Kez Casey | Feb 16, 2017 | 4 Comments

For the 2017 model year the Corolla sedan range has been updated with added safety technology and a fresh face, bringing it more into line with its hatchback sibling.

For the top-spec Corolla ZR, collision warning, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning come standard, and on lesser models the same pack is available as an optional extra.

Bigger than its five-door counterpart, the Corolla sedan makes for a handy family-sized package, but with increased competition from some very polished rivals, has the latest Corolla update done enough to keep ahead?

Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $31,920 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.4 l/100km | Tested: 8.9 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

Three Corolla sedan variants make up the range - Ascent, SX, and ZR - versus five for the hatch line-up (there’s no Ascent Sport or hybrid sedan). That’s partially a reflection of the more conservative buyer profile for small sedans in Australia.

With its latest updates, the ZR sedan picks up new front and rear bumpers, redesigned LED head and tail lights, plus interior styling cues to bring it into line with the hatch. On the safety front autonomous braking and lane departure warning have been added, though features like blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are still absent.

At $31,290, the Corolla puts forward a questionable value argument. Though it’s still cheaper than higher-priced small sedans like top-end Mazda3 and Volkswagen Jetta variants, other cars in its segment duke it out below $30k and as the segment keeps moving on, the Corolla hasn’t always kept pace.

The naturally aspirated 1.8 litre engine has barely changed in outputs since 2001 (just 3kW and 2Nm more), while the top-spec Corolla weighs almost 200kg heavier. On the flipside, Toyota's reputation for simplicity and robustness counters the need for strong engines and sharp handling among buyers.

 

THE INTERIOR

  • Standard Equipment: Power-adjustable driver’s seat, single-zone climate control, leather/vinyl seat trim, keyless entry and start, colour instrument cluster display, front and rear park sensors, dusk-sensing headlights, power-folding mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels
  • Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, satellite navigation, six-speaker audio
  • Cargo Volume: 470 litres, expandable via 60:40 folding rear seat

Simple utility rules the Corolla’s design ethos. The slabby, upright dashboard houses a minimum of controls, with the 7.0-inch touchscreen taking pride of place in the centre of the dash, and clear dials ahead of the driver.

There’s not too much in the way of fancy trim materials, and the seats are what Toyota calls “leather appointed” meaning there’s some vinyl and some real leather - through I’m damned if I could find which was which.

That plasticky hard wearing utility might be useful though, as it appears able to withstand assaults from growing children, or an endless parade of Uber passengers.

Space is certainly no problem, with a 2700mm wheelbase, some 100mm longer than that of the hatch, the Corolla sedan packs in plenty of rear seat space. The cabin is also slightly wider than most rivals, so three in the rear won’t be as squished, and the front seats feel more airy as a result.

Innovations are low on the Corolla’s list of priorities, so there’s no fancy wow-factor features, and similarly storage space isn’t maximised in any significant way with an average selection of door pockets, cup holders, console and glovebox space and no real areas just right to keep your phone or keys in.

Infotainment also meets basic needs without going overboard. AM/FM radio, CD-Player, Bluetooth, and satellite navigation are there. You can create some home screen shortcuts and link up a USB or Aux device, but advanced smartphone connections like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t anywhere to be seen.

The Corolla’s decent size does at least give it a handy amount of boot room, 470 litres all up, which is almost as large as the medium car class, including a full-sized spare wheel under the boot floor for added peace of mind for long-distance travellers.

 

ON THE ROAD

  • Engine: 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder
  • Transmission: CVT automatic, front wheel drive
  • Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
  • Brakes: 275mm ventilated front discs, 259mm solid rear discs
  • Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 10.8m turning circle
  • Towing Capacity: 1300kg braked, 450kg unbraked

The Corolla’s 1.8 litre sits at the lower end of the small car class for outputs, without the added complexity (nor the extra zing) of turbocharging. Peak power is 103kW and maximum torque is just 173Nm at a highish 4000rpm.

The Corolla’s engine also won’t take home any prizes for its refinement. At idle and just above it is decently calm, and is linked to a standard CVT automatic transmission which tries its hardest to keep revs to minimum around town.

But it also feels rather unwilling. After an initial surge away from standstill the engine has an unresponsive mid-range, droning along as road speed rises at a leisurely pace. Prod the throttle harder and the noise rises, but the rate of acceleration doesn’t necessarily match.

The Corolla sedan’s suspension tune also is fairly uninspiring, despite Toyota having fitted larger diameter dampers and more rigid suspension mounts in an attempt to improve road holding.

Average urban obstacles like speed bumps set the car rocking and bucking, whilst lumps and bumps in the road surface crash though to the cabin, unsettling occupants.

While no one expects that the Corolla sedan is going to be some kind of corner-carving funster, a little more composure on urban surfaces would be welcome.

Wind it up to freeway speeds and the driver will spend most of their time chasing the wandering steering within the lane - and that’s before taking crosswinds into account, which serve to upset the Corolla even more.

Changes have also been made to floor and wheel well insulation, but short of a back-to-back drive between old and new it’s almost impossible to tell.

 

SAFETY

ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The Corolla sedan scored 34.88 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014. Note: Corolla hatch has its own unique ANCAP score.

Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, load-limiting front seatbelt pretensioners, reversing camera.

New for 2017 the Corolla ZR also includes standard automatic high beam, collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning. Corolla Ascent and SX offer the package as optional eqiupment.

 

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three years/100,000km

Servicing: The Toyota Service Advantage program offers capped price servicing with intervals set at six months/10,000km up to 36 months or 60,000km (whichever comes first). Each service is set at $140 for eligible customers with some terms, conditions, and exclusions applied.

 

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

A fine example of Hyundai’s flow-down effect, the Elantra looks and feels quite like the larger Sonata, which itself bares striking similarities to the even more expensive Genesis. The Elantra is roomy and packs in features like CarPlay, but goes without advanced safety and still needs some work on refinement, particularly tyre noise.

Like the Corolla, the Kia Cerato feels a little left behind in the small car segment. Outright performance isn't great, and nor is claimed fuel economy. Its Australian-tuned suspension feels good on Aussie roads though, and there’s certainly a fair amount of value baked in.

There’s no doubt that the pricing for a high-end Mazda3 can quickly escalate far beyond the top-spec Corolla, but even in its mid-grade models there’s a finer interior, better safety tech, but sadly not as much interior space, particularly in the rear seats.

Something of a dark horse in this race, the Ford Focus is a decidedly good car as far as interior presentation, technology, and dynamics are concerned, but for some reason Ford just doesn’t seem to sell as many as they should.

Hyundai Elantra Elite
Hyundai Elantra Elite

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

Toyota is a little stuck with this one. The Corolla hatch is a slightly better proposition than the sedan and although the two share a name there’s some significant differences between them. That also means that the Corolla sedan has to stick around longer than the hatch which is scheduled to be replaced by the end of the year.

Unless space and simplicity are your only buying criteria, there’s plenty of options to dive your dollar further. Adding autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning help keep the Corolla ZR current as far as safety is concerned but there’s still much more work to be done.

As a safe-bet the Corolla is hard to go past. Easy to operate, inoffensive, and roomy, it straddles between being a traditional small car and an alternative to something a little bigger. But in 2017 the Corolla is easily outclassed by a variety of competitors, some better value and some more comprehensively equipped.

MORE: Toyota News and Reviews
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Toyota Corolla - Prices, Features, and Specifications

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