Motoring

2019 Toyota Corolla Drive Review – Apple CarPlay fans turn away now!

It was 1966 when Toyota’s golden boy was born, christened the Corolla. Five decades on and it’s still with us. It may not evoke a sense of emotion or giddy enthusiasm from most, but the Corolla is historically a world beater. The fact is this nameplate is the world’s best-selling car. So, when the Japanese giant releases a new clean-sheet design, it most certainly wants to get it right. Chris Bowen has taken the 2019 Toyota Corolla hatch for a decent run through Queensland’s Sunshine Coast region.

The 12thGeneration Corolla – Behind the Wheel.

With 40 million sold globally and 1.4 million locally, like all Toyota’s, the Corolla has built a reputation based on durability and reliability. But now there’s a much heavier focus on styling and technology, areas Toyota has stalled or seemed hesitant to pursue.

The 2019 Corolla has genuinely improved over its predecessor. The ride and handling package is more mature. The interior has come close to falling in line with arch rivals and it’s jam packed with standard technology that’s unrivalled.

The new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) has allowed for a car that sits 40mm lower and 30mm wider. It’s also now 45mm longer with 40mm of that being a longer wheel base. So, we have a car that’s really a completely different proporstion purely based on just dimensions.

There are three variants on offer and two engines. The Ascent Sport, SX and ZR. You can read about all this in detail in our specification article here.

But let’s start with the drive. The 125kW / 200 Nm four-cylinder petrol engine matched to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) certainly gives the car some long overdue poke. But the combo is hardly an enjoyable double act, at least for a purist. A six-speed manual was only available on the base Ascent Sport.

Acceleration is reasonably satisfying but it just doesn’t feel or sound ‘right’. This becomes more evident the more you put the boot in. That notorious CVT buzz is amplified into the cabin almost annoyingly at times. Although a new 1st launch gear does go someway to help the Corolla get off the line in a more traditional automatic kind of way.

The newly calibrated and designed steering is well weighted and leaves you with a sense of confidence when it comes to what the front wheels are doing. Standard fancy tricks such as rear brake steering certainly help mitigate understeer. On petrol models the anchors provide enough balance between stopping power and comfortable, predictable pedal feel.

The actual dynamics of the car are generally neutral and safe, I’d struggle to use the word engaging but for a Corolla it’s actually a big step forward. It has a soft edge to the ride without being ungainly. It’s actually probably the ideal sweet spot for a Corolla buyer. But for those that fancy the odd bit of fun it’s possible to still have a well set up, yet comfortable car in this category. The Hyundai i30 is a perfect example, one that benefits from a local tuning program.

There are some improvements in ride comfort although road and tyre noise seemed a little outside what I would consider a normal parameters. The interior across the three variants has evolved into a modern, sophisticated cabin. The layered dashboard and 8.0-inch floating tablet screen bring the Corolla out of what has always felt a little like a late 2000’s affair.

Moving into the 1.8-litre hybrid model sees maximum power of 72kW at 5200rpm and peak torque of 142Nm at 3600rpm. The main electric drive motor produces up to 53kW/163Nm. When all these figures are combined it’s a 90kW engine. This reveals a significantly different proposition. It felt more refined with the CVT not buzzing through the rev range anywhere near to the same degree as the 2.0-litre petrol offering. Hybrid models also seem a little more planted, perhaps the placement of the battery under the rear seats aids weight distribution.

Toyota Australia’s Sale and Marketing Chief Sean Hanley says, “no one does Hybrids better than Toyota.” That’s irrefutable and further refinement to the current Prius sourced hybrid drivetrain, including a lighter engine, new electric motors and more efficient battery, makes it a winner in my mind.

Toyota has five Hybrid models now and will roll out another five over the next 30 months. By 2025 all Toyota vehicles will have a hybrid option. So, the option of paying just $1500 for one on any of the three variants is a clear indication of what the future holds.

New Look.

The exterior is pretty radical by Toyota standards, the small crossover C-HR showed the company was finally prepared to express itself beyond traditional conventions. The new Corolla has a clamshell shaped bonnet, more vertical front end and angular but stylish bi-LED headlights. A gently rising belt line gives the profile a more modern feel while the rear end is fat, low and wide. So much so following one makes it appear almost unrecognisable. This is possibly the best looking Toyota ever.

Technology.

Central to lifting the Corolla into an increasingly tech driven space is its list of standard safety features. A pre-collision system includes pedestrian detection, day or night. While also being able to identify cyclists during daylight hours. Autonomous emergency braking with emergency brake assist is also standard across the range.

Active cruise control and lane departure alert, that will intervene if required, are also standard. The software behind the latter program is really limited to giving you the odd nudge or audible warning on very gentle curves and stretches of straight, clearly marked roads. Speed-limit sign recognition is also pretty cool at this level with cruise control able to quickly adapt to each speed zone change.

The loaded Corolla also gains automatic high beam, reversing camera, hill-start assist, seven airbags and two rear ISOFIX child safety seat anchor points. You’ll need to upgrade to the SX and ZR for a blind-spot monitor.

But there is one glaring omission, one that literally can see a buyer leave the sales floor. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. It’s available in the US but a no go here. The explanation is that it’s a head office call and perhaps it will be made available at some stage. But the question of if it could be retro fitted via a software upgrade is also a murky one. It’s truly one of the major flaws with this car, one that defies common sense.

Pricing.

Whatever way you look at it the new Corolla requires more of your hard earned to obtain. The removal of the Accent that was a forth fleet orientated model hasn’t helped. But nor has the inclusion of a vast array of standard safety kit. So really the Toyota Corolla is now prone to a lot more scrutiny in what is a seriously competitive category.

The new entry manual $22,870 petrol 2.0-litre Ascent Sport is $2780 more than before. If you want the CVT add another $1,500.  As mentioned you can also fork out an extra $1,500 to score a hybrid variant across the whole range.

The petrol SX is priced from $26,870 while the range-topper petrol ZR weighs in at $30,370 or $31,870 for the hybrid.

A couple of specific options include $1,000 for satellite navigation on the Ascent Sport, privacy glass at $1,000 across all grades and premium paint at $550.

Toyota still insist on only offering a three-year 60,000km warranty. Although the first five services at 15,000km intervals are just $175. The company doesn’t see five and seven-year unlimited warranties offered by Hyundai and Kia as an important marketing tool.

EFTM Scoreboard.

52 per cent of Corolla owners stay loyal to the brand, I can’t see that figure changing much after the next wave are done with the 2019 version. The new car may require a bit of a rethink by buyers in terms of pricing but also a better understanding of just how important class leading safety technology really is these days. The 2019 Toyota Corolla now looks fantastic, gains a long overdue interior revival and offers more power and an affordable hybrid option. It remains a foolproof kind of car to buy, but is still a little way off being a driver’s car. On the EFTM Scoreboard it’s a 7.5 / 10 from me.

Chris is EFTM’s Motoring Editor, driving everything from your entry level hatch to the latest Luxury cars through to the Rolls Royce.

He has been in the media for 20 years, produced three Olympic games broadcasts, attending Beijing 2008 & London 2012.

Strangely he owns a Toyota Camry Hybrid, he defiantly rejects the knockers.

Chris is married to Gillian and resides in Sydney’s North West. They have Sam the English Springer Spaniel and Felix the Burmese cat to keep them company, and recently welcomed baby Henry to the family.

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