Toyota’s reborn Corolla hatch – now properly good to drive – has a sedan version. Does the hatch’s dynamic flair carry over?
In days gone by – well, at least the last three decades – Corolla did not spark joy. Every now and again Toyota would try, with sporty version that maybe had some scandalously…okay, slightly stiffer dampers and maybe poxy spoiler.
And who could forget the two Corolla ads in 1999 that were slightly…uh…optimistic about the car’s sexiness. The last interesting Corolla was the SX/GTi with a mighty 100kW, and that’s getting on three decades ago.
The sedan, however, has never been particularly cool. And it still isn’t, obviously. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it, because sometimes you just need a boot on a car that’s alright to drive.
How much is a Toyota Corolla SX Sedan and what do I get?
Corolla SX CVT: $28,235 + ORC
The SX is the second step in the Corolla pantheon, with a 1.8-litre Ascent Sport manual and auto a few grand cheaper (and, presumably, quite bare-bones).
On the SX get 16-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry, cruise control, sat nav, LED headlights, keyless entry and start, powered and heated door mirrors, power windows, cloth interior and a full-size spare alloy.
Not amazing, not terrible.
Not amazing and actually terrible is the standard Toyota touchscreen software. The hardware performs well but the screen itself is low-res and the colours are all washed out. The big improvement that had been forever coming was the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which fix almost all of the system’s problems. So Corolla now has 21st-century cabin tech to go with the brand new platform.
There is just one option – you can add DAB+ digital radio and sat nav for $1000, which seems a bit stiff.
The only free colour is, predictably, Glacier White. The rest are $500 for Ink (black), Lunar Blue, Saturn Blue, Celestite Grey, Volcanic Red, Wildfire (another red), Silver Pearl and Crystal Pearl.
Safety – 5 stars (ANCAP, November 2019)
The Corolla ships with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction control, forward AEB and forward collision warning, auto high beam, reverse cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning.
You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors for child or baby seats.
Warranty and Servicing
5 years/unlimited km (+2 years engine and gearbox)
Capped price servicing – 48 months/60,000km
Toyota’s legendary reliability is probably what kept the company from joining the five-year crowd, but they’re there now and that’s what’s important.
What had always been handy with Toyota was the bargain service pricing. The first four services are capped at $180 per service, meaning four years only costs $720, as long as you’re doing less than 15,000km per year.
Keep servicing with Toyota (and why wouldn’t you for that price) and you’ll get two more years warranty on the engine and transmission.
Look and feel
Look, there’s a pair of funky headlights and then it all goes hyper-dull. It’s not a curious move for Toyota – they’ve been doing it for well over two decades – but the Mazda3 sedan is now considerably duller than the hatch.
The Corolla is perfectly inoffensive, nicely proportioned and absolutely nothing stands out down here in the Ascent Sport. Couldn’t be duller, but it’s not ugly. The hatch is hardly avant-garde, but it is at least attractive.
You could say the same for the interior. The cloth trim is perfectly fine and seems hardy. Given a lot of these cars end up in fleets, that’s entirely unsurprising and comforting for owners.
It’s quite roomy too, which you can see from the interior photos I got. The front seats are cleverly-shaped to maximise knee room. And, as is now a habit for small Toyotas, the front seats are as good to sit in as they are to look at.
It’s not colourful, it’s not wild, but it’s well-built and fits in the Toyota oeuvre without causing trouble.
There is plenty of storage, with the obvious jump in cargo space from the hatch’s ho-hum boot to 477 litres. Drop the seats and there’s a probable tripling of space (Toyota does not offer an official figure).
Front and rear rows of seats score a pair of cupholders each, there’s a useful but small centre console (with sliding armrest) and a wireless charging pad for your phone. Each door will take a small bottle.
Chassis and Drivetrain
Toyota fits the tried and true naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder M20A-FKS for 125kW at 6600rpm and 200Nm between 4400 and 4800rpm. And as always, it’s front-wheel drive and the power gets there via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
I don’t like CVTs. I used to absolutely hate them, but Toyota and Honda have worked hard to make them less crap. I still don’t like them, but they get in the way less in a Toyota than, say, a Subaru.
There’s nothing remarkable about the chassis except that it rolls on the bang up to date but too-heavy TNGA. The Corolla weighs almost as much as 3 Series.
The 16-inch wheels have 205/55 Bridgestone Ecopia rubber. You can’t win them all.
Corolla has never been the last word in driving dynamics. Until recently, my experience with Toyota’s small hatch has meant skinny tyres, mushy-but-comfy ride and chronic understeer.
The last version of the Corolla on the previous platform felt old. Dead steering and not a drop of soul. Nothing. Naturally, most buyers didn’t care because they were either fleet accountants who liked the fact they got them cheap, they were affordable to run and had good residuals.
I really didn’t like it at all.
The TNGA Corolla, which I first drove eighteen months ago, was good, even if it was the slow hybrid. I was very impressed that it had equally good ride and handling. It looked good. It was almost fun.
Want to know something? The sedan isn’t all that much fun, but it’s still good. The sedan has traditionally not been an excitement machine with a mix of a doughy CVT (the 10-speed paddle-shift function is largely pointless) and the weight blunting the torque.
The CVT does a good job of making the most of the 200Nm, but it’s more to keep things moving than to provide any thrills.
The Corolla sedan is lovely and quiet, though. Everything is within easy reach, the controls all feel really good and it’s an insulating experience the like of which you only found in very expensive (or very large) cars not that long ago.
The Ecopia tyres don’t do the handy chassis any favours, either, but that’s the same on any car they’re on.
There’s lots, so I’ll keep this brief. You can have a Suzuki Baleno but you’ll probably die of boredom and it costs a lot to service.
The Subaru Impreza has a terrible CVT and isn’t especially good value when compared to the Corolla. It has a slightly better head unit, though, and is slightly roomier and even more solid-feeling. The extra cost does go on all-wheel drive, so that’s something. And it’s, uh, challenging to look at.
The Hyundai Elantra is heading for a(nother) facelift and for this kind of money you can have an i30 Hatch N-Line, which is a very good car indeed. Strong warranty, good capped-price servicing and it’s better to drive with a proper six-speed automatic.
The Kia Cerato Sport is cheaper than any of them and despite feeling a bit on the old side, looks pretty good if you like the back end it seems to share with a BMW X6. Hammer the dealer and/or spend a few more bucks and you can have the 1.6-litre GT.
I almost clean forgot about the Honda Civic VTi. That car has a ton of space inside and a very, very clever interior. Tidy handling, good warranty, Honda vibe and a half okay CVT. Only problem is there’s not much power from the gasping old 1.8, so you need to spend a few bucks and get the 1.5-litre turbo. No slower in the real world than the Corolla, though.
Oh, and it’s not very good looking.
The Corolla Sedan isn’t an excitement machine and – crucially – doesn’t pretend to be. This mild boy does everything it says on the tin, without costing too much and without sucking.
Actually, that’s damning it with faint praise, which is unfair. The new Corolla is a very good car. I’ll stick with unexciting, but it’s good to drive, not bad to look at and will most likely outlast humanity.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.