The Skinny: The top-selling car in Australia has been given a mid-life freshen up with new bumpers and lights, and a cleaner, simpler interior.
There are less-obvious changes beneath the skin as well, but, all told, the subtle evolution works in the Corolla’s favour - it keeps it familiar: tried, tested and true.
Knee-room is still a bit tight in the back, and there are no air-con vents there. The CVT auto is also a bit drowsy, which takes the edge off performance.
Debits aside, buyers will find plenty to like in a safe and secure package that offers reliable, no-frills motoring.
Vehicle Style: Small five-door hatchback
Price: $21,790 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/173Nm 1.8 4cyl | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 6.6 l/100km
The Corolla is the world’s favourite small car, provided you count the versions that wear Auris badges in Europe and Japan and Scion iM badges in North America.
To keep that momentum, the Corolla hatch has come in for a quick nip-and-tuck giving it tidier front and rear styling, and a more up-to-the-minute interior.
Arguably the go-to choice for buyers seeking fuss-free, low-maintenance motoring, the Corolla needs to be nothing more than a Corolla - good buying, comfortable, well-featured and reliable.
There are generations of buyers who make a Toyota dealership their first stop when considering a new car, and Toyota knows what they're looking for.
This is the volume-selling entry level Corolla Ascent automatic - the small car king.
Quality: It may arrive in a plain package, but there are no faults to pick with the Corolla’s build quality. The redesigned dash and ‘floating’ centre stack look contemporary and the manual air-con controls beneath have a nice solid feel.
Nothing creaked or rattled in our time with the car, and the sturdy cloth seats should hold up to the rigours of daily wear and tear.
Comfort: For past Toyota owners there’s a familiar feeling to the Corolla. It’s similar, without being the same, but that should make getting set behind the wheel a breeze.
The seats are firmly padded, and offer decent support for extended stints behind the wheel. Broad shouldered front passengers might feel a little pinched in by the seatback, but all other dimensions aren’t a problem.
Those in the rear will find a tall door-opening that makes getting in and out easy, but knee-room isn’t a strong point, adults will find under thigh support lacking, and there are no air-con vents either.
That might not be a huge problem though, as the air-conditioning in our tester was near-Arctic - something that seems to be a Toyota strong-suit.
Equipment: Standard fare in the Ascent includes cloth seat-trim, air-conditioning, 6.1-inch touchscreen display, reversing camera, cruise control, LCD multi information display, Steering wheel audio controls, power windows, mirrors and door locks and 16-inch steel wheels.
Storage: Corolla offers a fairly compact 280 litre boot. Rear seats can be folded however to allow up to 1120 litres of cargo to be crammed in.
In the cabin, there’s a pair of open front cupholders, a small lidded bin at the base of the centre stack, and useful storage in the doors, glovebox and centre console.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Corolla’s drivetrain carries over unchanged, with 103kW and 173Nm from its 1.8 litre naturally aspirated four cylinder. That means that since 2001 the Corolla has gained just 3kW and 2Nm, and has been left behind by most of the small car pack.
While a six-speed manual is available, we tested the optional CVT automatic, by far the volume seller. Like most modern CVTs, Toyota’s emulates the 'stepped ratios' of a traditional auto in demanding driving.
While it is certainly smooth, it also has an unshakable ‘drowsy’ feel on the road. The transmission tries to match driver demands, but we found it always seems to be half-a step behind.
That said, for motoring in and around town, the Corolla Ascent is calm, quiet, and comfortable. And it’s easy to navigate in and out of tight spaces thanks to light steering, and clear forward visibility.
Refinement: With the transmission set up to keep the engine revs as low as possible, the Corolla offers a tranquil driving experience.
If you need to venture into higher RPMs, there’s a thrashy engine note as the Corolla gasps for air, but it still revs out smoothly.
We could pick up some wind rustle from the side mirrors at highways speeds, but everywhere else wind noise is well managed.
Tyres however, while mostly hushed, could throw up a real roar on coarse-chip roads.
Ride and Handling: One of the key areas of improvement for the new Corolla is its revised suspension, leading to greater straight-line comfort. Across a variety of differing, less than ideal, road surfaces, we found the Corolla’s ride quality top-notch.
Steering is low effort, and while the body can roll about in corners and turn to early understeer if pushed, the set-up works well for its intended purpose of fuss-free motoring.
Braking: Four wheel disc-brakes - with vented front rotors - provide braking power, and the soft-ish initial grab delivers well mannered stop-go driving behaviour.
After a few hard stops we were satisfied with the Corolla’s consistent performance.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.88 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: A reversing camera. stability control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and traction control are standard across the range, along with seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) and pretensioning front seatbelts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Toyota’s capped price service program covers six standard services, each priced at $140 including labour, fluids, and parts. Service intervals are every six months or 10,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mazda3 Neo ($22,490) - The biggest threat to Toyota’s small car sales success comes from the Mazda3, which offers sweet driving dynamics, and frugal fuel costs.
The base model Maxx misses out on a touchscreen and reversing camera, but does score a bigger boot than Corolla, as well as extra power and torque. (see Mazda3 reviews)
Volkswagen Golf 92TSI ($24,990) - As a basic package the Golf 92TSI isn’t as basic as it once was, and even includes fatigue detection as a nifty safety bonus. A reverse camera a 6.5-inch touchscreen are also standard.
With a turbocharged 1.4 doing the heavy-lifting, power is less than the Corolla, but the extra torque and swift-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission help make up for it. The end result is quite a polished small car. (see Golf reviews)
Hyundai i30 Active ($23,290) - An update earlier this year saw the i30 pick up sharper styling as well as some handy extra equipment, including a 5.0-inch touchscreen and a reversing camera.
One thing that has disappeared of the spec sheet is a CD player. Otherwise the i30 Active continues on with a 1.8 litre engine that is almost line-ball with Toyota’s, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. (see i30 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It seems like an odd thing to say, but the thing that makes a Corolla so good is the fact that is isn’t really great. At its simplest, it's one of the safest bets you can make.
It isn’t fancy, it certainly isn’t exotic, and because of that it’s a hard worker, built to survive, offering decent comfort and predictable on-road manners.
As a base model the Ascent offers a few nice touches, and seven-airbag safety with a reverse camera is always good to see in any class of car.
A Corolla doesn’t need to be the best to make it onto the shopping list of first-car buyers. And it doesn’t require a list of fancy tech to be the first choice amongst downsizing retirees.
This newest Corolla won’t turn the motoring world on its head - nor should it. It simply needs to be a Corolla, with all the assets that trusted badge entails - and that's enough.
MORE: Toyota News and Reviews