Arguably the best looking face in the segment belongs to this new Corolla.
Arguably the best looking face in the segment belongs to this new Corolla.
Image: Supplied

As an unrepentant performance car junkie, I did not expect a delightful experience in the new Corolla hatch.

Under the bonnet is a 1.2l four-cylinder turbo petrol with 85kW and 185Nm to play with. Has the old Conquest RSi returned? The well-known 80s pocket-rocket is only 1kW and 49Nm down on power to the 2019 Corolla hatch.

Interestingly, paging through some automotive annals reveals that the old RSi dispatched the 0-100km/h dash in some 9.3 seconds. Comparatively this new Corolla does the same sprint in 9.5 seconds despite being portlier. Top speed? Both cars are good for 200km/h.

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I found myself liking this Toyota, a lot. Slowly but surely we are seeing glimpses of Akio Toyoda’s 2011 vow to return the carmaker to its glory days and start building cars that tickle the emotions.

The new global architecture is at the core of this refreshing renaissance. It brings in a welcome lightness and 60% more torsional stiffness. This translates to a sturdy, quieter and more tuned in engagement with the car. Furthermore to that seemingly non-threatening power output, our test unit was fitted with a 10-speed CVT gearbox — all the ingredients needed to cook up a tepid hatch, right?

Wrong. Things didn’t turn out this way. The CVT transmission is the best I have yet experienced. During normal driving situations the shift patterns are well timed and unobtrusive, adding to the Zen that already radiates in the cabin ambience for a generally fuss-free driving experience.

When you thumb in Sport and bury the throttle deep into the carpet you stir up a deceptively fast driving potential. Here the CVT also awakens, allowing gears to dig deeper into the engine’s rev range. The transmission is also designed for quick and pronounced upshifts unlike those expected of the CVT genre.

The resultant surge forward isn’t what you’d call warp speed but neither is it slow. It’s a keenness brought upon by its turbocharged engine.

The new Corolla hatch looks good whether it’s coming or going.
The new Corolla hatch looks good whether it’s coming or going.
Image: Supplied

The mechanical zeal from the bonnet links up with a finely tuned front-wheel-drive chassis. From the impressive damping control, the Corolla hatch also boasts truly usable poise when the roads start to snake around. The dynamic handling is best exploited smoothly instead of aggressively.

Push the envelope too far and the front rubber squeals in understeer as the on-board traction manager also jumps in to tidy up the mess.

Meanwhile, the CVT is ready with an ideal gear change to match a robust and effective mid-range torque delivery to continue spearing forward. Don’t rush, choose and hook on to a good line through a bend and the settled response from the reworked front and rear axles adds to a pleasingly sporty drive.

However, the Corolla hatch isn’t marketed as a reincarnation of the 1.6l powered torpedoes of the 1990s. It’s a modern balancing act in practicality led by larger interior space dimensions for passengers and luggage and reduced fuel usage in line with being kind to the environment and owner’s wallets.

While still on efficiency, the mechanicals along with judicious throttle inputs saw the car return a 7.9l/100km average. Toyota’s claims are 6.1l/100km for both manual and CVT variants.

The Xr model on test also had an impressive outlay of luxury and safety items in its cabin that’s built with excellent quality and tactility. The look and feel is the same flavour seen in the equally new RAV4 with a touch screen and large digital font displays mixed with function buttons. It isn’t totally minimalist in arrangement, yet it isn’t cluttered.

Stylish passenger quarters with a mix of digital and analogue interactivity are a good place to spend time in.
Stylish passenger quarters with a mix of digital and analogue interactivity are a good place to spend time in.
Image: Supplied

Front passengers in our high-grade Xr model enjoy leather and Alcantara-clad sports seats and bum-warmers as standard fitment to an array of other luxury and safety items.

In conclusion, it’s an absolute peach of a car. The intricate and bewitching aesthetic design with a catamaran hull-shaped front grille and letter-box thin lights is a winner.

It encompasses exactly what we remember of a Toyota brand of cars that were exciting to look at and drive, while fusing real-world living requirements of efficiency and dependability with an affordable price tag. It gets a thumbs up from me.  

Toyota Corolla Hatch 1.2T Xr CVT

Tech specs

ENGINE

Type: turbocharged in-line four

Capacity: 1,197cc

Power: 85kW

Torque: 185Nm

TRANSMISSION

Type: 10-step CVT

DRIVETRAIN

Type: FWD

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: 190km/h (claimed)

0-100km/h: 9.5 sec (claimed)

Fuel consumption: 6.1l/100km (claimed) 7.9l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 140g/km

STANDARD FEATURES

LED lights, dual-zone climate control, keyless access, auto light control with follow me home function, front fog lamps, cruise control, power-operated heated exterior mirrors, colour multi-information display, reverse camera, one-touch power windows, speed-sensitive door locking, automatic parking brake, hill hold function, sport front seats in leather and Alcantara,  power-adjustable driver lumbar support, seat-heating function for driver and passenger, blind spot monitoring, seven airbags, ABS brakes with Brake Assist.

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: 3-year/100,000 km

Service plan: 6 services/90,000 km

Price R367,100

Lease*: R7,894 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

WE LIKE:

Performance, handling, looks, price and build quality

WE DISLIKE:

One of the pricier cars in its segment

VERDICT:

A perfectly reasonable alternative to popular choices 

MOTOR NEWS star rating

*****Design

****Performance

****Economy

*****Ride/handling

*****Safety

*****Value For Money

*****Overall

Competition

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline DSG — 92kW/200Nm — R394,600

Ford Focus hatch 1.0T Trend Auto — 92kW/170Nm — R294,900

Mazda3 hatch 1.6 Dynamic Auto — 77kW/144Nm — R313,300

Renault Megane Dynamique Auto — 97kW/205Nm — R354,900