2014 TOYOTA COROLLA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $22,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/173Nm 1.8litre petrol four | 7-speed CVT
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 7.1 l/100km
The Toyota Corolla has long been the cornerstone of Toyota’s line-up, and the dominant player in the small car category.
The all-new generation (the eleventh) Corolla sedan launched in February this year. It made a good first impression then so we took the entry-level Ascent for a week-long spin to see if it still measures up.
Quality: You wouldn't describe the Corolla’s interior as exciting. It's well-finished but we would prefer more soft-touch surfaces and a little more styling flair.
The hard urethane steering wheel and shift lever are unpleasant to hold, and there are the usual hard-plastics common to this end of the small car segment.
The armrests in each door are upholstered with soft fabric however, and build quality throughout is good. Aside from a slightly wobbly centre console, the Corolla’s interior seems pretty rugged.
Comfort: Front seats are supportive and comfortable enough for long drives, but rear seats lack under-thigh support and headroom is in surprisingly short supply.
There are no rear air-vents either, but backseaters do get a fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders (a pleasant surprise at the Ascent's sticker price).
Equipment: The standard equipment list includes power windows, power-folding wing mirrors, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, fabric upholstery and 15-inch steel wheels.
Tunes are provided by a six-speaker single-CD stereo with AM/FM radio tuner, which also incorporates a USB audio input, iPod compatibility and Bluetooth phone/audio integration.
The Corolla sedan gains an advantage over most of its competitors by offering both reverse parking sensors AND a reversing camera as standard.
Storage: With the rear seats up, the Corolla sedan’s boot measures a generous 470 litres.
The 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold down to increase cargo capacity, but they don’t fold flush with the boot floor.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Corolla sedan’s 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated four isn’t one of the most sparkling performers in the small car segment, with just 103kW at a very high 6100rpm and 173Nm at 4000rpm.
But when paired with the optional ($2250) CVT automatic, the Corolla’s power-pack has plenty of go for day-to-day driving.
The CVT quickly adjusts its ratios according to demand for power, and it is quick to kick-down when overtaking or accelerating for on-ramps.
There’s also a manu-matic mode should you need it - but odds are you never will.
The throttle can be a bit sensitive at times though, and you need to have a gentle right foot when moving in with slow-moving traffic.
Our average fuel consumption also came in at 7.1 l/100km, compared to Toyota’s claim of 6.6 l/100km. As most of our driving was steady-throttle highway driving, we think that figure we returned is a little high.
Refinement: Unlike some CVTs (we’re looking at you, Subaru Impreza), the Corolla’s transmission is free from chain-whine at high rpm.
The engine note does get a bit drony however when the CVT pegs it at a set rpm, but it’s not as bad as some.
Curiously, despite riding on taller-sidewalled tyres and 15-inch rolling stock, there’s noticeable road noise on coarse chip surfaces, though wind noise is nicely suppressed.
Ride and Handling: The electric power steering is a disappointment, especially when compared with the excellent EPS setup of the Toyota 86.
But, other than that, we have no real handling-related complaints. It lacks a little dynamism, but given the Corolla Ascent sees a lot of service in rental fleets as well as basic commuting duties, a lack of steering feel and feedback is not really a handicap.
Ride comfort on the Ascent’s 15-inch steel wheels is quite good, and the Bridgestone Turanza ER300 tyres provide reasonable grip in both wet and dry conditions.
Braking: The Corolla’s ventilated front and solid rear-discs perform as expected, with a progressive pedal and good stopping power.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 34.88 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, reverse parking sensors, reversing camera.
Occupant protection is provided by three-point seatbelts (pre-tensioning and height adjustable at front) and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Under Toyota’s Service Advantage scheme, the first six services are capped at $130. Service intervals for the Corolla are set for every 6 months or 10,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Kia Cerato S sedan auto ($21,990) - The Kia Cerato performs well on the road and has a more spacious back seat than the Corolla, but misses out on a reversing camera.
However, the presence of frontal as well as rear parking-sensors on the standard equipment list could sway some buyers.(see Cerato reviews)
Mazda3 Neo sedan auto ($22,490) - The Mazda3’s 2.0 litre engine pumps out 114kW and a stout 200Nm, giving it substantially more pull than the Corolla.
It’s a more pleasurable car to drive, but a smallish rear seat and a slim spec sheet (no standard rear parking sensors or camera on the base Neo, pictured below) hurts its case. (see Mazda3 reviews)
Nissan Pulsar ST sedan CVT ($22,290) - One of the most affordable Japanese small sedans, and one with the most spacious back seat too.
However, an indecisive CVT doesn’t do much to enhance the weak 96kW/174Nm engine, and coupled with its inconsistent steering feel the Pulsar lags behind the competition when it comes to the drive. (see Pulsar reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Compared to its predecessor, the new Corolla is a big step up in refinement, equipment and handling.
Put it head-to-head with its key rivals (above), and it’s more than capable of holding its own.
Importantly, it does what it's supposed to do. It's priced well, has a good equipment list and is as easy on the highway as it is light and convenient around town.
Even in entry-level Ascent trim it’s not the cheapest option in the small sedan segment, but, in typical Toyota fashion it’s well-featured, well engineered, and delivers decent - if unexciting - performance on the road.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Ascent - $20,740 (auto adds $2250)
- SX - $22,990 (auto adds $2250)
- ZR - $30,990 (auto only)