The arrival of any new model Toyota Corolla is a significant motoring event, and the new, 10th generation car is no exception.
The Corolla has been New Zealand’s best-selling lower medium car for so long that saying so has almost become tedious – unless you happen to be a Toyota dealer or the world’s largest motor vehicle maker. They never get tired of being number one.
Though the new 2007 Corolla isn’t going to set the world on fire, rest assured the package is good enough for the car to maintain sales leadership.
Toyota has sold 32 million Corollas worldwide, making it the most successful car yet in terms of numbers. New Zealand sales have totalled 198,000, not including used import examples.
The new Corolla is a natural progression of its predecessor while incorporating frontal styling elements of the smaller Yaris and a higher profile body.
That we even have a new Corolla is a surprise, and the result of hard-fought efforts by the Australian and New Zealand distributors to retain the familiar nomenclature.
In other markets, apart from Japan, the hatchback has been relabelled “Auris”.
Changing a name isn’t always a bad thing, but Toyota New Zealand wanted to preserve a 38-year heritage and appease a large and loyal Corolla audience.
New Zealand has also ended up with an unusual spread of models. Although the Corolla line-up increases by just one version to seven, the offerings include a 1.5-litre five-door station wagon version that other export markets (including Australia) won’t see.
Both hatch and sedan went on local sale in early May but the price-leading wagon isn’t destined for dealer showrooms until July.
When it comes, it will be a tempting proposition not only for fleets but also for private buyers who reckoned the Corolla had become too expensive in recent years.
Admittedly, the new wagon sports a smaller engine than the old 1.8-litre Corolla estate and there’s no provision for an auto, which will limit the market.
Still, the $25,990 retail price is a whopping $6310 less than the outgoing wagon – and there isn’t much opposition.
Other new Corolla models, all with 1.8-litre engines, are similarly priced to the old model and some are even cheaper.
GX and GLX versions of both the new hatch and sedan carry identical sticker prices, with the lower spec models starting at $30,500 ($31,650 in auto) and the auto-only GLX listing at $36,990.
The GX hatch manual is $510 more than its predecessor, and the auto version is up just $10. It may as well be the same price.
On the sedan front, the GX manual is $490 cheaper than the old equivalent Corolla and it has six gears instead of five.
In auto form, the GX sedan is $990 less than the previous GL sedan auto, which is the nearest equivalent.
Finally, the GLX auto sedan is $2340 dearer than before but is better equipped.
An optional $500 airbag package comprises driver knee and front/rear curtain shield airbags. Leather trim is a $2000 option on the GLX sedan only.
Aftermarket satellite navigation is a neat installation, albeit at a hefty $5000.
The first generation Corolla was launched in Japan 40 years ago, but did not arrive in New Zealand until 1969. In 1988, arguably the best-looking Corolla of all, powered Toyota New Zealand to market leadership.
The Corolla became the nation’s top-selling new car, toppled only by larger Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons in latter years.
Toyota’s favourite son has grown hugely, from 3.85m in overall length for the original Corolla sedan to 4.54m for the latest notch back. Cabin length has grown from 2.3m to 3.3m while the safety and performance differentials are immense.
All the new technology and equipment have come at a price. At 1330kg, the new Corolla is 82 percent heavier than generation one that tipped the scales at a mere 730kg, but know which one you’d rather be in, especially when the chips are down.
Bob Field, Toyota New Zealand’s chief executive, reckons the latest Corolla represents twice the value proposition of the first model.
The price has gone from a trifling $2000 to $31,000, but the typical New Zealander needs only 37 weeks’ wages to buy the 2007 car compared with 60 weeks in 1969.
That’s despite the Kiwi dollar being worth between 84 and 88 Yen today against a much weaker 400 Yen in the late 1960s.
Odious comparisons, perhaps, but a clear sign of how much the motor industry has changed. In its first year, Toyota sold 695 Corollas in New Zealand, representing a market share of 2.5 percent. Sales increased to 9817 in the best year (1988) when the Corolla took a remarkable 13.8 percent of the total new car market.
Since then competition has become tougher for Toyota’s mainstream model, but the new car is expected to sell around 5200 units for the year, for a market share of just under seven percent.
