Corolla’s fighback needs a bigger bang
The 11th generation Corolla looks good, and is roomy and fuel efficient, but it needs more pep in its step
Date Reviewed: October 2, 2013
For nearly half a century the names Toyota and Corolla have been synonymous in the Irish motoring mindset. Just as Tayto means cheese and onion and HB means vanilla, so Toyota has meant the lads with the Corolla.
That’s hardly surprising given that it’s the model that has put the car-maker on the map, with 40 million global sales over its last 10 generations. It might not be sold in some of the major European markets these days, but it’s still dominant in more than 150 countries and built in 16 locations globally.
So to its latest guise: generation 11. According to Toyota’s chief engineer, this car follows the philosophy set forth for the first generation 47 years ago: to bring “happiness and well-being to people around the world”. It’s hard to attribute any strong sense of global well-being or happiness over the last 50 years to the Corolla, but it has been a steady background feature to Irish life for nearly 50 years. Many 1980s shopping centre car parks would have been bereft of cars if they had taken the Corollas off our roads.
The problem is that, of the last 10 generations, you would be hard-pushed to remember more than three different varieties of a model that has – rightly or wrongly – earned a reputation as relatively bland motoring fare. While it’s a firm favourite amongst Irish car buyers, it’s a car that symbolises our nation’s motoring apathy rather than our motoring passion. Buyers are emotional about the fact that it’s their new car; it’s generally very reliable and it’s fundamentally sound. But few hearts skip a beat at the mention of its name or the sight of one on the road.
In this latest iteration Toyota is trying to put a little more life into the Corolla’s package, and in many ways it delivers. It’s a handsome, if slightly indistinct, exterior that greets you, and there are some smart touches up front that give it a proper saloon look and feel. It’s more than simply an Auris with a boot. With the curved bonnet and creases and the wide front nose, this is the best-looking Corolla in saloon format Toyota has built, though that’s not the panegyric it may seem.
Get inside the Corolla and it’s hard to fault the latest offering. The fit and finish is much improved on previous versions; the controls are largely the same as before, but there have been improvements – not least to the Toyota touchscreen system that features in the range-topping Luna version. Rear legroom has once more improved and it shows. Family buyers will have no problem fitting two or three gangly teens into the back of this, while the boot, at 452 litres, is right up there with several fully fledged family saloons with price tags closer to €40,000. With Toyota fighting tooth and nail against the VW Group’s portfolio of brands, the Corolla is a very useful weapon against the onslaught of Skoda saloons on our roads.
So, from the initial approach to the interior tour, this Corolla seems to deliver. Sadly, that’s largely where the positives start to run out of steam. The Corolla shows that it’s not a fully fledged family saloon when you get under the bonnet. The 1.4-litre diesel is a good engine, but it’s asking a lot of it to heave a car this size along at anything resembling a racy pace. The official time from standing to 100km/h tells its own tale: 12.5 seconds is low down the performance ranks, even in the regular family car class. It is fine around town and in traffic, but out on the open road there’s not much pep in its step.
In fairness the trade-off is an impressive fuel economy, with Toyota claiming an official combined figure of 3.9 litres/100km or 72.4 mpg in old money. Even if you don’t manage to hit that figure you should still be achieving over 50mpg, which is impressive in any test. However, load the car with a few passengers and it will start to drop.
For all the new metal up top, the underpinnings of the latest Corolla have not changed significantly. This car is built on roughly the same platform as the previous version, albeit with revision to its suspension set-up. That means more evolution than revolution at a time when the Corolla really needs to offer something over and above its rivals other than a nameplate that’s well known through the last few decades.
The steering and handling are sedate, if not inspiring, but one of the bugbears of our time with the car was the amount of road noise that intrudes into the cabin at motorway speeds. When you have to reach for the volume button because you’ve sped up, it suggests a little more work on cabin soundproofing would not go amiss.
When pitted against its predecessors you can certainly see that Toyota is trying much harder with this car. It looks much better, feels much better inside and really delivers when it comes to family practicalities such as cabin and boot space. Spend the extra €3,500 on the Luna version against the entry-level Terra, and you also get a car that boasts an impressive level of gadgetry, enough to suggest that the Luna is the one to opt for if you have the chance.
The problem is that it’s up against some stiff competition, at the value end from the likes of the Renault Fluence, and at the upper end from the likes of the Ford Focus saloon, particularly with its really impressive 1-litre petrol engine. Meanwhile, its arch-rival, the Skoda Octavia, has become as common a sight on Irish roads as the Corolla was 15 years ago.
Toyota really needed to come up with something special here to fend off a host of rivals, and while it certainly improves on what was there before, it doesn’t get more than a front bumper ahead.
1,364cc diesel engine putting out 90bhp @ 3,800rpm and 205Nm of torque from 1,800rpm
0-100km/h: 12.5 seconds
L/100km (mpg): 3.9 (72.4)
Entry Terra version: 7 airbags including driver’s knee airbag; vehicle stability control; tyre pressure warning system; LED daytime running lights; electric windows; 15in steel wheels; radio/CD with 6 speakers; USB connection; stop/start tech on 1.4 D-4D. Aura version adds: air-con; 16in alloys; Bluetooth phone and music; leather steering wheel. Luna adds: Toyota’s Touch 2 multimedia system with 6.1-inch colour touchscreen; rearview camera; front fog lamps.
€24,550 as tested (starts at €20,995)
Smarter stying, better finish, but still not enough to stand out from the competition