FIRST DRIVE | 2020 Toyota Corolla Quest makes Uber-good buying sense

But private customers will also delight in what this newcomer has to offer, writes Brenwin Naidu

05 February 2020 - 09:26 By Brenwin Naidu
The new 2020 Toyota Corolla Quest.
The new 2020 Toyota Corolla Quest.
Image: Supplied

Everyone has a story about a Toyota Corolla. And I mean everyone. Consider that more than 49 million units have been sold worldwide since its inception in 1966. The nameplate has penetrated the collective psyche of the planet, whether one has an interest in all things automotive. At this publication, where we definitely have a fascination for all manner of wheeled contraptions, each staffer involved in the motoring content hub could share a special tale about their experience with the model.

Let me begin this report on the latest Corolla Quest by telling you mine. In 2015 former colleague Bruce Fraser and I opted to drive an example of the 11th generation Corolla, in 1.4D manual guise, from Johannesburg to Cape Town on one tank.

Our calculations, based on the claimed consumption (4.5l/100km) and tank size (55l), yielded an ideal-world range of 1,222km. Problem was that Google Maps told us our distance between the two chosen points in Egoli and the land of Table Mountain was 1,399km. So we would have to eke out another 177km.  But we made it: 1395.4km, with an average consumption of 3.5l/100km.

Needless to say, it took some doing. Our speed never hovered over 95km/h (unless downhill); we forwent the pleasures of air-conditioning and the adventure took us about 21 hours.

Having arrived at our final stop at Tamboerskloof’s Fire & Ice hotel, the gauge sat just below a quarter – the warning light had not even illuminated. So we probably could have made it even driving at a regular speed and with cool ventilation on our faces. That said, it was a proper challenge and one that earned us the nicknames of Brenwin “Range Extender” Naidu and Bruce “Lightfoot” Fraser.

The interior of the 2020 Toyota Corolla Quest.
The interior of the 2020 Toyota Corolla Quest.
Image: Supplied

The memories came back while at the launch of Toyota’s second-generation Quest, which is based on the outgoing, 11th generation Corolla. Since its launch in 2014, 63,966 copies of the old Quest left the production line at the Prospecton plant in KwaZulu-Natal. One would surmise that most of those ended up in the employ of Uber operators throughout the country, but Toyota says less than 20% of sales were to the commercial end of the market.

So what’s different between the 2020 Quest and the regular, outgoing Corolla sedan it shares its foundation with?

The short answer is: not much. Aside from a remix of specifications and a few deletions, this is the 11th generation Corolla that loyal customers know and love.

Most noticeable on the exterior are the replacement trim items – chrome that fared previously was given the chop, in favour of colour-coding or matte finishes. This is dependent on the chosen model grade. Front fog lamps no longer feature. In a bid to streamline processes at the factory (and save costs), the new Quest shares certain aspects with the Hilux and Fortuner models built alongside it. That includes the colour palette, headliner and seat fabrics and, according to Toyota, “localisation of the seat cross braces, floor silencers and seat bracketry”.   

The new 1.8-litre engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or CVT.
The new 1.8-litre engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or CVT.
Image: Supplied

Powering the range is a 1.8-litre, normally-aspirated petrol unit (103kW and 173Nm) replacing the 1.6-litre mill from before. This can be had with a six-speed manual or a continuously-variable transmission. No changes feature under the skin, we were told. Its donor platform still sees a torsion beam suspension at the rear with MacPherson struts up front.

Safety kit across the board is impressive. Even the most basic version has airbags for passenger and driver (and driver’s knee); plus stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and hill-assist control. Opt for the top-range, Exclusive grade model and you get amenities befitting the goodies list of a car in the luxury class.

The old Corolla Quest was successful in its mandate as the archetypal motoring appliance. But at the helm one was always reminded of this very essence – and that a considerable amount of de-engineering took place to meet a price-point prescribed by actuaries. This disguises that character far more impressively.

The new Quest doesn’t immediately strike its occupants as being sparse in content. Over our test route spanning through Pretoria and back to Johannesburg, we were left impressed by its assured road manners, relative quietness (even in an unexpected hailstorm) and punchy motor. The biggest surprise came when we hopped into the continuously-variable transmission model. With its seven simulated “gears” it complied in a responsive manner, with little of the droning, elastic sensations one anticipates from such a set-up.

Any way you cut it, the new Quest represents excellent sense. The asking price in relation to size, specification and quality is nigh-on perfect.

2020 Toyota Corolla Quest pricing:

1.8 Quest: R249 900

1.8 Quest CVT: R270 400

1.8 Quest Prestige: R286 500

1.8 Quest Prestige CVT: R296 800

1.8 Quest Exclusive: R307 400

1.8 Quest Exclusive CVT: R317 700