2014 COROLLA REVIEW
What’s Hot: Quiet, comfortable and balanced, and a very good 7-spd CVT
What’s Not: Digital speed read-out omitted, traction control over-zealous
X-FACTOR: Room for a modern family, built to last forever (or a little longer), and space for four golf bags in the boot
Vehicle style: Small sedan
Price: Ascent $20,740; SX $22,990; ZR $30,990 (plus on-roads)
(Multi-drive CVT transmission adds $2250)
Engine/trans: 103kW/173Nm 1.8 petrol | 7spd CVT auto (with torque converter)
Fuel consumption listed: 6.6 l/100km (91RON) | tested: 7.4 l/100km
No question about it, this new sedan from Toyota is the best Corolla ever. It's the best equipped, best driving, quietest and most sophisticated Corolla ever built.
But would you expect anything less? It's the latest, after all, in nearly 50 years of production for the little 'crown of flowers' nameplate (… thankfully, the sucky meaning to the name is lost in the mist).
And 'little'? Not a bit of it. This new sedan is big enough for a modern family - around the size, inside and out, of a ten-year-old C-Class Mercedes.
The bracket creep that infects all carmakers, where every subsequent model is bigger than the one before, means the Corolla Sedan now leans heavily on the Camry in its critical dimensions.
That means room for three in the back, and a boot big enough for all their gear.
And, yes, this new four-door sedan from Toyota is an appealing drive and one very well-conceived car.
Is it better than the Mazda3? That’s the inevitable question.
It's these two badges that will be dukin' it out at the top of the sales charts for market leadership.
At this point, not having had them side-by-side, we’re not quite ready to make the call. But they are a little different, and it will be your priorities that will likely split them.
This, then, is the new Corolla Sedan.
- Fabric trim: Ascent and SX
- Cruise control and air-con
- Reversing camera, reverse parking sensors
- 6.5-inch display, USB/iPhone/aux, Bluetooth phone and media, six-speaker audio
- 60/40 split-fold rear seat
- 16-inch alloy wheels, Optitron instrument display
- Keyless entry and push-button start
- Toyota Link voice-activated multi-media system
- Front parking sensors
- ZR adds:
- Multi-drive CVT auto with paddle shifts as standard
- LED daytime running lamps and auto-levelling LED headlamps
- rain-sensing wipers, sat-nav, climate control air-con
- Eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat (and leather-accented seats)
The new Corolla sedan costs slightly more than its predecessor, and slightly more than its hatchback stablemate.
But, compared to that predecessor, it comes with much more gear across each model grade.
The impression is of a well-equipped and well thought-out interior. It is ‘vault tight’ inside: surfaces marry neatly and material and trim quality is good.
There is a soft feel to the dash (though it’s a bit ‘drummy’ on the passenger side), and the door grips and touch-points generally have an appealing tactile feel.
The horizontal metal strip dividing the dash and carrying into the doors, accentuates the width and spaciousness of the interior and adds to the modern visual appeal. There is an uncluttered and well-organised look to things generally.
A debit is that the Optitron screen display in the up-spec models omits a digital speed display: that’s an unusual oversight although the blue-lit dials are sharp and easily read.
The multi-function wheel (reach and rake adjustable) is a bit ‘placky’ and dull, but the controls are easily navigated, and sits nicely square-on to the driver.
(Toyota put a lot of effort into creating a driving position with more sporting appeal, and, at the wheel, it’s evident.)
The front seats, in particular, are very good. They’re long in the squab (giving good under-thigh support), the hip-point has been lowered, and they’re well-shaped for long-distance comfort.
Only the ZR gets leather, the Ascent and SX make do with a tight-weave, charcoal and black fabric but which looks long-wearing and smart.
The rear seats, with quite astonishing legroom for a car this size, are also quite good.
And with a flat, flat floor, lots of shoulder and headroom, and a wide deep 470 litre boot that can swallow four golf bags, the Corolla Sedan is a genuine family five-seater. (There is also a full-size spare under the boot floor.)
The voice-activated Toyota Link multi-media system, available standard in SX and ZR models, which includes Suna traffic updates – the technology is Aussie-developed and RACV owned – utilises later model iPhone and Android smartphones to access a suite of apps (including weather and traffic updates).
