Toyota Corolla

More of what matters to the mainstream

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IN ALL of its 11 forms over 48 years, there has never been a bad version of the Corolla. While at worst several have been dull, or sluggish, or cramped (and occasionally all at once), they’re occasionally all at once), they’re always dependable.

However, more dynamically rounded and refined rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Mazda 3 have long been tastier.

Alongside these cars, the Toyota seems more workaday healthy takeaway than weekend gourmet lunch. And while that was always okay when the Toyota was priced accordingly, nowadays even that gap is negligible.

Enter the Series II hatch facelift.

A sleeker nose and tail-light design, remodelled dash with better and brighter materials, updated touchscreen multimedia with standard reversing camera, and restyled instruments attempt to titivate the Corolla visually.

Underlining this model’s Euro focus, retuned steering and suspension tweaks promise improved handling and a suppler, quieter ride, while fuel consumption drops in the newly more efficient CVT autos.

The unchanged 103kW 1.8-litre twin-cam unit is surprisingly effective around town, bringing eager yet conspicuously smooth off-the-line acceleration, backed up by strong on-the-go responses, with flaring normally associated with CVTs thankfully contained.

It’s easy to understand why many Corolla sales are sealed after a brief test drive.

Likewise, at lower speeds the revised steering remains light and eager (though still lacking proper feedback), yet now feels weightier at higher velocities for more involving handling than we had expected.

The no-more-powerful ZR flagship (wearing fine Michelin Primacy 215/45R17 rubber) has impressive body control to remain especially flat and predictable through the corners.

But, when extended, that old 2ZR-FE engine defaults to its loud and strained ways. The ZR’s ride also takes a turn for the worse on bumpier roads, and tyre roar over coarse bitumen can obliterate the peace. A Golf or 308 seem miles quieter and more refined.

That’s why the pick of the range is probably the $20,790 Ascent Sport, since it packs sufficient kit – seven airbags, cruise control, fog lights, voice control, leather wheel, privacy glass, alloys, and a far nicer touchscreen interface with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming – without the Orwellian fleet-car ambience of the only- $1K-cheaper Ascent opener.

So that’s the state of play for Australia’s best-selling car.

Sharper to look at, sit in and drive, the middle-of-the-pack Corolla is now treading water more effectively than ever. lly

PLUS & MINUS

Firm ride; engine harsh at higher revs; drab interior plastics Design; ease of use; practicality; durability; reliability; resale Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Toyota Corolla ZR 1798cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v 103kW @ 6400rpm 173Nm @ 4000rpm CVT automatic 1275kg 10.5sec (estimated) 6.1L/100km $28,990 Now

Lil’ Lex?

AT $28,990, the latest Corolla ZR hatch is a veritable little Lexus, brandishing (supportive) heated sports leather front seats with electric lumbar adjustment, keyless entry/start, sat-nav, heated and electrically foldable mirrors, all-auto one-touch power windows (in a Corolla!), classy dual-zone climate control toggles, and LED headlights with LED daytime running lights. Beware of the $1500 headroom-stealing full-length glass roof option, however.