Born in 1966, into its eleventh generation now, produced in 15-odd countries, the best-selling nameplate in history with over 40 million units sold in about 150 countries till date—this car is a legend. And India is no exception. Launched in the country in 2003, the Toyota Corolla, in a way, not only created the executive segment but also led it from the front. Of course, until the new Elantra and the new Octavia started giving it stiff competition. Suddenly, in a market full of such smart looking cars, the traditional design lines of the Corolla started looking dated. But, with the arrival of the all-new Corolla, things might just change for the better for the world’s favourite car.
Last week, we were invited by Toyota for a special pre-launch drive of the new Corolla, from Bangalore to nearby Nandi Hills, and here’s our impression of the car.
The new Corolla symbolises Toyota’s modern and youthful design language. Easily the most aggressive looking Corolla of all times, the front attracts you with a bold ‘T’ design theme—the way the swept back headlights merge into the front grille is sexy, the way the car carries chrome on the grille is sexier. The bonnet is huge and the sloping angle of the windscreen results in better aerodynamics. At the rear, the Corolla is Lexus-esque—the extended tail-lamps look very premium. The new car is 80 mm longer and 15 mm wider than the outgoing model. Kudos to Toyota for designing such a premium and sporty looking sedan.
Open the door and the car welcomes you with a spacious cabin and a neatly laid out dashboard. What attracts attention is a carbon-fibre lookalike plastic panel around the infotainment touchscreen, but the panel has a love-me-or-hate-me look; some may even find it gaudy. The infotainment screen makes the dashboard look neat as there are not a plethora of buttons to confuse you. The driver’s seat is powered and thus one can easily get into a preferable driving position. The top-end variant we drove gets Bluetooth connectivity, illuminated cup holders, parking camera and rain sensing wipers. The interiors are typically Toyota—functional but not overboard. But though the overall plastic quality is good, it still doesn’t match that of the Elantra or the Octavia.
The highlight of the new Corolla is the rear seating area. The rear seat-back can be reclined and that adds to comfort, and there are reading lamps that add to convenience. Because there is no intrusion from a central tunnel on the floor, the car can easily seat three. But the surprising thing is that while Toyota knows a lot of Corolla cars will be owned by chauffeur-driven customers, yet has somehow chosen not to include rear AC vents in the new model!
The new car carries forward the existing engines—the 1.8-litre dual VVT-i petrol (138 bhp) and the 1.4-litre D-4D turbocharged diesel (87 bhp). The petrol comes with the six-speed manual and the seven-speed CVT-i automatic transmission, while the diesel gets only the six-speed manual gearbox.
Brief drive: Petrol
The VVT-i engine is a smooth operator. While the manual gearbox is well engineered and the clutch pedal is relatively light to operate, the CVT-i automatic is engaging to drive. What adds to the fun is steering-mounted pedal-shifts—every tap on the shifters makes the box respond instantly. Toyota claims it has improved the automatic transmission unit and now the car’s fuel-efficiency stands at 15.74 kmpl, while the manual petrol returns 13.96 kmpl.
Brief drive: Diesel
The 1.4-litre D-4D diesel mill is definitely underpowered for a car this size. In fact, at low engine speeds, you have to be really patient with the car. But once the engine touches about 2,000 rpm and the effects of the turbocharger kicking in start to show, it moves ahead smoothly. Still, one has to be attentive especially while overtaking long vehicles on the highway and shift into a lower gear. In fact, while going up Nandi Hills near Bangalore, more often than not we had to keep the car in either the first or the second gear so that it maintains a decent speed. On the positive side, the peak torque is attained at low engine speeds and that results in good fuel-efficiency, which Toyota claims is 21.42 kmpl.
Now, let’s come to the department that is tour de force of this car. Toyota has improved the car massively as far as noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are concerned. For example, the diesel engine noise or vibrations barely enter the cabin. Similarly, the suspension, which is set on the softer side for comfort, soaks up most bumps and potholes that you encounter on Indian roads. The suspension also ensures there is minimal body-roll at the corners. Mention must be made of the redesigned front seats that cocoon your back—the result: even on harsh cornering, your back will remain stuck to the seat. Then, the electric power steering offers good feedback. The new Corolla is comfortable, feels planted and rides better than many other cars in its segment.
All variants of the car come with dual front airbags, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist. On empty roads near Nandi Hills we did some really harsh braking manoeuvres with the car and it responded confidently. Toyota also claims that the car’s rigid body construction will absorb most impacts in the unfortunate event of an accident.
Let’s get it straight. The new Corolla still doesn’t look as stylish as the Elantra, its cabin quality still doesn’t match that of the Jetta, and it still is not as fun to drive as the Octavia, yet it comes across as a more competent car than many others in its segment. Add to that Toyota’s reliability. To be launched by the end of this month, if Toyota is able to price the car aggressively—which it should—the world’s favourite car might just lead India’s executive segment once again.