New Corolla a stylish evolution
11th Generation Toyota Corolla

When you think of the Toyota Corolla, words like "durable", "reliable" and "trouble-free" immediately spring to mind.

It would not be the world's top-selling car without those qualities.

But Toyota boss Akio Toyoda wants his company's cars to also generate "excitement" and "passion". We saw the first example of this earlier in the year with the release of the all-new 86 Coupe, an affordable sports car that has become an instant hit for the Japanese car maker.

Last week, I took the opportunity to drive the 11th- generation Corolla, the first mainstream model Toyota has produced since Mr Toyoda's mantra was announced.

And no, I am not about to say that it has the same sporty traits as the 86, far from it.

The Corolla remains a very practical hatch that will cater for most family needs in regards to size and performance.

It is slightly bigger than its predecessor but - like most of its competitors - through the use of higher-strength steel and better technology it is lighter (about 55kg overall), safer and more efficient.

The extra size has resulted in more knee room for rear-seat passengers and more space in the cargo area.

But the designers and engineers have also come up with a car that looks, performs and handles better than its predecessor.

The new Corolla takes on a more European shape, including a lower overall height and a sloping bonnet that gives the five-door hatch more street appeal. During the test drive I had the opportunity to drive behind a current model and the new version side by side on a city street in Sydney (not that hard to do with so many on the road) and the difference was quite startling.

According to Toyota, the sleeker design has resulted in better aerodynamics and more fuel efficiency, as well as improved dynamics courtesy of a lower centre of gravity.

This is despite the fact the new Corolla is powered by the same 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine - though in a mildly revised form - currently in use. In the 2013 model it generates 103kW and 173 Newton metres of torque, up 3kW but down 2Nm from the previous model.

The Corolla is still available with the choice of a manual or automatic transmission, though the traditional four-speed auto has been replaced by a continuous variable transmission (CVT) with a seven-speed manual option.

It also has a sport mode, but after using both the sport and manual settings on the test drive I am not convinced they are features that will be utilised by too many owners.

In sport, the transmission holds on to the gears too long, resulting in an unpleasant scream. If driven hard, the sport mode is much better but in reality these cars, no matter how much "excitement" Toyota wants to build into them, are not going to be bought by too many driving enthusiasts.

The CVT, which smoothly adjusts engine revs as you increase throttle pressure, reduces fuel use by as much as 10 per cent, returning 6.6L/100km. On our test drive we achieved a slightly better 6.4L/100km return. The six-speed manual uses 7.1L/100km.

The new-model Corolla will be available in four specification levels - Ascent, Ascent Sport, Levin SX and Levin ZR.

Every model gets seven airbags - including one to protect the driver's knees - and a five-star crash rating. Also all are fitted with cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and a six-speaker audio system. A reversing camera is standard on all but the base model, for which it can be ordered as an option.

The two Levin models now get 17-inch alloy wheels and satellite navigation, while the range-topping Levin ZR gains swivelling high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights - including a high-beam function that can automatically dip for oncoming traffic - plus leather seats, front-seat heaters, keyless entry and start, and climate control.

Toyota Australia is confident the new Corolla has the capacity to grab the sales title back off the Mazda3 that has been outselling it in the past couple of years.

The company proved its confidence in the car in the test route, which consisted of a series of twisty and corrugated roads on the outskirts of Sydney.

At the end of the day it was hard not to be impressed by the improvements that have been made in ride and handling and, more significantly, in the suppression of road and wind noise.

The electric steering system is nice and responsive, and a stiffer body shell makes the car feel appreciably more agile.

Sitting behind the wheel it also felt more comfortable, with the new seats providing good support.

The hip point has also been lowered, making it easier to get in and out of, and the position of the steering wheel - which has reach and rake adjustment - has changed slightly to make it easier to find the right driving position.

The instrument clusters on the Ascent and Levin models are slightly different but both are well laid out and easy to read.

My only complaint in this area was with the centre stack layout which houses the audio/sat nav configuration. To me it looked more like an afterthought than an integral part of the design.

But overall the new Corolla is a vast improvement on its predecessor and, combined with the sharper pricing (every model is either the same price or cheaper than its predecessor), it is again going to sell in big numbers.

While the hatch is set to be another winner for Toyota, those wanting a sedan version will have to wait 12 months or so - and there will be no wagon available.


FAST FACTS

• 39 million Corollas have been sold worldwide since 1966.
• Every minute of every day, two Corollas are made and sold.
• Australia was the first country outside Japan to sell the Corolla.
• Corollas were first sold here in 1967.
• 1.2 million Corollas have been sold in Australia.
• 20 per cent of all Toyotas sold here are Corollas.
• Since 1967, annual sales have averaged 26,000.
• Since 2007, annual sales have averaged 42,000


PRICE

Ascent $19,990 (down $1000)
Ascent Sport $20,990 (down $1500)
Levin SX $23,990 (down $1100)
Levin ZR $28,490 (same price)

Options: CVT $2000, capped price servicing $130

The West Australian

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