Toyota Corolla blossoms into the 21st century
New-generation sedan adds new-found style to its solid, dependable reputation
There’s a fresh new wind blowing through the halls at Toyota, with cars like the edgy C-HR, and the sporty 86 and Supra models launched in recent times.
Even the sensible-but-vanilla-flavoured Corolla has now come out of its shell somewhat, and the new 12th generation hatchback was introduced here last year with more design pizzazz than its forerunners.
Now the sedan version’s arrived in SA as a more premium and stylistically appealing four-door than its conservative forerunners. It sells alongside the cheaper, previous-generation Corolla which has been repurposed as the Quest and is popular with the Uber market.
Slim LED headlamps, a gaping trapezoidal grille and a lower roofline with a widened track help give the 2020 Corolla an edgier, more modern look than its appliance-like forebears.
The car’s grown into quite a large sedan at 4,630mm in length (in my driveway it dwarfed the Hyundai Accent parked beside it) and has huge interior room with comfortable space for four to five adults. The boot’s increased from 452l to a gaping 470l, making this a proper family-sized vehicle that can be used for holidays.
The roomy cabin’s undergone a renaissance in styling décor and a more upmarket feel. In this range-topping 2.0 XR auto model, the touchpoints and most of the dashboard are covered in soft, springy materials instead of cheaper-looking hard plastic, while the fabric seats have some styling flair with their ribbed dual-tone design.
Combined with piano-black surfaces, blue contrast stitching, and brushed metal highlights, the cabin has a classy vibe that is a far cry from the conservative interiors of Corollas past. The large infotainment tablet plonked on the dash like an afterthought spoils the styling lines a bit, but on the positive side its generous size and large icons make it easy to operate.
The touchscreen brings the Corolla into the digital age but I like that there are still separate knobs and buttons for oft-used features like the climate control and radio. Old-school they may be, but I find these physical buttons less distracting than digging through digital menus.
The new-generation 1.2l turbo petrol engine from the Corolla hatch hasn’t found its way into the sedan, which retains normally-aspirated power. The base Corolla four-door uses a carryover 1.8l petrol engine from its predecessor, while buyers can also opt for a more powerful 2.0l petrol from the Rav4 that’s paired with either a six-speed manual or a CVT auto.
On test here is the 2.0 version in two-pedalled format, and with outputs of 125kW and 200Nm this car’s performance resides in the contented middle ground between excitement and not-quite-leisurely. It’s a fairly peppy commuter and easy open-road cruiser, though it’s not the most refined four-cylinder motor and gets a little vocal at higher revs. It’s a rather thirsty bugger too, slurping 8.8l per 100km instead of the promised 6.0.
The CVT gearbox has programmed steps to feel more like a regular automatic but still sometimes slips into the “drone zone” of this type of transmission. To overcome this you’re able to switch to manual mode and shift with steering wheel paddles - it’s an option I employed from time to time when the droning got tiresome.
The styling may have more zing, but the driving experience is prosaic in time-honoured Corolla tradition. Not that one expects any different, unless Toyota one day decides to bring back a rip-snorting RSi version.
Life behind the wheel is a generically smooth and easy-going experience. It’s a refined car with an impressively comfortable ride, helped by a long wheelbase and high-profile tyres that make it cruise smoothly over suburbia’s roughest roads.
The Corolla flits efficiently through fast bends too, feeling well-mannered and settled when the pace is turned up, but the light and rather lifeless steering tells you this is a car made for muscle-relaxing convenience rather than blood-pumping thrills.
The conveniences are laid on pretty thick in this range-topping Corolla 2.0 XR, with an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, reversing camera and keyless operation all part of the repertoire. The safety is also generous with seven airbags, stability control, a pre-collision system and blind spot monitor.
Active cruise control and a lane-keeping aid take some of the schlep out of commuting in heavy traffic, and these semi-autonomous driving features come standard, unlike in most premium cars where they’re expensive extras. So while R433,700 may seem like a lot of money for a Corolla, it’s a lot of car for the money.
The Corolla has made an art out of being solid, dependable and mostly dull over the decades, factors that once made it SA’s best-selling car back before consumers went gaga over SUVs.
The new version is less appliance-like and adds more refinement and styling verve to the deal.
In a declining segment that’s seen the demise of sedans like the VW Jetta, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra in recent times, this design renaissance could help the Corolla attract more buyers. It’s a good buy.
Type: Four-cylinder petrol
Type: Ten-speed CVT auto
Type: Front-wheel drive
0-100km/h: 8.6 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 6.0l/100km (claimed); 8.8l/100km (as tested)
ABS brakes, seven airbags, stability control, electric windows, touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, climate control, active cruise control, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, keyless entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights, automatic LED headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, park distance control with reversing camera, digital speedometer
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service plan: Six services/90,000km
Lease*: R9,309 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Honda Civic Sedan 1.8 Elegance, 104kW/174Nm — R441,800
Honda Civic Sedan 1.5T Sport, 127kW/220Nm — R513,300
Mazda3 Sedan 2.0 Astina, 121kW/213Nm — R474,600
Toyota Corolla 2.0 XR auto
Styling, ride quality, value for money
A Corolla with more pizzazz
*****Value For Money
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