The Corolla sedan is still undeniably a Corolla, but with a look that's pretty identical to its little hatchback brother. The front grill is sharp and aggressive. The thin headlights now have LED standard across the range for longer lasting and with lower energy consumption, an idea that definitely fits with the move from Toyota to offer a hybrid version on all models; a first for the sedan version of the Corolla. The good looking rear is now void of protruding tail lights and of course offers access to a proper boot. The front is fresher and cleaner than its predecessor, with the exhaust neatly tucked away behind the rear bumper.
Step inside and a modern, almost futuristic interior greets you. The 8-inch colour touchscreen has all the infotainment features you’ll need and then some. The supportive seats that hug your sides are comfortable even for longer rides, with the rear seats now also offering more leg room due to its bigger size. The sharp lines continue inside, through the air vents and solid buttons. Not at all a bad place to be in. Now let’s see how it drives.
The new Toyota Corolla comes with either a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine or a 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid combination. The petrol can be equipped with either a six-speed manual or the new 10-speed CVT auto, standard on the hybrid. The latter is equipped with ‘launch gear’ – essentially a conventional first gear missing in other CVTs - which makes pulling away for a standstill (a common hurdle with CVTs) more quickly and allows for smooth overtaking at highway speeds. Choosing the manual would be purely for the $1500 saving, but as you’ll miss out on some safety features and a smoother ride as a result this wouldn’t be worth it. Both engines pack a punch – 125kW of power and 200Nm of torque with the petrol and 90kw for the hybrid is plenty of power – but it’s the battery pack in the hybrid that gives the Corolla the extra kick. Instantaneous. Add that to the fuel economy of just 3.5L/100km (compared to 6L/100km for the petrol), fewer CO2 emissions and a quieter calmer drive and the advantages of the hybrid are evident. It’s pretty satisfying to drive away in silence, see the battery regenerate while slowing down for a traffic light and not having to visit the pump that often.
Toyota has fitted the new Corolla with Active Cornering Control, which, together with the enhanced suspension and lower centre of gravity compared to its predecessor, provides a noticeably more engaging drive. Perhaps you think of the Corolla of just a run-around-town car (which it excels in) but this latest version invites you for a run around some twisty mountain roads as well. The sports mode helps a bit when driving the CVT, otherwise you can go wild yourself with the manual.
The ‘piece de resistance’ of the new Toyota Corolla are the safety features however. Where blind spot monitoring and automatic high beam are pretty standard nowadays and not all that exciting, it’s the LTA, LDA, PCS, RSA and ACC that make the Corolla stand out. What’s with all the abbreviations? Let’s explain it simply: the new Corolla follows the lines on the road to keep you in your lane, alerts you if you don’t, and warns you to mitigate collisions – also with pedestrians and cyclists. All the while it can keep proper distance to the vehicle in front and you can adjust your cruise control to the current maximum speed with the press of a button as the new Corolla ‘reads’ road signs. The result is quite literally that you can get in the car, stay in your lane, safely follow the car in front and not exceed the maximum speed by just holding the steering wheel. Safe, relaxing and standard on all grades.
Starting out the Ascent Sport with a plastic steering wheel, the upgrade to a leather one in the SX (standard in the ZR) is a welcome one. Though the cloth upholstery in the Ascent Sport and SX feel good and the seats provide ample support, it’s the leather equipped bucket seats in the ZR that provide a true sporty look and feel. Unfortunately none are available with the option for electric adjustment or memory settings. Surprising, as the new Corolla now has an electric handbrake, automatic folding mirrors and higher trims even come with wireless charging for your phone. Enough electronics there. Including an 8-inch multimedia unit that works a charm and the optional 7-inch full digital dash on the ZR model that wouldn’t look off in any high end luxury vehicle.
The back seat provides plenty of space in the sedan, where it was lacking in the hatchback. It measures 4630mm from nose to tail – a substantial 255mm longer than the hatch and 10mm up on the outgoing sedan, despite styling which gives it a more compact look and could easily fit two adults or three kids comfortably, with the possibility of two of them to be in ISOFIX-fitted baby seats. Perfect for a young family, even if they need to take some luggage. The boot space is the same as the previous-gen sedan: 470L. A lot more than you'll get in the hatch, which ranges between 137L and 257L depending on the version.
With the price of the new Toyota Corolla starting in in the low-$20,000 it’s on par with its competitors. For this price, you’ll get the base model with a manual, which comes with most of the safety features. To make use of the Lane Trace Assist and Active Cruise Control on all speeds, you’ll have to put down an additional $1500 to equip it with the CVT. If you want the hybrid version of the Ascent Sport the price is in the mid-$20,000.
For approximately $1000 change over you could also choose to skip the hybrid but get into an SX with CVT, which will get you the added fog lights, privacy glass, premium steering wheel, wireless phone charging and the sat nav. Like all models across the range stepping up to a hybrid will cost you $1500. Depending on how much you drive, you could be able to earn this extra back in petrol saving within a few years. The good news is that the new hybrid doesn't need premium fuel anymore and now runs on unleaded 91 fuel.
The top-of-the-line ZR will set you back somewhere in the mid-$30,000, depending if you go for the hybrid or not. The auto CVT is standard, and for that price its fully loaded and you’ll also get the heated and cooled front eats, JBL sound system and ambient lighting. The only thing you can choose is if you want to go for one of the premium colours, which will add $450 to the price tag. The new Corolla comes with 3 year/100,000 kilometre warranty and a 5 year/75,000 kilometre capped price servicing program for $175 per service.
There is no doubt the Toyota Corolla sedan is in fierce competition with its little, but more popular hatchback brother. With 44 million sales globally and 1.4 million over here since 1967 you know you’re buying a well thought out car from one of the most trusted brands. Not only is the new Corolla better looking, it also drives sportier than its predecessor, and has been fitted with the latest features. The safety technology that comes standard across the range shows that Toyota is forward thinking; the same goes for their hybrid technology. No surprise the new Corolla snatched top marks in the latest ANCAP test, scoring a perfect 8/8 on both side impact and oblique pole test and a 96 per cent safety record for adult occupant protection.
Saving money on fuel while providing a smoother ride and helping the environment are good reason to opt it in. Add the wonderfully smooth CVT automatic and the package is complete. The Corolla works in every grade level with the Ascent Sport historically proven to be the most popular, but the ZR definitely has some features that would make it worth the investment.