Last week I drove Toyota’s top-shelf Corolla Ultima, and although the car was not without its merits, my summation was that for the price I considered it to be good, almost average, middle-of-the-road, but certainly nothing to write home about.
That said you would assume that by jumping in to a lower-spec model this week that my impressions would be even less enthusiastic, somewhat cheapened, and that the base model sibling of the Corolla range would pale into insignificance against its more well equipped brother.
I guess then the Corolla Ascent proves what they say about assumptions.
My first, and perhaps most obvious reason for liking the Ascent is, quite simply, price. It’s considerably cheaper than the Ultima – even when optioned up – making the Ascent a far more reasonable prospect when shopping in this category.
That’s not to say you’re missing out by purchasing the cheaper version, far from it. In fact all things considered the Ascent offers a very good standard level of equipment that can be tailored, rather cheaply, to suit your own needs.
In this instance, the Ascent tested was optioned with metallic paint and Toyota’s Cruise & Enhanced Safety Pack that, as the same suggests, features cruise control and additional safety equipment (seven airbags and ESP), as well as a sassy little leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls.
Similarly to the Ultima tested last week our Ascent also features the optional Optitron Combimetre instrumentation panel that in my opinion really lifts the car’s appeal from a driver’s viewpoint offering crisp, clear and easy-on-the-eyes information, especially at night.
Add to that appeal a decent stereo, air-conditioning, front power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, adequate storage and a simple user-friendliness that all lend the Ascent a baseline of value that has been synonymous with the Corolla nameplate for more than 40 years.
On the downside though the “C” pillar is rather large and obstructive when reversing from a 45 degree park and can make lane changing slightly perilous.
Road noise too is a touch loud at highway speeds and I found the low-beam lights to be practically useless on country roads, so-much-so that I found myself forgetting I’d selected high beam.
The Gemini-esque gear shift position can hinder access to the air-conditioning controls when in first, third or fifth, more so for the passenger, but you’re unlikely to care given the sporty feel it offers the driver.
The cabin is roomy given the proportions availed, and quite comfortable too. Four adults fit comfortably (though seating is for five) with rear passengers afforded more than adequate leg and headroom.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for cargo space which is a little limited compared to some rivals at 283-litres. If this is of concern, the more generous sedan may be of interest, though it’s not nearly as versatile as the hatch, where the 60:40 split fold seats offer a large area for oversized items, perfect for those weekend projects.
As for what’s up front, I’m pleased to say the six-speed manual really does make the most of the 1.8-litre engine’s 100kw/175Nm offering, feeling much more alive than the auto model we tested last week.
Better fuel economy, increased performance (just compare the 0-100 figures) and a gearbox that feels incredibly well suited to the engine in terms of ratio spread means that unless you really take issue with using a clutch, the manual variant is a far better option for extracting the most from your Corolla – and your wallet!
The clutch is spot on in terms of weighting – something I have noticed can be far too light and devoid of feel in many of Corolla’s direct rivals – while the ESP system is very well calibrated, not too sustained or intrusive. ABS braking with EBA and EBD is both confident and progressive.
While it may be built for a price the Corolla feels solid, drives well and offers very good value for money, and with all of us driving our dollar even harder at the moment (no pun intended), it’s not difficult to see why the humble Ascent is so popular.
With the seven airbag enhanced safety pack available from just $1500 – and let’s face it you’d be mad not to tick this box – a basic, white, manual Corolla can be driven away from less than $24,000 – and what ever way you look at it, that’s not a bad deal.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
Engine: 1798cc DOHC four-cylinder (16 valve)
Power: 100kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 175Nm @ 4400rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Driven Wheels: Front
Brakes: Discs with ABS, EBA & EBD
Top Speed: 200km/h
0-100km/h: 9.7 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 174 grams per kilometre
Fuel Consumption: 7.4 litres per 100km (ADR)
Fuel Consumption: 7.9 litres per 100km (As Tested)
Fuel Tank Capacity: 55 litres
Fuel Type: 91RON petrol
ANCAP Rating: New model TBC (previously five-stars)