In the last six months, my wife and I traded our 11-year-old white automatic ex-rental Toyota Corolla Ascent and upgraded to a much nicer (and car enthusiast aligned) manual Mazda 3 SP25 GT sedan in Soul Red. Obviously, loving the new car and will write a review once I have done 5000km on the clock, but today's review is all about the trusty old Corolla.
You may be wondering how a car enthusiast ended up with a white automatic ex-rental Corolla? Well, it came with my darling wife, then girlfriend, when we started dating. My wife had started her car ownership with a 1994 Ford Fiesta, then upgraded to a 2002 Kia Rio, and having had a horror run of expensive maintenance with both cars, jumped on the Toyota bandwagon. As she was driving approximately 35,000km each year for work, she also decided to buy an automatic, and her only requirement was that the car made a 'beep' when the lights were left on after turning off the car.
Now, I really didn’t, and don’t like, the Toyota Corolla. I have grown up with some beauties in the extended family garage, including an E36 325i, E46 320i, E46 330ci, NB Mazda MX-5, NC MX-5, Golf GTI Gen 4, Pug 306, BL Mazda 3 and Honda Accord Euro, so this car was never going to get the pulse racing and never going to forge an emotional connection with me, but it has been reliable, honest and consistent. For comparison, I would never call any of the BMWs or the Pug reliable!
Here are some pros and cons:
- Until the very end it was cheap and reliable to own. This car had a tough life: never garaged, lots of city driving, and regularly mounting the gutter due to local-area parking challenges and my wife’s driving. Serviced every six months and no major issues. My wife, until meeting me, did not believe you had parked until you heard the sound of the wheel against the gutter…
- Looked good up to the end. Until I came on the scene, this car had not been washed, ever. After being added to my weekly car washing list, and having a very comprehensive wax, the paint was suddenly looking pretty good.
- Air-conditioning and heating: simply outstanding, the best out of any car I have ever owned or driven.
- Has ISOFIX (once you have it, you never go back). Amazing considering a current Focus does not have ISOFIX.
- Full-size spare.
- Not caring who you park next to in parking stations. I have always been that person who studies the carpark on where to park and prioritised parking next to poles or expensive cars, and actively avoid parking next to SUVs (kids are careless when opening doors). It was therapeutic to not care.
- Cheap parts. This car copped a lot of punishment mounting a kerb at least 3–4 times a week. NRMA servicing always repaired the damage relatively cheaply.
- Drove okay for the price. The four-speed auto was noisy, the steering inaccurate, and the engine struggled up hills. The car did not have traction control, so having good tyres was essential. My wife and I found the lack of traction control a non-issue, but leant the car to a friend for a weekend who found that it “slid all over the road” in the wet.
- No Bluetooth; we fixed this by upgrading the head unit.
- It's a Corolla, and as a car lover it was as exciting as driving a fridge.
- No side or curtain airbags or traction control. Realistically, this is a two-star car when judged against today's safety testing.
- Hubcaps are very expensive to replace (I told you this car had a tough life!).
- Small boot. Could not fit our pram in.
- Not fun to drive, just okay to drive. Noisy inside, transmission very rough on a cold morning. Revs high at freeway speed. You need to drive smoothly to avoid traction issues.
- Six-month service intervals…A pain and inconvenience. Both our current cars, a Mazda CX-5 and the Mazda 3, are on 12-month intervals, which means only two trips to the service centre each year.
I do not miss the Toyota Corolla at all, and considering the lack of safety features I would not recommend it to anyone. We sold our Corolla for $4K with 170,000km on the clock (lost $6K value in 11 years… Not bad!), so financially it was a good buy. But I recommend anyone interested in cheap, honest, reliable motoring to spend a little more, buy a car with better safety, and buy a Mazda 3 instead.
Having owned a BL Mazda 3 previously, I can tell you first hand that you will have the same amazing reliability, with some driving enjoyment thrown in for good measure.