2018 Toyota Corolla Review
Dan DeGasperi’s 2018 Toyota Corolla Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The all-new 12th-generation Corolla promises to become a new type of Toyota – with expectations of an upmarket cabin and fun-to-drive feel combining with class-leading active safety and benchmark efficiency on paper, plus a fine legacy of quality and reliability.
2018 Toyota Corolla Specifications
Price $22,870-$31,870+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety TBC Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol or 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol+electric motor Power 125kW at 6600rpm or 90kW petrol+electric motor Torque 200Nm at 4400-4600rpm or 142Nm at 3600rpm petrol+163Nm electric motor Transmission six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4375mm (L) 1790mm (W) 1435mm (H) 2640mm (WB) Seats Five Boot Space 217-330 litres Weight 1320-1420kg Towing TBC Fuel Tank 43-50 litres Thirst 4.2-6.3L/100km claimed combined
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TOYOTA has made heavy promises with Corolla generations past, let’s say it from the start. Even just after Sydney concluded its Olympic games – almost 18 years ago to the day – the then-new small hatch was advertised with the tagline ‘Corolla by name – not by nature’.
The inference was, even back then, that recent Corollas were boring but this new one would finally be fun to drive. And now, after a teenager’s lifetime of that promise having not being realised, the same pledge is being made yet again.
This time, though, Toyota has produced its small car off the same platform that underpins the genuinely fun C-HR small SUV. And on-paper it brings class-benchmark active safety technology and fuel efficiency to the party.
If it can also add a fun-to-drive feel with a hard-earned reputation for quality and reliability, then perhaps it could be a case of Corolla by name – class leader by nature.
What’s in the range and what does it cost?
Six years ago Australia’s favourite small car launched at $19,990 plus on-road costs. Now, that entry-level Corolla Ascent has been dropped, with Toyota refusing to challenge the sub-$23K Holden Astra R, Honda Civic VTi, Hyundai i30 Go and Mazda3 Neo Sport.
It will instead now tackle the R+, VTi-S, Active Safety Pack and Maxx Sport versions respectively, plus the circa-$25K Subaru Impreza 2.0i and Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Trendline, with its new base Ascent Sport priced between $22,870 (manual) and $24,370 (auto) +ORC.
Exclusively among those rivals, automatic on/off headlights with auto up/down high-beam, active cruise control, lane-keep assistance and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection are standard, a decision which deserves major applause. The five-door hatchback (a new-generation four-door sedan is at least a year away) then moves to the $25,870+ORC Ascent Sport hybrid, which can claim benchmark fuel efficiency of 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres, while together the base trio will snare 60 per cent of sales.
Another 30 per cent of buyers will upgrade to the Corolla SX ($26,870+ORC petrol/$28,370+ORC hybrid) while the remaining 10 per cent will move to the Corolla ZR ($30,370+ORC petrol/$31,870+ORC hybrid), all of which are available with auto only. And the petrol-to-hybrid split is expected to run at an 80:20 ratio.
What’s the space and practicality like?
Both the Ascent Sport and SX lack rear-seat air vents and share hard front-door/lower-console plastics, whereas the ZR includes back vents and gets nicer soft-touch trim in those areas. Curiously, too, the Ascent Sport gets a full-sized alloy spare wheel whereas all others except one get a space saver that, either way, curbs boot space to a worst-in-class 217 litres. Only the ZR hybrid gets a tyre repair kit, lowering the boot floor to reveal 330L – but an i30 claims 395L and a Golf claims 380L. Despite a longer body, the Corolla has among the least rear legroom in the class, although seat comfort and headroom are impressive.
With those curios and downsides out of the way, however, in all other respects this Toyota thrusts itself towards the top of the class, especially in terms of front-passenger comfort and dashboard quality. A lower driving position teams well with terrific seat support, ergonomically everything is in its place, the buttons are tactile, the dash trim plush, and storage space is as good as anything around. Little niceties such as auto up/down windows and vanity mirror lights reveal a nice attention to detail, although the Ascent Sport’s plastic steering wheel is a dud note, especially when the hybrid costs $25,370+ORC. Ouch.
A leather-wrapped wheel makes the $2500 jump from Ascent Sport to Corolla SX worthwhile, with the infotainment upgrade, blind-spot monitor, dual-zone climate control and keyless auto-entry (although the latter two are added to the base hybrid) arriving too. The $3500 stretch from SX to Corolla ZR brings a colour head-up display, eight-speaker JBL audio, part-leather/Alcantara trim and heated front seats, but electric seat adjustment and a sunroof are oddly no longer available.
What are the infotainment and controls like?
The Corolla plays a game of two halves inside, and that’s not just a front-to-rear split. Even the Ascent Sport gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, but it lacks Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring now standard in every rival. It will be coming at some point in the future, Toyota claims, but for now it leaves base-model buyers with a barren interface lacking the satellite navigation, digital radio and wireless charging of SX/ZR.
What’s the performance like?
The new 2.0-litre direct injected four-cylinder also feels immediately sprightly, whether mated with the slick six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT), which gets a world-first addition of a fixed mechanical first gear like a regular auto – it means taking off from a set of lights is feels tight and direct, not doughy. And yet a driver then gets all the economy benefits of a CVT above take-off speed. Incidentally we saw 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres through countryside, versus hybrid’s 6.4L/100km.
That electric motor and 1.8-litre four-cylinder combination’s biggest advantage, other than urban consumption where it can most dramatically cut fuel use, is in terms of refinement. The 2.0-litre is rev-happy, but also loud, and it teams with significant coarse-chip road roar to make the petrol Corolla one of the noisiest-in-class. We wish Toyota had fitted the sweeter 1.2-litre turbo petrol from the C-HR, even if with 85kW (versus 125kW) it might be slower. The hybrid is also a lot smoother, but with only 90kW it is still slow, especially up hills – and for the Ascent Sport that’s okay, but anything costlier and it feels average.
What’s it like on the road?
In overall terms the Corolla takes one small step ahead inside (balancing a big quality improvement with a reduction in rear space), but it takes one giant leap forward on-road.
The new Toyota’s steering is excellent, being pleasantly resistance-free and unwaveringly accurate. And whether on 16-inch tyres, or ZR’s 18s, ride comfort strikes a terrific balance between neat plushness and tight control – up there with Astra and Golf dynamic leaders.
Perhaps even more astounding is the fact that the multi-link rear suspension (as per Volkswagen and Honda’s Civic) helps the handling remain poised at all times. Even wearing modest Dunlop Enasave tyres, an Ascent Sport feels planted and faithful everywhere, always balanced and occasionally sharp, backed by a subtle electronic stability control (ESC).
What about ownership?
Toyota’s three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty is sub-par these days, and there’s no included roadside assistance. Servicing is cheap, however. Annual or 15,000km intervals meet expectations, while the first five check-ups ask a capped-price $175 each.
What about safety features?
In a word, brilliant. The only exceptions are a blind-spot monitor reserved for the SX and ZR, and the fact the active lane-keep assistance doesn’t keep you lane centred – but rather it nudges the steering wheel abruptly when lane wander occurs.
Otherwise, full AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, plus active cruise control, and speed sign recognition that works a treat – the camera scans for red circles with digits inside them, to then display the limit on the trip computer screen – all makes for a great package.