla.

- NZ Herald

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