The new Toyota Corolla is like the Porsche 911 in at least one way – it doesn’t change all that much from model to model.
Constant improvement is a key Toyota value, but the company doesn’t make big jumps forward either.
That’s the case with the 11th-generation Toyota Corolla too – it’s better than the last one, and is even better value too, without setting a new class benchmark.
But the Corolla does everything most of its customers will likely need. It is fairly quiet, spacious and comfortable inside (although the boot is a bit small) and has reasonable but not exhilarating performance.
The value proposition is excellent. The fact you can buy a Toyota Corolla for the same price as you paid more than a decade ago is remarkable.
One of the Corolla’s weak spots is its engine. Not that it’s gutless; the power and torque figures are better than a couple of its entry-level rivals, but it does feel a bit underdone.
The power figure has inched up by 3kW to 103kW (by revving 400rpm higher), while the torque has dropped by 2Nm to 173Nm (achieving this 400rpm lower). Toyota has been generating around 100kW from Corolla engines for more than a decade.
The 2013 Toyota Corolla car gets a new two-stage intake manifold, which is not ground-breaking technology, but misses out on direct injection.
You do have to row through the gears to keep the engine in its torque band and be quite active with the gearshift to get along at a reasonable pace.
While the engine is an adequate entry-level powerplant, it’s a shame Toyota doesn’t offer a more potent version at a higher price point. Not that it needs to build a hot-hatch, but it would be good if they could just offer something with an extra 15kW and 20Nm.
It’s also a shame there is no Toyota Corolla diesel. Toyota says diesels are “good for trucks and SUVs, but not passenger cars”, which is an out-of-date view. The diesel would not be the volume seller, but at least customers could choose, as they can when they consider most of the rival models.
The six-speed manual is a smooth shifting transmission with a light clutch. It is now in the regular position on the centre console, unlike the previous generation, where it was mounted up high and closer to the dashboard.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) actually gets off the line a little better and gives you the impression things are moving faster. It is a good example of a CVT although it is likely some people will still be put off by the changing ratios, which makes it sound like a slipping clutch. The transmission tends to make the engine get quite coarse quite quickly too.
You can use the self-shifting mode to simulate gear changes, which is a bit of fun.
Toyota has improved the way the Corolla handles. It is still a long way short of cars like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, which just love corners, but is better.
Toyota brought several previous-generation Corollas to today’s launch so it was possible to benchmark this car with the last.
You notice that you sit a bit lower in the new car and the dashboard and roof are also a lot lower.
There was a lot more body-roll evident when you turned in the last Corolla, while the new Corolla moves a lot less. It really feels like the centre of gravity is lower (which it is).
The new Toyota Corolla’s steering is more direct and responds to the driver’s inputs more quickly. It’s a benign car that doesn’t easily get out of shape and is predictable.
The changes to the underbody and to the suspension have been minimal, that’s why the wheelbase and width are the same. Perhaps that’s why when pushed on bumpy roads, you feel a bit of flex in the body and the suspension, which send some vibrations up through the wheel.
This really isn’t an issue for most Corolla drivers and we suspect the only Corollas driven that fast are rentals.
The interior of the new Toyota Corolla has a minimalist, bordering on plain, design.
Its dashboard is dominated by a large double DIN sound system head unit that has just been dropped in – there is no attempt to integrate it. The look is also spoiled by a retro LCD clock, which stepped straight out of the 1990s. Apparently, this clock was removed for the last-generation Corolla and Toyota was inundated with complaints.
All the dials are clear, but the instrument cluster is now plainer than the one in the last car, which had a more hi-tech look. The simple dials and controls are nice and simple and easy to use and the quality of the surfaces is fine.
Toyota spent a lot of time on reducing the noise and the new car is quieter than the last. It’s not brilliant over coarse chip surfaces though.
The company skimped on some noise suppression material in the base car, but it appears not that much louder than the other models in the line-up (which might be down to the smaller tyres, with different tread).
The interior has ample space, with more legroom than required for adults, and the middle rear seat is also quite comfortable (which isn’t always the case).
Boot space has never been a strong point of the Toyota Corolla and the new-generation car is no different. It is 280 litres and is smaller than the cargo room of cars like the Focus.
On the whole, the new Toyota Corolla is a competent small car that does just what you expect from a Corolla.
It’s a better car than the last one and while it is not a class leader when it comes to handling or engine performance, it is comfortable, relatively spacious and is excellent value.