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Toyota Corolla Levin ZR

 

The latest flagship Levin ZR model aims to take the Toyota Corolla from staid to snazzy. Does it succeed?

Base price: $37,390.

Powertrain and performance: 1.8-litre petrol four, 103kW/173Nm, continuously variable transmission, front-drive, Combined economy 6.1 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4330mm long, 1475mm high, 2600mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 360 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/45 tyres.

We like: Stylish new face, revamped transmission, extra equipment.

We don’t like: Same old engine, needs more active safety equipment.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Toyota Corolla is one of those cars whose everyman nature is both a blessing and a curse. Sheer familiarity and a reputation for reliability makes it a top seller and the default choice for many family and business buyers, but that also makes it seem a bit dull to those looking for something a bit more special in their family hatchback.

Toyota has spent years trying to make the Corolla more interesting to buyers wanting something more than mere A-to-B transport, with variable levels of success. In the latest generation, it split the Corolla range into two: the mainstream models and a more dressy Levin series, with unique styling addenda and extra equipment.

This year’s Corolla facelift has put even more space between the two Corolla families. The styling changes are no longer addenda – each model series has a different face. The mainstream versions pick up the frontal styling of the European incarnation of the Corolla called the Auris, while the Levin gets the look of the American-market Scion.

There are still two Levin models. Here, we test the flagship Levin ZR.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The bad news is that the new Corolla is still powered by the same old 1.8-litre engine, with modest power outputs and not much character. There has been some progress made in efficiency, with fuel economy improved by six percent to 6.1 litres per 100km.

The good news is that Toyota has further improved the Corolla’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). In its previous incarnation, it was middle of the road in terms of responsiveness and the ability to deliver brisk acceleration without the high-rev flaring often associated with CVT.

Under hard acceleration or when the engine gets near the redline, the Corolla CVT now steps down to emulate the gearchanging of a conventional automatic transmission.

The new Corolla also gets a Sport mode, which reverts to seven steps even in normal driving, or a pseudo-manual setting (with shift paddles) that allows you to control those steps yourself. The latter isn’t entirely convincing (it never is with CVT) but driving the Corolla in Sport mode does make it seem more like a car and less like an appliance.

Ironically, the fastest Corolla is still the cheapest one: the entry-level GX, which is the only model available with a manual transmission.

The Corolla does not have a reputation for being sporty to drive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks a good chassis. The Levin tackles corners with aplomb and the choice of footwear (17-inch alloys, 45-series tyres) strikes a good balance between ride and handling. Try it, you’ll like it.

What is missing from Corolla are some of the active safety features you find on rival models such as the Mazda3. There’s no blind-spot warning or cross-traffic alert, for example.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The latest Corolla’s idiosyncratic cabin design continues with this new model. There’s a wide expanse of dashboard and a lot of visual layering going on. It might be familiar, but it’s not dull.

The Levin has a different instrument panel to the mainstream Corollas, including a central digital display, and more emphasis on glossy trim finish. The seven-inch touch-screen for information and entertainment functions still looks a little aftermarket, but it does feature satellite navigation with Suna traffic alerts in the ZR model. The Bluetooth connection can also handle audio streaming and text messages.

There’s genuine leather on the seat facings but there’s a synthetic material in the places you’re less likely to touch, including the side bolsters and gearlever boot.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? As an attempt to make a populist car ‘pop’ a bit more, the Corolla Levin ZR has its moments. At the end of the day it’s still a Corolla, with all the positives and negatives that brings.

But the Levin ZR looks striking, is decent to drive and well-equipped.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Parking radar: Yes with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Partial/No
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40


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