How can you argue against the sheer number of people putting their hands in their pockets, willing to part with their hard-earned dollars in exchange for a Toyota Corolla?
The Corolla was the second highest selling model in Australia in 2016 and it was outsold only by its stablemate, the Toyota HiLux. The numbers are astounding and it was a very close race, with 40,330 Corollas sold last year, just 2000 shy of the HiLux. If you do the maths (actually no need, I've done it) that means that every week last year, 775 of the small passenger cars were sold.
The 2017 Toyota Corolla has had a minor update, but is it enough to keep it selling at such a phenomenal rate?
The little Toyota has been the best selling passenger car four years in a row and sales figures from the first quarter of this year indicate a resounding 'yes'. Year-to-date 9909 new Corollas have been sold, giving it a 20 per cent share of its segment.
Just for fun, let's do some more maths. Over the first 90 days of 2017, 110 Corollas were sold every, single day. That's 4.6 an hour over each 24 hour period, or assuming dealerships are only open nine-hours a day, seven days a week, that means 12.2 Corollas were sold every hour of operation.
Even with that staggering figure, the Mazda 3 is hot on its heels, nabbing a 19.5 per cent share of the small car market in the first quarter thanks to the sale of 9655 vehicles. The Hyundai i30 is still selling strongly with a figure of 6404 to the end of March for a 13 per cent share, the Kia Cerato isn't far behind on 4654 and the Volkswagen Golf rounds out the top-five at 4063.
What we have on test here is the 2017 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport hatch which is the most popular seller in the range. The Corolla is available in two body styles, the hatch and sedan, but all get the same 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol engine that produces 103kW and 173Nm, teamed with either a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT) depending on the variant.
The hatch range starts with the Ascent, priced at $20,190 before on-road costs, then there’s the Ascent Sport for $21,210 and both are available in either manual or CVT guise. Stepping up to the SX means the CVT becomes the only transmission option. It's priced at $26,000 and then there's the ZR for $30,020 and the hybrid is priced at $27,530. The sedan range starts with the Ascent for $21,420, then the SX at $23,820 and the CVT-only ZR is $31,920.
Inside and out, you wouldn't know the difference between this year's car and last year's. The sharper look introduced with the 2015 model remains unchanged, as do the engine and transmission options.
For 2017, the big news is new safety features are now standard on the flagship ZR and the technology, including forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning and automatic high-beam headlights, are now available as an optional safety package across the rest of the range for around $750. Satellite navigation is also now available for the Ascent Sport for an extra $1000.
Our test car comes equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights, body coloured bumpers with silver accents, fog lights and is finished in 'Inferno', a premium colour that costs $450 and isn't available on the entry level Ascent.
The Corolla has upped-the-ante in recent years with a classy interior that belies its price-point. It's not luxurious by any means, but the styling is suitably conservative enough, save for a few shiny embellishments. Its simplicity in this regard would contribute greatly to its broad appeal – Toyota isn't trying to make a bold statement with the Corolla's cabin design.
The dash is a lovely soft-touch plastic and the patterned gunmetal grey panel along the fascia above the glovebox (though obviously a shiny plastic) brings a degree of sophistication.
The bucket style driver and front passenger seats are quite comfortable, though they feel wide, and they're nicely shaped and tuck you with a decent level of side-bolstering and lower-back support.
The cloth material that covers both the front and rear seats however, isn't nice to the touch. Brush your fingers over it and its scratchiness provokes an unpleasant sensation, similar to that of fingernails down a blackboard or walking on squeaky sand. It doesn't have the same impact on contact with the less sensitive skin on legs or arms which is a saving grace.
The contrast stitching around the inside of the steering wheel is a nice touch and it also sports controls for phone, volume and voice command. The instrument cluster is very basic and there's no digital speedometer so it feels a little out of place and too old-school to be inside this largely modern cabin.
There's a 7.0-inch touchscreen mounted in the centre of the dash. The sensitivity is excellent, however, the system can be a little slow to respond. The Corolla features Toyota Link, an app-based connectivity system, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't included. Satellite navigation isn't standard on the Ascent Sport, although it can be optioned for $1000. A rear-view camera and cruise control are fitted as standard.
Storage-wise the Corolla offers a decent-sized glovebox and centre console bin, two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors plus a little nook in front of the gear shift with a flip-up cover that houses 12V, USB and AUX outlets.
Moving into the second row, the seat base is flat and you could squeeze three adults if they don't mind playing sardines. Knee-room and elbow-room are decent, while there's just enough headroom for my 5'8" height. The centre armrest appears be on a slant when folded down, however that seems to be how it is designed as the two cupholder bases are flat at that angle.
There are average sized pockets with water bottle holders in the doors but no rear air vents or USB points, although there is a 12V. There are ISOFIX child seat anchor-points for each outboard seat, plus three top-tether hooks.
Boot space in the Corolla hatch isn't class leading at 360 litres and there's a temporary spare wheel under the floor. That volume puts it in the middle of its closest competitors, slightly less than the Hyundai i30 that offers 378 litres but more than the Mazda 3 with just 308 litres.
Our Ascent Sport hatch has the aforementioned 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol engine producing 103kW/173Nm with the seven-speed CVT.
Out on the road and cruising around urban environments, it's clear the Corolla is made for city living. The suspension damping is admirable and it absorbs road imperfections with a firm, planted confidence.
The Corolla is lithe and responsive, making light work of weaving through traffic and tackling traffic lights and roundabouts.
Even though it has 'Sport' in its name, it's no powerhouse. In fact, hitting the sport mode button does very little. While it may not be a speed demon off-the-line, it's more than adequate and there is plenty of power and torque available high in the rev range.
Let loose out on the highway, the Corolla feels solid and mature for a small car. Though you'll hear the CVT working at lower speeds, it quietens down at higher speeds. Road, wind and tyre noise are also low, making the Corolla a nice place to be for longer trips.
The electrically-assisted power steering is light and weights up nicely at higher speeds. The Corolla feels quite agile on the road, has the tight turning circle you'd expect from a small car and overall it's a smooth and easy drive.
The Corolla is competitively priced, and when you also consider ongoing ownership costs it's an impressive package.
Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty with a three year capped-price servicing plan with services due every six-months or 10,000km at a cost of $140 each visit. Combined claimed fuel consumption is 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres and during our time with the car we recorded 8.2L/100km in mostly urban environments.
The Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport hatch is incredibly liveable. It’s simple, does the job without any complaints and because of this, it will continue to sell strongly for a long time yet, at the rate of about one every five minutes!