The Toyota Corolla has been a staple for decades, but has the vehicle finally reached a level of style that elevates it beyond white goods status?
It isn’t a speed machine, but the Corolla remains an easy-to-pilot staple in the city – except this time, it also has something to offer keen drivers.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla Accent Sport starts at $23,895 before on-road costs with the standard six-speed manual transmission, while the range-topping Corolla ZR Hybrid starts at $35,645 before on-roads.
On test we had the Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport CVT, which is listed from $25,395 before on-road costs.
There are a few different variants, including hatch and sedan body styles, as well the choice of a 2.0-litre petrol and 1.8-litre hybrid.
There are eight colours to choose from but all but the standard white are premium paints, and attract a $500 fee.
The Corolla Ascent Sport gets the following equipment as standard:
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (wired)
- 4.2-inch information display
- Six-speaker sound system
- Auto bi-LED headlights
- Auto high-beam
- LED daytime running lights and tail lights
- Air-conditioning (manual, 2.0-litre)
- Climate control (Hybrid)
- 16-inch alloy wheels (15-inch with aero caps on hybrid sedan)
- 60/40 split-fold rear seats with centre armrest
- Heated, power-folding mirrors
Our test vehicle was optioned with satellite navigation ($1000), which bundles with DAB+ digital radio and rear privacy glass.
The Corolla was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating back in 2018.
All versions come with the Toyota Safety Sense assistance suite, which includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane departure warning
- Lane Tracing Assist (excludes manual models)
- Adaptive cruise control (high speed-only in manual models)
- Traffic sign recognition
- Reversing camera
- Front, front-side and curtain airbags
- Driver’s knee airbag
You can easily turn off some safety features such as lane departure alert and Lane Tracing Assist (active lane centring) if you find it doesn’t assist your driving.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are reserved for the higher-spec SX and ZR grades.
Stepping into the Corolla you aren’t overwhelmed with excitement. It’s fairly basic, particularly in this Ascent Sport grade. In saying that, for the price you pay it’s quite a nice place to sit.
The dash is actually rather beautiful, and flows nicely. The glovebox is hidden under the dash giving for a seamless look, and the cubby itself is surprisingly accommodating. The centre console is less exciting, but there is one and it’s big enough without being something worth raving about.
One thing we did notice is Toyota has used soft-touch plastic on the dash, but the door tops and some of the touch points (i.e. door handles) don’t feel quite as high-end.
The steering wheel is well-made with indents around the rim for your fingers, which is a lovely touch. It also has multifunction controls to toggle music, volume, calls and things such as the lane departure and cruise control systems.
It’s clear user-friendliness was high on the design team’s list, everything is simple and easy to find. The infotainment leaves a little to be desired, though.
The screen seems a little low-res and just feels, dare we say, a little cheap.
The look doesn’t stop it from serving its purpose though, with standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility as well as optional inbuilt satellite navigation as seen on our test car.
The front seats, which are trimmed in a cloth with a honeycomb-like design, are really comfortable and supportive. They are manually adjusted, which does remind you it’s a budget-focused vehicle.
Space-wise we were less than impressed – this definitely isn’t a family car.
If you have a rear-facing child seat you can forget about having a passenger in the front, and don’t even bother trying to get a full-sized pram in the boot.
A large part of the boot has been claimed by the full-size spare tyre, a great thing to have, but this decision has really impacted the overall practicality. Toyota quotes just 217L with the full-size spare fitted.
The way I see it – you use your boot almost every day, but how often do you need a spare tyre?
There are two engine options across the Corolla line-up.
Here we have a 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘Dynamic Force’ petrol engine, which can be had with a six-speed manual in Ascent Sport trim or a CVT with 10 artificial ‘steps’ optional on the base car and standard on higher grades.
This engine outputs 125kW (6600rpm) and 200Nm (4400 to 4800rpm), driving the front wheels.
Optionally available is a 1.8-litre hybrid which quotes a system power output of 90kW. Toyota tends to not quote the torque output of its hybrid systems as the peaks of the electric motor(s) and petrol engine don’t overlap.
It’s no secret the Corolla isn’t fast off the mark or going to have any hot hatches shaking in their boots.
Once the Corolla is up and running, it can hold its own and gets you from A to B nicely. Being a CVT, it can hold revs under hard acceleration and the petrol engine doesn’t seem to ever be in a real hurry to get anywhere.
The Corolla didn’t push me back in my seat and the throttle response is slightly delayed, but this isn’t something we found to be a major issue, just worth noting.
The ‘gear changes’ can be slightly jerky – it felt like we were waiting far too long between the artificial steps – but it gets there in the end.
Steering is incredibly responsive with barely any free play.
The ride is comfortable with a strong handling balance. Being so light and quite compact, the Corolla will whip around corners and you will feel safe and secure.
There is minimal road noise heard inside the cabin, and barely any engine noise at idle. It only gets a little noisy when its under harder throttle inputs or waiting for the CVT to ‘shift’ ratios.
Toyota has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, as well as five years of capped-price servicing.
Each of the first visits will cost you $180, with intervals of 12 months or 15,000 kilometres – whichever comes first.
The Corolla has claimed fuel economy of 6.0L/100km for the auto-equipped petrol and a 4.2L/100km on the hybrid, with the recommended octane rating at 91 RON for both engine options.
However, during our time with the car over a mix of highway and urban driving we saw around 6.5L/100km.
Overall, the Toyota Corolla continues to impress.
It’s a well-thought out hatchback that’s safe and stylish, and prioritises user-friendliness and everyday liveability.
While everything is fairly simple and easy to use, it doesn’t feel overly basic, even in this entry-level Ascent Sport trim.
Areas for improvement? The ridiculously small boot and tight back seat are the main pain points and have been since this generation’s launch.
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