With the 2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport, it is clear that whitegoods have never looked better.
As a five-door small hatchback in generations past, especially in a white-coloured entry-level model grade, the Corolla has made a terrific refrigerator on wheels. Affordable to buy, cheap to own and simple to operate, it would – like a good Kelvinator – run for years without issue.
None of that should change dramatically with this new-generation Toyota small hatch. Newfound drama, however, can be found in the fresh styling, while class-leading active safety technology should help reduce drama on the road.
Then there is the promise that even this base-model Corolla Ascent Sport is fun to drive. If Australia’s top-selling brand can keep faithful, no-frills buyers pleased, while extending its reach to shoppers who look for sophistication and sportiness, then rivals should be concerned.
Vehicle Style: Small hatchback
Price: $22,870 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 125kW/203Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl | six-speed manual transmission
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.3 l/100km Tested: 8.7 l/100km
There is a small-hatch elephant in the room that must be discussed first.
Toyota is still selling its larger, old-gen Corolla Ascent sedan from $23,490 driveaway with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), and at the time of writing it will discount that by a further $500 for private and small fleet buyers.
There is no hubcap-kitted equivalent with this smaller, new-gen Corolla hatch that starts in alloys-equipped Ascent Sport specification with a six-speed manual from $22,870 (plus orc). Without any deals (yet) that is $26,439 driveaway – or a hefty $27,984 driveaway with CVT.
Obviously introducing the hatch as an Ascent Sport is the greatest indicator that a more budget-priced Ascent will be introduced at a later date, but Toyota promises it has no plans to do so. The market will move up with its new small car, it pleads. The question is, will Corolla buyers pay circa-$5000 to move from antiquated and boring sedan into sassy and slick hatch?
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5
Standard Equipment: Remote central locking, automatic on/off headlights, adaptive cruise control, power mirrors and auto up/down windows, and manual air-conditioning.
Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, ToyotaLink app connectivity and six speakers.
Options Fitted: None.
Cargo Volume: 217 litres.
This new Corolla hatch and the old Corolla sedan are not merely separated by generations, but also by ethos and philosophy. The former is cramped for rear passengers and luggage space, where the latter excels at such virtues even by segment standards. The former majors on style and safety, where the latter is born as a basic, stripped-out schlepper of Uber riders.
Even this Ascent Sport boasts an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a colour trip computer display with digital speedometer, soft-touch dashboard plastics, automatic up/down function for all power windows, and tactile manual air-conditioning dials with classy piano-black and chrome trim.
Unlike with a Hyundai i30 Active, for example, there are cloth inserts for the otherwise disappointingly hard-plastic door trims (which only adds silver handles in the middle-grade SX and only graduates to dash-matching soft-touch trim in the top-tier ZR – boo, hiss…)
A plastic steering wheel, bereft of leather wrapping standard on SX and ZR, most obviously gives the game away that this is an entry-level small car. However, by contrast, this Toyota hatch comes standard with a superbly premium-grade level of driver-assistance active safety technology standard across the range – from autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, to lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance, to active cruise control and auto speed-sign detection, it is unmatched by any competitor.
A single disappointment is a lack of front and rear parking sensors on any model grade to match the standard rear-view camera, while a blind-spot monitor is reserved for SX and ZR.
Even before turning a key, the Ascent Sport is obviously driver focused, with terrific seats and a sporty driving position to complement the driver-assistance aids. Another exception is that the touchscreen that lacks satellite navigation – it’s a $1000 option – plus digital radio (reserved for SX and ZR) and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring (not available at all).
In any case this five-door certainly isn’t passenger-focused like its four-door sibling is.
There’s actually highly competitive headroom for rear riders, as well as a deep and supportive three-across bench, but a lack of legroom joins the small door apertures to first hamper entry and egress. Owing to those small windows and black headlining, it can feel claustrophobic.
Even more disappointing is the 217-litre boot volume. At first glance luggage space seems more generous than that figure, which is about 150L short of expectation in this class (while an i30 claims 395L).
