The new Corolla sedan improves in almost all aspects, but can it keep pace with the class leaders?
The new Toyota Corolla sedan is bigger and better than ever before - and it may come as a shock to some buyers just how much bigger the new sedan is compared with the hatch that went on sale 18 months ago.
Sitting alongside the more aggressively styled Corolla hatch, the new Corolla sedan range kicks off from $20,740 for the base model Ascent, $22,990 for the mid-range SX and jumps to $30,990 for the top-end auto-only ZR.
That pricing positions the new model competitively against the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Cerato, Nissan Pulsar, Ford Focus and the new Mazda 3, though the latter two models span broader price ranges.
The new model measures 4620 millimetres long, making it 75mm longer than its predecessor and 365mm longer than the hatchback. Its wheelbase has been stretched by 100mm compared with both the old car and the Corolla hatch to a medium car-like 2700mm, and it looks a more substantial car from the sidewalk, as we found out when we were approached by a potential buyer at the launch of the car in Tasmania.
"Geez they're making the small ones big these days, aren't they? I came down to see if it was a Camry or Aurion," said 60-something-year-old Bill.
The upshot of that extra wheelbase is considerably more space. There are thinner seat backs for the front chairs, and Toyota says kneeroom has increased by 92mm, about the size of a frequent flyer card – insert joke here about that change being similar to receiving an upgrade from economy to business.
But while legroom is better, the sleeker roofline means taller occupants may be left wanting for more headroom in the backseat, and bigger humans will have to watch their head when getting in and out, too. Another oversight is the lack of rear air vents.
The presentation of the interior has improved considerably. There’s a prominent colour touch-screen media system across the range, which offers Bluetooth phone and audio hook-up, USB and auxiliary device connectivity, and doubles as a monitor for the reverse-view camera. A separate parking sensor guidance motif sits beside the screen, and a top-mounted digital clock is a nice touch for the time-conscious.
The Corolla sedan’s interior styling isn’t to all tastes – indeed, the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3 all offer a little more in terms of attractiveness but the controls are logically laid-out and the dash is trimmed in soft-touch plastic. We found the lack of a digital speedometer to be a particular sticking point, given the fact the mid- and top-spec models come with a new TFT display between the dials. The new ToyotaLink media system is good, with a simple interface and easy to use sat-nav on the ZR model. That buyers looking at the models below can’t option navigation, however, is a concern – the technology is standard on the Mazda 3 Maxx, which, along with the Corolla SX, starts at $22,990.
Storage through the cabin is improved, with large door pockets and bottle holders in the rear, a number of cup and bottle holsters up front, and several loose item storage bins.
The boot offers 470 litres of capacity, up 20L on the previous car, and has a much larger aperture to make loading wide items such as golf bags and baby strollers easier. The gooseneck hinges eat into the space, however, and the base model Ascent misses out on a release button on the boot-lid – it has a button the key fob or a lever next to the driver’s seat.
It’s bigger, but also lighter – the kerb weights for the new model range from 1250 to 1295 kilograms for the new model, almost identical to the hatch, while the old car was between 1310 and 1360kg.
Under the bonnet is the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine as the hatchback, with 103kW and 173Nm. Toyota says the revised, carryover powerplant now has 3kW more but 2Nm less, but has been tweaked for better driveability, with the maximum torque available lower in the rev range, though peak torque still arrives at 4000rpm (was 4400rpm), and peak power is hit at 6400rpm (previously 6000rpm).
It certainly feels less lethargic than before, with adequate response at city speeds and under sudden throttle. Part of that comes down to the CVT automatic transmission, which is a new version engineered with a torque converter to make it feel as though it has stepped changes. The transmission generally is quieter than some rival CVT autos, though we noted a tendency for the car to lurch if you were slowing on approach to a roundabout or intersection and reapplied the throttle – approaching roundabouts, for example. We didn’t sample the six-speed manual gearbox.
Fuel use is claimed at 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual and 6.6L/100km for the auto - improving over the existing model which used 7.3L/100km in manual guise and 7.4L/100km for the auto, but still above the likes of the Mazda 3 and VW Golf/Jetta. Over a 270km loop of mainly regional roads, the trip computer showed an average 7.7L/100km.
The longer wheelbase also means the Corolla sedan rides more comfortably than the car it replaces. It remains composed over big and small inconsistencies, and holds a decent line through corners. The ride is at its best in the entry-level Ascent, which sits atop 15-inch steel wheels with chubby 65-aspect rubber, a combination that makes it comfy and quiet on the road. The 16-inch identical wheel and tyre combination on the SX and ZR models have lower profile 55-aspect tyres, which add a sharper edge to the ride and make for more road noise intrusion in the cabin, particularly over coarse-chip surfaces. It’s never deafening, but the hushed Ascent is the pick for those with sensitive ears.
The steering has been markedly improved over the last Corolla sedan, too, with the electric power steering system tuned by Australian engineers to offer more feel and improved response. It’s still slightly numb compared to benchmark cars in the class such as the Mazda 3, VW Golf and Ford Focus, but it turns in adequately and changes directions nicely.
We did notice a tinge of torque-steer under hard acceleration, and the stability control system was overly aggressive through corners – the slightest hint of understeer saw the safety system apply pressure to the brakes to help pull things into line. For the majority of Corolla sedan buyers that will be ideal, and its seven standard airbags will offer peace of mind in case things go wrong - but for enthusiasts there's hardly a big hit of "waku-doki" (heart-pumping fun) that Toyota has been promising for its new cars. Buy the Toyota 86 for that.
For the thinkers, the Corolla makes a lot of sense - it has that legendary Toyota reliability and its backed by Toyota's $130 capped price servicing scheme, though maintenance is scheduled every six months and a three-year/100,000km warranty is two years short of best-in-class.
The new Corolla sedan, then, won’t excite like the new Mazda 3, nor is it quite as polished as, say, the Volkswagen Golf hatch. But it convincingly trumps both those cars, not to mention its own hatchback brethren, for interior space - and that’s a big deal for buyers of not-so-small sedans.