THE TOYOTA COROLLA. One of the longest-lived model nameplates in automotive history. A sales success everywhere - from 'day one' four decades ago - the Corolla has built an enviable reputation as a solidly-built, well-engineered small car.
For most people though, the Corolla doesn’t conjure up much in the way of excitement (or at least not since it dropped the higher performance twin-cam models of the late-1980s).
It has come to represent the archetypical Japanese small car. It has also managed to remain immensely popular, in this market and globally. For years, the Corolla has dominated the small car segment in Australia.
Now there are new market trends at work. As VFACTS monthly sales figures show, more new-car buyers are downsizing from full-sized sedans like the Falcon and Commodore to the Corolla’s small car segment.
So, how worthy is the Corolla? Can Toyota’s trusted small warrior really challenge the dominance of Australia’s large Aussie sedans in this market? And can it match them, if not equal them, for space, drive-ability and utility? Read on.
The Corolla is, first and foremost, a commuter car. That is stating the obvious of course, but it’s important to make that distinction to give some perspective on these driving impressions.
You see, the Corolla isn’t the most dynamic drive you can find in the segment. Not because it doesn’t handle well, as it clings to the road rather nicely. And not because it doesn’t go or stop (it does both with reasonable vigour); but because it’s a little… er… passionless.
The engine is always willing to rev and the gearshift action is smooth and quick, but there is a focused single-minded functionality about the Corolla that fails to raise the heart-rate.
Cars like the Ford Focus and VW Golf have no problem in the ‘driving emotion’ department, but it seems the Corolla’s reputation for safe, predictable – and yes, super reliable - motoring dulls the desire to push it harder, and dulls the experience.
But family drivers, and sensible people who want a car that simply does the job well, will appreciate the Corolla’s good ergonomics, its supple ride, the low wind noise and the good rearward visibility. They will value this above other performance characteristics.
They may, however, also note the slightly thick A-pillars and the way momentum is washed off on longer climbs. These are problems that are easily solved though – the first by moving the head, the second by shifting down a ratio – and, generally speaking, the Corolla is easy to drive and easy to like.
Highway performance is good. It’s not slow, and you can stretch it out with a few revs on board. The 1.8 litre four-pot has enough urge to get up to speed quickly and with a bit of a prod can handle overtaking manoeuvres easily.
Loading it up with passengers and/or cargo will impact on the Corolla’s acceleration figures, but the same goes for pretty much any petrol-engined small car.
The electric power steering makes light work of any tiller-twirling, but is lacking a little feel and feedback. Perhaps only few drivers will notice or care, but sometimes it helps to have some tactile response from the steering wheel when driving in wet weather or on icy roads.
In the urban grind the Corolla comes into its own. Here, at this wheel, is a nice place to be. Well insulated from the outside world, the cabin is quiet at low speeds and the suspension adeptly soaks up potholes and road joins.
It’s nimble in traffic too, and, thanks to its dimensions, it’s not too hard to find a parking spot that it can slip into. It is however a little harder to determine where the end of the car is when reversing, as the bootlid slopes down and hides its trailing edge from the driver.
The spoiler on the Conquest helps a little, but rearward visibility when parking isn’t entirely ideal.
It doesn’t stir the soul like some small cars, but it doesn’t need to. The Corolla succeeds for Toyota – and will keep succeeding – because of its broad appeal, bulletproof engineering and excellent build quality.
It won’t win awards for its driving dynamics, but the Corolla Conquest sedan offers a great package for those seeking a small car with a little more room on the inside and a comfortable ride.
At $25,750 before on-road costs, the Corolla Conquest sedan is slightly more expensive than the equivalent Mazda3 Maxx, but represents good value buying – particularly considering Toyota’s legendary reputation and resale value.
So, yes, this car, this size, may be the future for Australian families. Its four doors, comfortable interior, sizeable boot, and no-nonsense styling will continue to pull buyers from the larger vehicle market segments.
The Corolla ticks a heck of a lot of boxes. It’s thrifty when driven gently, a good performer when driven hard, rock-solid in terms of interior fit and finish and odds are it’ll feel just as good five years from now.
Buy one and you’ll have an appealing commuter car that will last for yonks. It might not make you grin every time you settle into the driver’s seat, but for dependable, rugged transportation, the Corolla is hard to beat.