However, to achieve that edgy rear styling, the hatch cuts sharply into available room. Yet Toyota has even avoided an easy fix – the boot floor sits well above the space-saver spare tyre, which packs a tool kit high and to the side of the 80km/h-limited circle, where it could utilise the surplus space inside it and lower the floor. Curiously, only the Ascent Sport with CVT gets a full-size spare that would fill that void. And, tellingly, only the flagship ZR hybrid gets no spare at all, which drops the boot floor to achieve a more competitive 330L.
C’mon Toyota – keep the space-saver but lower the floor, pronto.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.5/5
Engine: 125kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol 4cyl
Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Only the entry-level Ascent Sport gets the availability of a six-speed manual, and that’s a shame because it is an absolute delight to use. Even more than that, however, the optional CVT adds a further $1500 to a pricetag that doesn’t exactly start cheap. Buyers can then spend $1500 on a much slower but more economical hybrid/CVT, but you still miss out on sat-nav and still only get a plastic steering wheel for $25,870 (plus orc) or $30K driveaway.
The point is, the manual keeps things relatively affordable, while being the quickest and most enjoyable Corolla to drive within the entire model range. The revised CVT is a good one, let’s be clear, but the way the snickety-snick short-throw manual keeps on top of the all-new 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine is simply stellar.
With 125kW of power at 6200rpm and 203Nm of torque at 4700rpm, Toyota’s new engine – dubbed Dynamic Force – is so instantly involving, wonderfully willing, and terrifically torquey that it could be mistaken for a semi-sporty model grade’s engine. Yet it returned 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres around town, not hugely up on a 6.3L/100km combined-cycle claim.
The single downside is that it can get noisy – but not thrashy – towards the upper end of the tachometer, and it joins a decent level of road roar to highlight a slight lack of refinement.
Thankfully there are otherwise precisely zero downsides to its dynamic performance.
The steering is superbly light, yet crisply immediate and unnervingly accurate, while ride comfort is simply exceptional – far exceeding that of an i30 Active while closing in on the Mazda3 Neo Sport and Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Trendline suspension benchmarks.
If this five-door isn’t quite as plush as those equivalent entry-level model grades, then at least its handling is even more adept than even those high watermarks for cornering prowess. Quite simply, the Ascent Sport is chuckable and unflappable through bends, with a level of sharpness and tenacity that ensures it stays with – and encourages – enthusiastic drivers.
Suddenly, it makes the huffing hybrid hatch, and especially the stripped-out sedan, seem like only average value compared with this seemingly humble five-door entry-level model grade.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 36.7 out of 38 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2018.
Safety Features: Seven airbags, ABS and ESC, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), reverse-view camera and lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: With annual or 15,000km intervals, Toyota’s capped-price servicing costs just $175 for each of the first five check-ups until five years or 75,000km, which is excellent.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The i30 Active is a competent three-and-a-half-star performer with a big boot and roomy rear seat, but it needs the optional SmartSense safety package to shine – and it’s available on auto-only with a pricetag to match the far more sophisticated Corolla.
Meanwhile, the 3 Neo Sport has AEB standard and an absolutely stunning value package that should appeal most to old Ascent buyers who bought cheap – yet the Mazda remains a terrific all-rounder with a great ride/handling package and decently spacious interior.
If the above rival is best for value, then the Golf 110TSI Trendline is simply the best full stop. It isn’t the driver’s choice like the Toyota is – we never thought we’d say that – but it is a high-class semi-premium hatch competing in a world of mainstream-for-the-masses rivals.
- Hyundai i30 Active
- Mazda3 Neo Sport Volkswagen
- Golf 110TSI Trendline
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5
If the Corolla Ascent Sport was marginally cheaper to buy, slightly roomier in the rear compartment and quite a bit quieter on the road, then it would achieve a perfect score here.
Thankfully, the pricing issue is alleviated by the stunning level of safety technology that is included, and Toyota should especially be applauded for making it standard, not optional.
It is also hard not to applaud engineering work that has helped move Corolla from a conservative, lowest-common-denominator package to one that is all class.
That costs coin, and suddenly a $5000 surcharge over the sedan seems like decent value. This cannot be said for passengers three to five and their luggage, but otherwise for the driver and front passenger, and especially in base-manual form, this new-gen hatch is a brilliant car.
- Interested in buying Toyota Corolla? Visit our Toyota Corolla showroom for more information.