/ 2 October 2007

Toyota’s new Corolla

The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists and Wesbank could save themselves much time and money if they just declared the Toyota Corolla the Car of the Year every 12 months, because that’s the way the public votes year after year with their wallets.

Toyota South Africa has done a superb job of dominating sales, and market share here is among the best in the world, with more than 1,17-million Corollas sold in this country so far.

The cars are not considered the most exciting around, but then, you don’t buy a poodle and expect it to win the Durban July on Saturday and mow the lawn on Sunday, do you? The Corolla has always done exactly what it was intended to — provide reliable transport, keep the family safe and get you a fair chunk of your cash back when the time comes to sell it.

That’s why the car sells so well, and whenever friends ask me what vehicle to buy, I invariably point them in the direction of the Corolla. If they don’t have a preference, a car that stirs their emotions, they might as well buy with their heads.

The newest Corolla, I’m very pleased to tell you, is a car that appeals at a more primal level than pure logic dictates. It’s better looking by far than its predecessor, having lost that chunky styling, and it’s fun to drive. The car feels like a quality European offering, and even the base model is pretty well specced. Add in the traditional Toyota values of reliability, first-class back-up and good resale values, and you have a real winner.

The new Corolla — which is not, by the way, just an Auris with a boot — comes with three levels of trim, and four engines. Gone are the old GLE, GLS and GSX labels, to be replaced with Professional, Advanced and Exclusive tags. I suppose Basic, Better and Pretty Damn Good wouldn’t have gone down very well with the marketing Johnnies. Whatever you call the specification level, all three are actually very well equipped. Air con, a multifunction display, front electric windows, front and side airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, power steering, anti-whiplash seats and MP3 radio/CD players with six speakers are all included across the range, with fog lamps, cruise control, keyless entry and starting, headlamp washers, climate control, knee airbags and headlamp washers popping up as you delve deeper into your wallet.

The 10-model Corolla line-up shares a total of four hi-tech all aluminium engines, kicking off with a 1,4-litre (71kW, 130Nm) 4ZZ-FE unit, followed by 1,6-litre (91kW and 157Nm) and 1,8-litre (100kW and 175Nm) four-cylinder petrol engines.

Diesel fans will be pleased to hear that, for the first time in this country, there’s an oil-burning Corolla available — the two-litre D-4D that’s good for 93kW and 300Nm. All perform pretty well, and I was particularly impressed with the way the smallest petrol engine coped with the big body of the Corolla.

The launch was held at sea level, so the story would be a little different at power-sapping reef altitudes. There, the 1,6-litre petrol engine that delivers 91kW at the coast will produce only 75kW, which is not much more than the 71kW the 1,4 produces at sea level. The 1,4’s output will in turn drop from 70kW to 59kW in Gauteng, while the turbodiesel will deliver almost the same grunt at altitude as it does at the coast.

The new Corolla, as is often the case these days, is bigger than the outgoing model — you could have badged it as a Camry and sold it as such without quibble a few years ago. The price too has grown, unfortunately, with the cheapest in the line-up, the 1.4 Professional, retailing at a whopping R149 500, and the most expensive, the Corolla 2.0 D-4D Exclusive, wading in at R226 600. You get a fair dollop of car for your money, but there are loads of very appealing offerings from other manufacturers available for similar outlays.

It may just be because I’m a conservative old git, but I found the Corolla much more appealing than its hatchback sibling, the Auris. Although the cars share much of their technology, my gut feeling was that the Corolla is by far the best ever to bear the name, and offers better value for money than the hatchback. With Toyota’s indisputable quality and pretty well guaranteed resale values, combined with the loyal following the brand has in South Africa, the cars will doubtlessly continue to sell like hotcakes.