It may smack of rep-mobiles and fleet deals, but Toyota's bare-basics wagon also makes a reasonable family runabout, as I discovered this past weekend
I'd just hopped out of Suzuki's 2wd SX4, and had enjoyed all the bells and whistles it boasts; the keyless start, the steering wheel operated cruise control. And my youngest passenger had liked the big glasshouse which improved her view out. But I hadn't approved the limited boots space.
In contrast, this Corolla lacks not only fruit, but a few features nowadays expected as standard. For example, these wheels are steel; there's no cruise control, no vanity mirrors; and though ABS brakes are fitted, stability control is not; a disappointing omission - particularly given passengers are otherwise well protected, the six airbags including curtains that extend to cover both seat rows. Toyota says ESP is not available with the wagon; it'd take it if it were.
However, where the Corolla does win out is in terms of interior space. It's longer than the Suzuki and much of the extra length goes into the boot. Like the rest of the car it's plainly finished but functional; so there are tie-down loops, there's a tonneau cover and boot light - plus a lever on each side that when pulled, flips the seat base up, the back down, and extends the flat load floor. Couldn't be simpler.
Up front the seats are comfy, though the velour attracts fluff; and the simple radio and air-con are well within reach.
There's a 81kW/140Nm 1.5-litre petrol engine fitted to this car, mated to a CVT auto transmission. The pairing works well enough when you're cruising, but the engine sounds coarse under acceleration. And I'd have liked the CVT Suzuki's six manual gear-change points. The Toyota allows only 'sport' and 'b' for engine braking. It works okay - this isn't a sports car, after all - but does rather underline this car's budget rep-mobile focus.
Still, it handles well and ride is compliant over both small hits and large. It's frugal enough - the simple multi-function trip showing a 7.9l/100km thirst; well above the 5.4 claim, but hardly gluttonous. And it proved an able companion over a very busy weekend in which we filled the boot more than once, and used the full array of cubbies and hidey-holes - including the iPod/cell phone slot by front-occupants' knees.
In brief, the Corolla wagon is built to do a job, and do it well but without fuss, from its simple design to its limited features list.
Other than the ESP, the only real complaint I had was the $31,150 price; that's over two grand more than the better-specced Suzuki, justified by little more than space.