Could an entry-level Toyota Corolla possibly be any fun? Actually, yes it could. Read on to find out how.
Base price: $33,490 (manual) or $34,990 (CVT).
Powertrain and performance: 1.8-litre petrol four, 103kW173Nm, continuously variable transmission, front-drive, Combined economy 7.0/6.6 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4620mm long, 1460mm high, 2700mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 470 litres, fuel tank 55 litres, 15-inch steel wheels on 195/65 tyres.
We like: Completely unpretentious, spacious, comes to life with a manual transmission.
We don’t like: Interior is dowdy in places, small load-through area from boot.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? This is motoring at its most generic: an entry-level Toyota Corolla, resplendent in grey with plastic wheeltrims.
It’s not even the more stylish hatchback model: our test car is the new sedan version, which is not only more conservative-looking but also 345mm longer overall, which makes for a much more grown-up machine. In attitude, it’s more like a shrunken mid-sizer than a small-car.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? You’ve driven one Corolla sedan, you’ve driven them all: an unkind but mostly true statement, since all share the same 1.8-litre powerplant, continuously variable transmission technology and basic chassis setup. They vary only in weight and wheel size.
However, the entry-level GX is the exception because it’s the sole version also available with a manual gearbox.
Go figure: the base Corolla is the fastest and potentially most entertaining to drive.
Three-pedal transmissions are largely unwanted in the mainstream market in New Zealand of course, but makers like Toyota keep a few on the books because they need price-leading models and there is still demand from rental fleets, due to overseas visitors from countries where manual gearboxes are not considered anathema.
The six-speed manual transforms the Corolla from appliance to a more engaging (excuse the pun) experience: it’s crisp and also breathes some life into what is otherwise an adequate but unexceptional powerplant.
The manual is slightly faster to 100km/h but also slightly more thirsty than the CVT. Speaking of which, the CVT is as smooth around town and under light throttle as you’d expect, but does being to grate when you’re aggressive with the go-pedal – despite software intended to prevent the over-revving that’s often characteristic of CVTs.
The Corolla is a capable car in the corners in hatchback form and no less so as a sedan. Better-riding too, since there’s an extra 100mm in the wheelbase. Although the GX’s modest 15-inch wheels, with relatively tall 65-series tyres, also help the comfort cause.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The Corolla sedan is a surprisingly spacious machine – at least by small-car standards, with generous legroom front and (especially) rear. The cabin styling is familiar from the Corolla hatchback and you certainly couldn’t say it’s sparse, with a 6.1-inch touch screen and reversing camera standard on all Corolla sedans.
The interior certainly aims at a big-car feel. There’s nothing intimate about the driving environment, with the dashboard stretching away from the driver rather than wrapping around.
It’s every bit the practical sedan, with a massive 470-litre boot – larger than many mid-sizers and rivalling some six-cylinder sedans. Toyota claims it will take four full-size golf bags, which is handy if that’s your benchmark for load-carrying.
Shame the load-though with the seats folded down is small, though. The bulkhead seems to intrude quite a bit, which will limit the width (if not the length) of your potential cargo.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? Corolla is kind of the default car for New Zealand. All things to all people. In that context, the new sedan does everything you could possibly ask of it and you have to admire that. It doesn’t push any boundaries but it doesn’t put a foot wrong either.
With that in mind, it’s easy to argue that the best Corolla is an entry-level Corolla. In the context of the GX sedan, when you throw the six-speed manual transmission into the frame it’s a fact.
- Air conditioning: Manual
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: No
- Blind spot warning: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: No
- Keyless entry/start: No
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: No
- Parking radar: Rear camera
- Power boot or tailgate: No
- Power seat adjustment/memory: No
- Rear ventilation outlets: No
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: No
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: No
- Trip computer: Yes
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