2013 TOYOTA COROLLA REVIEW
Vehicle style: Small five-door hatch
Engine: 1.8 litre petrol inline four. | Power: 103kW/173Nm
Fuel use claimed: 7.1 l/00km man, 6.6 CVT | tested: 6.8l/100km CVT
The Toyota Corolla, the most popular car on the planet, has been renewed.
Now in its eleventh generation, the new Corolla hatch is a big improvement over its predecessor, with substantial gains in driveability and comfort.
Its edgy exterior styling commands attention - it looks sharp in the metal - but, under the skin, the new Corolla is more about steady evolution than boundary-pushing innovation.
And don't go looking for breakthrough technologies, a constantly-variable transmission (CVT) is the most apparent of the engineering uogrades.
The 1.8 litre engine is a mild development of the old 1.8, and although it’s got a few more kilowatts it produces slightly less torque. The platform is also the same, as is the general suspension layout.
But it’s more generously equipped than before, and the price has fallen: the entry-level Corolla Ascent now sneaks in under the $20,000 barrier.
The new model will do well; it is what it needed to be - an improved, better, classier Corolla.
There are big changes inside. Gone is the previous Corolla hatch’s flying buttress-style centre console, replaced by a more conventional centre console and an upright dashboard.
The soft-touch materials on the dash and door trims have a quality look and feel; there is a sense of durability and robustness to the cabin accommodation and - typically Toyota - fit and finish is of a high standard.
We do, however, miss the last generation Corolla’s double-decker glovebox. The way the gearshift was perched up high in the older model was also an endearing feature.
Toyota says the front seating position has been lowered by 40mm, but we still felt like we were perched a little too high. That might be because the roof height has also been lowered by some 55mm, leading to an overall reduction in headroom.
Otherwise, front seat comfort is good (even more so in the thickly-bolstered seats in the Levin models), and the layout of the primary controls is excellent.
There’s plenty of legroom in the back too (more than the last-gen Corolla, and plenty more than the Corolla’s chief rival, the Mazda3), but headroom can be tight for tall occupants and the rear bench could do with a little more under-thigh support.
We’ve got a couple of gripes about the interior though.
While the instrument cluster on the high-grade models gets a premium-looking dot-matrix trip computer screen and 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen display, the seven-segment LCD clock and climate control display jar a little.
Some consistency in the presentation of these parts would be appreciated.
Another thing we’d like to see is the dumping of the cruise control stalk. It looks cheap, and there’s plenty of room on the steering wheel for cruise control buttons.
Standard equipment is good though. All models get power windows, power mirrors, Bluetooth integration, cruise control, stability control and seven airbags.
Move up the range to the Levin SX ($23,990) and features like sat-nav, a reversing camera and 17-inch alloys are standard.
The range-topping Levin ZR goes even further, with leather trim, LED daytime running lamps, dual-zone climate control, a push-button starter and bi-xenon headlamps finding their way onto the spec sheet. Not bad for $28,490.
In-cabin storage is decent, with a fair-sized glovebox and a lidded centre console bin, plus storage pockets in each door and map pockets behind each front seat.
The rear seatbacks feature a 60/40 split, and luggage capacity ranges from 280 litres with the rear seats up to 1120 litres with them folded down.
That’s measurably smaller than many other small hatches, which typically have between 300-350 litres of seats-up storage.
ON THE ROAD
With just 103kW and 173Nm, the Corolla’s 1.8 litre petrol inline four is no firecracker.
It’s at its best once the tachometer swings past 3500rpm and despite the torque band being wider than before, it doesn’t have as much low-down grunt as cars like the VW Golf 90TSI or Ford Focus Trend.
The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, which is largely a carry-over but now has an improved gearset with better shift feel.
It doesn’t like to be hurried through its gate though, and the gaps between ratios are quite wide for a six-speeder. Even when shifting at redline, the revs will fall well below the engine’s torque peak.
A much better option and a more suitable match for the 1.8 is the optional CVT automatic, which adds $2000 to the purchase price but delivers big gains in driveability.
By constantly adjusting its single ratio, the CVT always has the perfect gear for whichever situation, although the tradeoff is a monotonous engine note instead of a linear ascent through the rev range during acceleration.
It’s good as CVTs go, with little belt noise and good off-idle response (both of which are typical CVT issues).
Toyota has also provided the CVT with both a sport and manual shift mode, each of which introduce seven fixed-ratios for a sportier driving experience.
Suspension-wise, the 2013 Corolla rides better than its predecessor.
A lower centre-of-gravity plus a stiffer bodyshell allows the suspension to work better, and although it uses a relatively unsophisticated MacPherson Strut front and torsion beam rear layout, the Corolla handles itself well in a corner.
The faster steering-rack gives better turn-in response, although the wheel feels light and uncommunicative.
Grip is good on the standard Yokohama tyres; pushing the Corolla too hard results in predictable understeer.
It’s far from sporty though, and the sharp-handling Focus and very capable Golf won’t be challenged by the Corolla’s dynamics.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Okay, so Toyota hasn’t been quite as adventurous with the eleventh-gen Corolla as we’d hoped.
While its competitors have moved on to direct injection, start-stop, turbocharging and twin-clutch transmissions, the Corolla sticks to a proven path.
With good style, a long feature list and solid pricing, Toyota's new Corolla is a well-finished, competent and appealing small hatch with a lot to tempt younger buyers.
On value alone, the Corolla has a lot to recommend it. Things like Toyota’s promise of a $130 cap on scheduled servicing is another reason why it deserves a close look.
It’s not especially exciting, but it’s not meant to be.
The Corolla is meant to be dependable, easy to drive and good value. It’s a known quantity, and in that respect the 2013 Corolla hits the mark.
Stay tuned for full reviews of the 2013 Toyota Corolla range.
News and Reviews:
- Toyota Corolla Ascent - $19,990
- Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport - $20,990
- Toyota Corolla Levin SX - $23,990
- Toyota Corolla Levin ZR -28,490