Hatchbacks don't get much more humble than the Toyota Corolla. For decades it's been the choice for millions across the globe, it's currently the best selling car in Australia, and for the last six weeks our long-term-loan Corolla has been my daily driver.
That stint behind the wheel coincided with the market release of of the updated MY16 version, the first review of which is coming tomorrow. How better to compare this version, which you can still buy on runout, with the update?
To refresh, our test car here is the top-spec Levin ZR variant, which adds sporty exterior touches such 17-inch alloys, as well as some notable luxury features.
Since it's launch in 2012, I've always thought the Corolla was a sharp looker, and with its 17-inch alloy wheels and contrasting white mica with blacked-out roof, it still looks good today.
Inside, however, it feels much more dated that its three-year-old origins would suggest. Luxuries like satellite navigation, heated leather seats and keyless entry/start all feature, but the presentation lacks cohesion, tending towards an aftermarket feel.
The heated seat controls are actual switches rather than buttons, the satellite navigation is simply a double-DIN unit that could have been purchased from JB Hi-Fi, and there aren't a lot of materials around the cabin that are particularly nice to touch.
What does lift the cabin ambiance significantly is the panoramic sunroof.
Unlike the panoramic roofs on some other cars, the Toyota Corolla's is a large, single, immovable piece of glass with a sun blind. Since I rarely utilise sunroofs for anything but the extra light they offer, this worked perfectly for me. For $1500, it's worth it.
Unexpectedly, I've encountered a couple of quality issues with our test car. As soon as I turned on the radio it was clear there was an issue with the speaker in the passenger's door, with an odd distortion of any kind of bass. The only immediate recourse was to turn the bass down on the EQ.
The other was the auto-dimming rear-view mirror, which is slightly detached from the windscreen, and has become looser with time. Not quite the robust Toyota quality you'd expect.
Unfortunately the Toyota Corolla Levin ZR isn't quite as comfortable as I was expecting either. The leather seats are fairly plush, but it's the firm ride that lets it down.
Riding on large 17-inch alloy wheels may look good, but it's sacrificed the sharp bump compliance you'd expect on a car of this sort. It should be noted that Corollas with smaller wheels ride much better.
It's not like it can't be done, since the cars such as the Volkswagen Golf Highline sit on 17-inch alloys, yet offer a smooth ride bordering on that offered in far more expensive luxury cars.
Where the Toyota Corolla Levin ZR has clawed back some affection is the way it drives. The 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre engine may be a bit of a relic, but for the usual duties assigned to a hatchback is has been perfectly adequate.
The inclusion of a CVT may make some shudder, but the unit fitted to the Corolla is definitely one of the better ones, especially when driven in manual mode.
The Toyota Corolla Levin ZR includes paddle shifters, which initially seemed like a gimmick, but after a few weeks behind the wheel were in regular use.
Tapping into the CVT's 7-speed semi-auto mode, the paddles let you take advantage of every scerick of power and torque the naturally aspirated engine has to offer.
While the ride may be firm, is does lend itself to very competent handling. On more that one occasion the Toyota Corolla has served as my camera vehicle, following behind much more powerful vehicles, and punting it along a country road proved a surprising delight.
The Corolla turns in sharply, with nicely weighted steering and excellent body control. The paddle shifters keep the engine revs up, and you can downshift high in the rev range without the shift getting denied.
But a reality check would reveal that few buyers of a Toyota Corolla are going to be too fussed on it's handling prowess. A better ride would make it a better car.
Space for passengers is good, but for luggage it's decidedly less so. With 280 litres, it's well short of rivals, requiring the use of the split-fold seats for more than a few cases of luggage.
Fuel consumption has been decent but not great, averaging around 9.0L/100km in the time I've spent behind the wheel. Since the Corolla lacks any sort of stop/start system, it remains idling in the queues during my 32 kilometre round trip to work each day.
With my time up in the Toyota Corolla, I'm left with mixed feelings. It's a very good looking car in this specification, and it's surprisingly good fun to drive, but with competitors offering modern drivetrains, nicer interiors, longer warranties or combinations of all three, it wouldn't be my pick. It misses out on any of the latest gadgets like auto-parking and autonomous emergency braking too.
There is hope, however, with the facelifted Corolla that's just hit the streets. Having spent a morning cruising around Sydney in the new car, it's interior and ride show significant improvements.
Stay tuned for our review of the updated Toyota Corolla ZR (pictured right).
Toyota Corolla Levin ZR
Date acquired: April 2015
Odometer reading: 5780km
Fuel Consumption: 9.1L/100km