Car Review

Edgy Corolla hatchback reflects Toyota's new brand of zest

This decade will be remembered as the one in which Corolla became cool

28 March 2021 - 00:02
The new Corolla.
The new Corolla.
Image: Supplied

Like many people in KwaZulu-Natal, home of the Toyota Prospecton plant, my grandfather owned and loved a Corolla. It was a 1985 KE70 in the appropriate shade of beige - of the rare station wagon variety too - making it especially useful for activities related to the work of religious service.

The new Corolla would have given grandad heart palpitations, with its edgy outer aesthetic and technological tricks like adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot monitor. Features that were simply unheard of in his time, though commonplace today.

Speaking of progress, we need to take a moment to reflect on the new brand of zest that has pervaded Toyota in recent years. From the prospect of road-going rally cars like the forthcoming Yaris GR, to the revival of nameplates like the Supra (controversies aside) and hot concepts like the Aygo X, some would say the company is in top form.

And this Corolla reflects that too. First launched locally in 2019, the hatchback was treated to a minor specification revision last year. It was also joined by a sedan version in 2020.


Our hatchback tester is the 1.2T XR CVT Bi-T model, which is the range-topping version, to use fewer acronyms. That "Bi-T" part could be misleading to the uninitiated: it does not denote the presence of two turbochargers (it has one) but rather the inclusion of a bi-tone colour scheme, with a black roof accompanying the body colour of your choice. Go for the "Fierce Red" or "Caribbean Blue".

Its boosted 1.2-litre, four-cylinder is good for 85kW and 185Nm, paired with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which seems to be the only sour point of what is otherwise a great package.

While performance is sprightly enough around town, the CVT appears to sap a great deal of fizz from the engine in freeway conditions, with the 80-120 km/h dash being frustratingly slow. A conventional manual or torque-converter automatic would likely better complement the motor. You can have a six-speed manual in the Xs, which is one model grade down.

The interior of the new Corolla.
The interior of the new Corolla.
Image: Supplied

The list of goodies in the Xr is wonderfully comprehensive. Interior quality and appointments are nearly Lexus-like in execution, with soft-touch plastics and exquisite decorative inlays. Its (heated) seats are aggressively bolstered, with leather and fabric combination upholstery.

Inductive smartphone charging is another highlight, in addition to expected stuff like a touchscreen infotainment system, satellite audio controls and dual-zone climate control.

Earlier this year, Toyota announced that the family would gain another member in the form of the Corolla Cross, to be built locally at Prospecton. Just like its current siblings, the Cross boasts a progressive, somewhat daring character. Among many other things, this decade will be remembered as the one in which Corolla became cool.

• The Toyota Corolla Hatch 1.2T Xr CVT Bi-T costs R444,600

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