The Skinny: The just-facelifted Toyota Corolla hatchback has hogged the limelight for the Corolla badge, with an injection of sex appeal, new colours and stylish new lines. But if 'sex' is to improve the hatchback's fortunes, then another 'S' word signifies the sedan’s primary appeal: space.
Space, family-sized space (and the comfort to go with it).
Is it expensive for a 'small car? Maybe. But consider the current Corolla sedan is 6mm wider than the ‘wide body’ Camry of the mid-1990s and it may just be right for your family.
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $30,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/173Nm 1.8 4cyl petrol | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 9.8 l/100km
Both Corolla hatch and sedan combine to become Australia’s top selling car, with a 70:30 sales split and 46/52 year-old average age respectively.
Both also lead (with 28,373 units sold to August 2015) the ‘big three’ in the small car class this year, the Mazda 3 (25,925 over the same period) and Hyundai i30 (20,649). It’s a big drop to the Volkswagen Golf (15,207) from there.
Yet the sedan could not be any more different to the hatch. Other than being made in Thailand versus Japan, it’s also much longer (4620mm plays 4330mm) endowing it with more rear legroom and a larger boot.
At $30,990 plus on-road costs, this top-spec Corolla ZR sedan also has equipment differences to the $2K-cheaper ZR hatch, both of which come with a standard automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise and single-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry and push-button start, multi-function trip computer, electrically adjustable driver’s seat
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch touchscreen with USB/AUX and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, ToyotaLink apps connectivity
- Cargo volume: 470 litres
The new Corolla ZR hatch sports a flashy new dashboard fascia with a bigger screen, but the Corolla ZR sedan misses out on those changes.
It gets single-zone – rather than dual-zone – climate control and a smaller 6.1-inch (versus 7.0-inch) touchscreen to house the satellite navigation and ToyotaLink apps connectivity included on both ZR grades.
Despite dowdy tones and textures, the Corolla ZR sedan still feels like a quality product with top-notch ergonomics and exemplary fit and finish.
(The ZR hatch misses that feature, but adds front seat heating.)
Look further behind to find the reason you’d choose Corolla sedan over hatch.
Headroom is vastly improved – the noggin of this 178cm-tall tester brushes the rooflining of the hatch but misses it by miles in the sedan – and there is among the most generous legroom in the class.
Seat comfort is fine there, too, though a lack of rear-vents will peeve youngsters as much as the plentiful storage – rear door bins, big console cavity – will delight them and parents.
Boot space is a massive 470 litres compared with a paltry 280L in the hatch.
The sedan is genuinely a medium car in its size where the other bodystyle has more in common with the light hatch class – in terms of boot space, a Renault Clio beats it by 20 litres.
It all starts to make the $31K price tag of the ZR sedan a little more reasonable, particularly given the stack of included features.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 103kW/173Nm 1.8 4cyl naturally-aspirated petrol
- Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.8m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 450kg (unbraked), 1300kg (braked)
Australian versions of the Toyota Corolla are the most powerful available in the world.
It sounds exciting, but the reality is the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine makes 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque that is now below-average in the class. It’s also the only choice available.
You can thank the excellence of the CVT for forcing this engine to move beyond its means.
One of the best of the ‘single gear auto’ breed, the Corolla’s CVT subtly and instinctively feeds the engine more revs on hills before the driver needs to add more throttle, ensuring progress remains calm and unfussed.
It also reacts quickly to a big dose of extra throttle when overtaking and doesn’t immediately drop revs as though you’ve switched off a light – it waits, patiently, in the mid-range to see if you want more performance before slinking efficiently down the rev range to save fuel.
Speaking of which, revisions to the CVT in the hatch such as quicker heating of fluids and a twin-mode oil pump have reaped economy benefits> These, however, are not yet shared with the sedan that claims to use 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres versus the hatch's 6.1 l/100km.
We saw 9.8 l/100km in mostly urban running, which is reflective of how hard this old engine needs to work.
A wheelbase 100mm longer than the hatch and chubby 16-inch alloys (hatch gets low-profile 17s) contribute to smooth ride quality and a stable. comfortable feel on the road.
The steering is perhaps too heavy when parking (but Toyota knows this as it has lightened the steering in the hatch.
Otherwise the wheel is direct and assured, matching the sense of refinement in this medium car hiding in a smaller class.
For sportiness, see Mazda3. For ultimate drivetrain panache and refinement, see Volkswagen Golf. The Toyota Corolla is now enjoyably above average to drive though, and that hasn’t always been the case.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars with a score of 34.88 out of 37.
Seven airbags are placed front and side of forward occupants, across the head of the outboard riders and even one under the dash for the driver’s knee. Stability control is very alarmist as is the Toyota norm, but safety- rather than fun-first - is expected from a Corolla sedan.
A reversing camera is standard on all grades, but only the ZR sedan gives you handy front and rear sensors that are missing from the equivalent hatch. LED headlights on both offer great night vision on country roads beyond our ‘burbs.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Six services are capped at $140 each, due every six months or 10,000km. You won’t find cheaper in the class, but intervals could be longer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
For sportiness, see Mazda 3 SP25 and for ultimate drivetrain panache and refinement, see (hatch-only) Volkswagen Golf 110TSI. However, the Toyota Corolla beats both for outright space and after-sales affordability ($140 each for the first six services to 3 years or 60,000km).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the Camry class has become too big for your family, the Corolla sedan steps in as the definition of ‘old medium’.
It is small in sales category definition only.
The range starts from $20,740 (for the Ascent manual) and steps to the $22,990 SX manual (with $2250 the CVT auto option on either), so it’s a big jump to this ZR sedan with the same old engine.
We’d also question the $2000 surcharge Toyota places on choosing ZR sedan over hatch when it contributes little to the equipment list (power driver's seat, front and rear sensors) and in some cases takes stuff away (bigger wheels, bigger screen and seat heaters for the hatch).
Toyota says it has no plans to revise pricing ahead of a facelifted Corolla sedan that it confirmed is more than one year away, so it’s worth bargaining hard if you have your heart set on this likeable, luxuriously-specced and ultra-roomy family car.
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