The Toyota Corolla has been Australia’s top-selling vehicle since 2013 — with an image for dependability and brand recognition to kill for.
In 2015, the total number delivered was 42,073 units. However, it was the Japan-made hatch version doing the driving, beating the Thai-made sedan model you see here by a ratio of 3:1.
Australians generally err towards small hatchbacks — and increasingly SUVs. But does the small Corolla sedan still have merit, especially against strong rivals such as the as the Mazda 3, or our newly crowned class-leader, the 2016 Hyundai Elantra? (Read that comparison here).
As we know, an updated version of the car you see here is due early next year — catching it up to the already facelifted Corolla hatch — but that’s some time away still. Time enough to revisit the car you can presently buy at your nearest Toyota dealer.
The Toyota Corolla sedan range starts with the entry-level Ascent priced at $20,740 plus on-road costs, about $1000 more than the equivalent hatch. The next level up is the SX at $22,990, while the top-spec ZR is a big jump, at $30,990.
This jump isn’t quite as marked when you factor in the cost of the SX with automatic transmission, however ($25,240). The Corolla ZR is auto-only.
That $5750 walk to the ZR gets you features such as paddle-shifters, LED headlights and daytime running lights, automatic wipers, leather-accented seats and satellite-navigation with traffic monitoring.
This variant is more expensive than some key competitors, such as the equivalent spec Mazda 3 Touring for $26,790 or Hyundai Elantra Elite for $26,490. Other rivals include the Kia Cerato, Nissan Pulsar, Honda Civic, Holden Cruze, Subaru Impreza and Ford Focus.
As far as we see it, the Corolla sedan isn’t going to blow your socks off, but there are some understandable reasons for looking in its direction. It lacks the flair, excitement and included kit of many of its rivals (such as the Hyundai’s Apple CarPlay), but the servicing costs, massive dealer network, resale value and reputation for reliability make it an easy car to own, and account in part for the strong badge loyalty.
The sedan is roomier and bigger than the hatch. It’s 290mm longer at 4620mm, and with a width of 1775mm, it’s 15mm wider. It also gets a decent 470L boot and a full-size spare tucked under the boot floor. The boot opening also has a large aperture, though the gooseneck hinges are unsightly and chew up space.
The rear seats are spacious with generous legroom, but taller passengers may find headroom a little light-on thanks to the sloping roofline. It's more than adequate though for three children or two adults.
There are no rear air vents, but there are map pockets in the seatbacks. The rear seats also fold 60:40, and there are two cupholders and two bottle holders, as well as pockets in the doors.
Every Corolla has a 6.1-inch touchscreen with rear-view camera. The image during the day is crisp and clear. At night however, the camera struggles and shows up a grainy representation instead of a detailed view. The sedan also gets front and rear parking sensors across the range.
It's hard to peg the overall feeling evoked by the cabin. The plastic dash-top is flanked by a flat and uninspired façade. The touchscreen is centrally fitted and flanked by sensibly laid-out buttons and dials. The ToyotaLink media system lacks the pizazz of Mazda’s MZD Connect or Ford’s Sync 2, but it’s functional.
It all makes sense — the controls are accessible and straightforward. There is nothing really that’s distracting or distinctive, which is actually a good thing because it makes the cabin inoffensive to the majority of buyers.
The materials used in the cabin, the presentation and the included features are no more and no less than what you need. It looks nice, and okay, and good, and fair, and so-so. You see where we’re going there? You’ll notice it hasn’t inspired an outpouring of emotive prose, but it does the job with a dash of understated elegance.
The leather-accented seats are firm but not uncomfortable and are electrically adjustable. With a CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX outlets and steering wheel-mounted phone and audio controls, plus cruise control, it has everything you need.
The Corolla ZR sedan has the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as the hatch, producing a modest 103kW and 173Nm, teamed to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with seven stepped ‘ratios’.
It’s a good thing to drive around town, its natural habitat. The CVT is intuitive enough without that signature pervasive droning. The engine isn’t the last word in punchiness, but torque delivery is linear and predictable, and it’s a proven old unit.
You may notice a bit of road noise over rough surfaces but its not overly intrusive, while the ride is generally settled and comfortable, reacting with just a hint of agitation on rugged roads. The steering could lighten up at urban speeds a little more, but feels relatively direct when you’re moving at a faster pace.
Fuel economy is a claimed 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres, though we recorded an average of 8.2L/100km during our time with it.
The Corolla comes with Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty, which isn’t class-leading, but you will save some dollars when it comes to servicing with the cost capped at $140 for each visit, though the six month intervals aren’t great.
The Toyota Corolla ZR sedan is politely behaved on the road and a comfortable place to be. Rivals such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra have more up-to-date infotainment systems and pizzazz, but Australia's go-to set of wheels still does much of what it has to.