You might think it odd that the new Corolla wagon was launched in New Zealand several months ahead of the hatchback.
It’s hardly the ideal way to whip up massive enthusiasm for the 2013 Corolla: the wagon is a modest-looking little thing, a functionally compact load-carrier aimed exclusively at business buyers.
There’s a reason: as with the model it replaces, the wagon is only partly a Corolla as we know it and Toyota New Zealand simply wanted to get it on the road as early as possible.
The wagon is a Japanese domestic-market model that’s only sold in one other country – this one – and to be honest I’m not really sure what it shares with the all-new Corolla hatchback apart from a badge.
Granted, since I’m here supposedly telling you all about it I should know. But in my defense, nobody at Toyota New Zealand (TNZ) seems to know much about it either. I was at the launch of the Corolla hatchback last week and asked a few pointed questions about the wagon.
I’d been told by a colleague it was based on the Yaris platform; nobody present from the TNZ executive team seemed to think that was the case. But they also admitted it wasn’t necessarily a direct spinoff from the new hatchback. The best I could get was that it probably carries over quite a bit from the previous Corolla wagon and that “we’re really glad we could get it”.
Fair enough. TNZ expects to sell 800 Corolla wagons next year, so it’s a good score. It also corrects a couple of major deficiencies in the old one, which did not have a stability control system and was fitted with a lap-only belt in the centre-rear seating position. This new car was the proper safety software and five proper seatbelts.
It does ride on the same 2600mm wheelbase as the new Corolla hatchback and it is a little longer overall. As you’d expect, the major gains are in the load compartment: 1120 litres versus 872. The load length is also much greater in the wagon thanks to some extra overhang: 2025mm versus 1372mm with the seats down.
What the wagon lacks is style (obviously) and power. Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre petrol with 80kW and 138Nm in manual form, or 136Nm as the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) automatic tested.
So it’s not quick (0-100km/h 13.2 seconds) and with CVT it’s not a lot of fun, but it will look good on the balance sheet: at $32,490 it’s the cheapest Corolla you can buy and at Combined fuel consumption of 5.1 litres per 100km (the manual is actually more thirsty at 5.7l) it’s also the most economical.
For what it’s worth, I reckon there’s at least some new Corolla hatchback under there because the wagon is surprisingly good in the corners. The steering is devoid of feel but the chassis is competent enough.
The CVT also seems to share some characteristics with that fitted to the new hatchback: in particular, under heavy acceleration it works hard to match engine speed to road speed, rather than revving furiously like many CVTs. That’s both a blessing and a curse, because it avoids the cacophony of engine noise that might otherwise occur, but it does also rely on plenty of torque from the engine on uphill stretches as the CVT tries to hold station. That’s torque this tiny powerplant simply doesn’t have.
Inside, the wagon has similar styling themes to the Corolla hatchback, including a wide, gently curving dashboard that seems to say ‘big car’. Although it’s not, obviously.
However, save basic switchgear there’s nothing carried over from hatch to wagon. Or wagon to hatch, if that’s the way you want to look at it.
So the wagon is what it is. And with the emergence of a Corolla Tourer in Europe (well, it’s called an Auris Tourer over there) that picks up all the styling themes and equipment of the hatchback, it obvious that what our Corolla wagon is supposed to be is a small white box that benefits fleet business. It certainly does that.