Toyota: Corolla regains its groove

By Jacqui Madelin

Toyota energises its popular model's looks and performance.

On winding roads, the new Corolla Hatch showed it was enjoyable to drive and a good choice for everyday use. Photo / Supplied
On winding roads, the new Corolla Hatch showed it was enjoyable to drive and a good choice for everyday use. Photo / Supplied

Toyota's on track for a quarter century of market leadership, with the 10th-generation and much-improved Corolla already topping sales' tables.

What's new

This Corolla gets a sharper, more aggressive look with a character its predecessors lacked. It is 30mm longer and 55mm lower, sleeker with a centre of gravity closer to the tar.

It's lighter, quieter and more rigid, with a retuned suspension using reduced spring rates and retuned shocks. Stability control is less intrusive, the brakes are better and the steering rack is quicker. The 103kW/173kW 1.8-litre engine gained 3kW, while torque dropped 2Nm but urge is delivered across a broader rev range.

The CVT auto permits seven manual steps with a sport setting for closer-ratio upshifts with changes suspended while cornering - though it will change for you in manual mode if you flog the revs.

The company line

There's history here. The first Corolla launched in 1966 and hit New Zealand three years later with a 1077cc in-line four that fielded 48kW to shift the 730kg, 3.8m body for a 4.5l/100km thirst. The car's now 75 per cent heavier, with a 1798cc, 103kW engine and a 6.6l/100 thirst.

So far 39 million Corollas have sold worldwide; that's 96 an hour, 24/7, for 46 years.

Some 763 sold here in 1969 and it reached its 9817 record in 1988 at 79 per cent of Toyota sales that year. Corollas are 49 per cent of the cars Toyota NZ has ever sold and it plans to shift 1013 before year end.

So there are extra variants, starting with the $34,990 GX six-speed manual with 16-inch steel wheels, seven airbags, stability control, voice recognition, Bluetooth and cruise control, and topping out with the $43,690 Levin ZR with reversing camera, seat heating, adaptive front lights with auto high beam and a vast sunroof. Expect a TRD sports version next year.

What we say

Better looks, stronger character, improved interior ergonomics and a smarter cabin - albeit one in which hard plastics occasionally jar.

On the road

Recent Corollas were disappointing performers, with engines and handling as lacklustre as their looks. This one lifts its game considerably, proving agile, relatively supple and reasonably enjoyable to drive on a bendy road, though I'm not a fan of the slight road vibe through the wheel when cruising. The old-school torsion beam rear suspension let it down on lumpy corners and an independent set-up would improve matters but really, few will drive it as fast as we did, most simply appreciating a more capable car that at last holds a candle to its New Zealand-produced Amon-fettled ancestors.

Why you'll buy one?

New Zealand's favourite car just got better, and slightly cheaper.

Why you won't?

The rising belt line makes it too hard for the kids to see out of the back; Ford's Focus still trumps it as an all-rounder.

- Herald on Sunday

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