ANCAP Rating: As yet untested by ANCAP. Toyota is confident of a 5-Star Rating
Safety features: Seven airbags including driver’s knee and full-length curtain airbags, ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist, traction control, anti-skid control, high tensile steel protective body structure and whiplash-mitigating front seats.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.8 litre DOHC VVT-I petrol engine
- 103kW @ 6400rpm and 173Nm @ 4000rpm
- 7-spd sports sequential ‘multi-drive’ CVT with torque converter
- Front suspension: MacPherson strut with coil springs and ball-jointed stabiliser bar
- Rear suspension: torsion beam with coil springs
- Steering: rack and pinion, 3.17 turns lock-to-lock
- Brakes: front - 275 x 22mm ventilated discs; rear - 259 x 9mm solid discs
The moment you pull away from a standstill, you will notice something unusual with the CVT auto in this new Corolla Sedan.
Unless you firewall the accelerator, you will not pick this as a CVT at all. It is far and away the best we have driven in a small car.
Under brisk acceleration, the new Corolla Sedan pulls effortlessly through its seven ratios, riding up and down through a sweet spot in the torque curve.
And it does this free of the flaring revs and ‘slipping’ feel typical of lesser CVTs. It also manages to make the sedan feel a lot stronger than its somewhat modest 173Nm of torque would suggest.
Unusually (although the new Odyssey also employs the same engineering solution), the CVT is mated to a conventional torque converter which better harnesses torque from the engine, and locks up on road.
While the Ascent and SX have a plus/minus plane at the gearshift for manual control, the top-spec ZR gets paddles at the wheel.
It works unusually well, and also quickly ‘learns’ the driver’s intent, with nice pre-emptive downshifts on braking into a corner or downhill. It’s the sportiest ‘auto’ we’ve seen in a Toyota passenger car.
The result is that with that free-revving and beautifully balanced DOHC 1.8 litre engine singing its head off, the quite light Corolla Sedan can be punted very sharply around a winding road (and slot equally effortlessly into fast-moving traffic).
It’s helped that the Corolla Sedan weighs in at a lean (by modern standards) 1250kg.
It is also slippery, with an aerodynamic undertray and low 0.3Cd.
Helping the more sporting feel of the new Corolla is the ‘square-on’ wheel, the quite fast rack ratio (16:1) and direct 3.17 turns lock-to-lock.
With a very nicely damped front-end, one that manages to sit surprisingly flat when really pushing things, the new Sedan can be quite a bit of fun when shown the whip.
Its handling, ride comfort, and overall refinement is absolutely among the best in this small sedan segment. This is a car you would effortlessly drive across three states.
It’s also very quiet inside. At licence-shredding speeds there is a bit of wind-flutter from the base of the A-pillar, but road noise is impressively low.
The cheaper 15-inch tyres on the Ascent are a little noisier than the SX and ZR’s 16-inch tyres, but certainly not intrusive and certainly among the quietest in the small car segment.
A debit is the over-active traction control which intervenes a little too zealously (it shuts the throttle down entirely while it gathers things up) at the slightest lateral loss of traction at the front wheels.
So forget about any chance of any movement at all out of the backend.
It’s a safety thing – you’ll never understeer off the road that’s for sure – but keen drivers might like a little less nannying.
Lastly, the brakes are fabulous. The feel at the pedal is simply spot on, and the ventilated discs up front and solid rear have no trouble pulling up the lightweight Corolla.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Toyota doesn’t get a car like the Corolla wrong. It’s got 40 million in global sales of the badge, and 1.25 million in Australian sales, to prove it.
Right now, from its 16 factories around the world, it’s popping Corollas out at the rate of one every 27 seconds.
It is impossible not to be impressed by its sheer capability, and of the number of boxes this new Corolla Sedan manages to tick. This is a very complete car and rock-solid value.
But is it sexy? Well, ‘sexy is as sexy does’.
It’s not the most sporting, nor the best looking, nor the best equipped, nor the sharpest handling in its segment.
But it is well-equipped, it is enjoyable to drive, it is cleverly designed and it is comfortable and stable on road.
Add capped-price servicing (at a maximum of $130 a service) and a legacy of astonishing mechanical durability, and, the Corolla – in both hatch and sedan – will be sexy enough to continue to sell its buns off.
It’s going to be one hell of a battle between this car and the new Mazda3.
One the more youthful, the other perhaps the more sober, but both built to outlast the pyramids, both exceptionally well-packaged and both very good buying.
And, guess what, if you’re in the market for a quality small car right now, you’ve struck gold.
The no-holds-barred battle for leadership in this segment will ensure that buyers everywhere will emerge the winners.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Ascent - $20,740 (auto adds $2250)
- SX - $22,990 (auto adds $2250)
- ZR - $30,990 (auto only)