The Toyota Corolla is perhaps the most important car in the history of automobiles – if only because it is driven by more people than any other car ever. So it was time well spent when I got behind the wheel of the tenth generation Corolla once again, for a closer assessment of the model, spread across a whole week.
UPSIDE: Resale reliability, Practical comfort, refreshed design, new 2L engine and improved steering
FLIPSIDE: Lack of gadgetry, Rivals offer more features
The Price: 1.6L S at AED 59,500, SE at AED 63,500 and SE+ at AED 68,500. 2.0L SE at AED 66,900, SE+ at AED 69,900 and Limited model at AED 73,900.
This time around, Toyota has chosen to eschew the 1.8L engine and run with the current 1.6L and the new 2L powerhouse. The drive train probably is the best part of this highest-spec 2 L version that I’m driving. The smooth power delivery leaves no space for complaints and the four speed gear system that continues from the past remains as good or bad as ever – mostly, good.
The steering carries more weight but it turns out to be a promise that doesn’t live up on closer acquaintance. There is what I term an electronic hiatus in the variable steering feel which is a little oversensitive at high speeds but leaves a bit of gap in the lower ones. Despite Toyota’s attempts to give it a more refined feel, the overall experience of manoeuvring the steering is something like chewing on cardboard, leaving scope for little intimacy between the driver and the drive. That said, the handling overall is rather good. What’s surprising is the way the steering that sticks out impressively in bends and corners has to be frequently fiddled with on a straight line drive!
The fuel efficiency reading on the info panel says 9.4L per 100kms – reasonably economical.
The first thing that strikes you about the new Toyota Corolla is its obvious facelift. While Toyota has been calling in the pastic surgeon once too often in the past couple of years this one is totally warranted – after all, it’s a whole new generation altogether.
The front design is seamless with the impressively powerful halogen headlamps – the road shone brightest ahead of my Corolla as I cut through the night. They come with daytime running lights and fog lamps and the new Toyota smile spreading seamlessly between them. The design lines are much sharper and the corners more sculpted – almost sword-like especially with the rear lamps that are seamlessly integrated with the wide-running chrome strip.
Cabin and Controls
So, new looks apart, what makes the Corolla a powerful rival in the category it has haplessly dominated so far? The answer brings in some disappointment. While the cabin space has improved and the comfort remains, making the new Corolla appealing to people looking for an upgrade from their Yaris or Rio or simply pushing their lot to buying a larger car is not a motive justified in the interior materials. For a mid-sized affordable car, it is decent but the signs of hard plastics which almost rattle at touch show signs of cost-cutting here and there yet there is a contemporary touch of carbon finish to the plastic that envelops the console.
The smallish thick steering is sized to be gripped well and the front seats wrap you in a comfortable driving stance though larger fellas might ‘feel the squeeze’!
The new dashboard that runs straight across looks quite appealing and houses a music system with six speakers (four in lower trims) along with USB and AUX inputs, and of course a radio that is passable for the segment. What is conspicuous by its absence is Bluetooth. I mean one would expect the Corolla to provide that essential feature apart from the cruise control, the little sunroof and the keyless entry they have smartly provided this time. Even my top-spec car did not have the BT! After driving rival cars featuring rear view cameras and navigation systems, the lack of both in the Toyota Corolla again points to options Toyota overlooked.
The new styling brings the roof closer but there’s enough headroom, just as the case is with the boot. Now, while the Corolla competes effectively with its rivals when it comes to cabin space, the appointments are found in much better order in many other rivals. The Corolla’s cabin approximates the silence of premium cars but for the road noise on less smooth roads.
Known for its practicality, the Corolla provides well segregated space inside its cabin right from a flimsy though useful coin box and the sunglasses holder to armrest storage and a very spacious glove box, which is actually pushed in front to create a nice deep footwell to stretch your leg, without hurting your knees!
The Essential Toyota Corolla 2014
Between the time of my first drive during the Corolla launch and the longer miles clocked now, Toyota has announced the T-Connect, their impressive navigation and tracking App for smart phones, which is free for a year with all new models. But that doesn’t absolve the absence of Bluetooth. I’m sure Toyota will get that bit steady soon enough, along with that steering feel. For, in the face of smart competition, even the largest monopoly in the automotive world is just an entry on a shortlist – though still perched rather high.