At 4220mm, the new hatch is 45mm longer than before, while the newcomer is 45mm higher and 65mm wider. Meanwhile, the sedan looks a much bigger car and its 4540mm length is an increase of 175mm.
They are quite different cars, with the high-waisted, underwhelming sedan styling being largely anonymous. Indeed, the sedan shares no body panels with the hatch.
The dark grey GX sedan we evaluated could easily have been an anonymous-looking Japanese used import, especially on the steel wheels and budget wheel trims.
Though the Euro-inspired hatch is 1535mm high, the sedan measures only 1475mm and has much longer body over-hangs.
Inside, the sedan is more conservative than the hatch, although both have excellent seating front and rear, with good lumbar support.
A whiplash lessening seat design reduces the chance of neck injuries in a collision. The flat rear floor is a bonus, and a neat fold-forward arrangement for both rear seat squab and backrest provide an almost-flat load floor.
Less impressive are the hard plastics used for the dashboard, although the hatch uses a different texture that looks marginally better.
The Hatch also has different instrumentation and the large “bridge” console stretching from the lower centre of the facia to the area between the front seats.
The bridge makes the cabin feel narrower and more confined – and prevents occupants from sliding from one front seat to another when a tight entry or exit is needed.
We preferred the conventional handbrake on the sedan to the bright-finish lever on the hatch which is set at an awkward angle for leverage and the chrome release catch is fiddly to operate.
All versions come with a multi-information display providing data on temperature, average speed, fuel consumption and driving range.
The car has been beefed up and is stronger. This is, for example, the first Corolla to have five-stud wheel fixings. Although the 1.8-litre engine increases by a mere 4cc to 1798cc, peak output of 100kW at 6000rpm compares with 93kW on the outgoing car.
The all-new 2ZR-FE 16-valve engine’s peak torque also increases by 14Nm to 175Nm at a high-ish 4400 revs.
Not surprisingly, there are twin overhead camshafts and dual variable valve timing, and both block and cylinder head are alloy.
Though the hatch and sedan are Aussie ADR specs, the station wagon is essentially a Japanese market version with the 1.5-litre 2ZR-FE dual variable valve timing engine.
On an initial drive evaluation in the Manawatu, the new Corollas felt trim, well balanced and refined. The 1.8 engines are remarkably smooth and quiet, and the manual six-speed gearbox is crisp and positive. Wagons will have a five-speed manual transmission.
Gearing in the auto is slightly higher, allowing the clutchless versions to cruise at 100km/h with the engine spinning at 2500rpm.
Although some may lament the lack of a five-speed auto, Toyota reckons four-stage units as fitted to new Corolla are typical on 80 percent of the class, and a fifth speed wasn’t deemed necessary.
Certainly the electronically-controlled auto is smooth and responsive – and it’s this transmission that will be the favourite for most buyers.
Ride quality is firm and well-controlled, with little difference between the 195/65R15s on lower grade models and the lower profile 205/55R16-inch tyres on the others.
Suspension is conventional, with MacPherson struts and roll bar up front complemented by a torsion beam arrangement at the rear. The new engine-speed-sensitive electric power steering offers good weighting and a reasonable amount of feedback.
Although electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist that operate in conjunction with the ABS braking are standard across the range, there is no stability control, and nor is it an option.
Fuel consumption is lower and CO2 emissions cleaner on the sedan models, according to the ADR tests. The GX manual sedan returns 7.3 litres/100km in the combined cycle and the automatic is almost as good at 7.4 litres/100km. The wagon produces the lowest CO2 emissions at 135g/km, compared with 172g/km for the manual 1.8 sedan and 173g/km for the auto.
Toyota offers a range of diesel engines in the Corolla, but there’s no diesel for New Zealand. The New Zealand company says it is discussing diesel across the Toyota range, including RAV4 and Yaris.
Local launching has been brought forward several weeks because the old model ran out faster than expected. A shortage of outgoing Corollas also had the effect of reducing Toyota’s passenger car volume in recent months, so the make’s first quarter total sales were virtually the same as the January-March period last year.