Overall
Ride, Handling & Performance
Economy
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
The small car market is a competitive place to extract success. Despite the market’s ever-increasing focus on utes and SUVs, small cars are still punching well above their weight in the battle for buyers.
 
In a contest worthy of an Origin decider, competitors in the small car segment are as strong, after all, this is the place where the metal for money equation is as serious as it gets. There’s really no room for mediocrity.
 
As it stands, there’s quality at every turn, the Kia Cerato, Hyundai i30 and Honda Civic are all worth a good look. There’s also a new sexed-up Mazda 3 looming which will pose the greatest threat to the 2019 Toyota Corolla we are driving here.
 
This isn’t our first encounter with the new Corolla, we’ve already spent time in the very impressive SX hybrid. On test here is the Ascent Sport variant, for now, it’s the entry point to the Corolla range with a list price of $22,870 plus on-road costs.
 
To date, Toyota Australia has opted to forgo a stripped out fleet-orientated Corolla meaning even the base model is loaded with kit.
 
LED headlights with automatic high beam, heated electric exterior mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels, a 4.2-inch driver information display in the instrument cluster, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, electronic park brake, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, speed sign recognition and a rear-view camera are all standard.
 
This is an instance where ‘all-new’ means all-new. The twelfth-generation Corolla is new from the ground up. It’s built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform which also provides the foundations for the new Camry and C-HR. Toyota’s engineers claim the platform delivers a lower centre of gravity and a substantial improvement (up to 60 per cent) in body rigidity. These changes are designed to widen the Corolla’s appeal by way of an improvement in dynamic ability.
 
Residing under the bonnet is a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 125kW and 200Nm. It’s a naturally-aspirated unit that delivers 21.3 per cent more power and 15.6 per cent more torque than the old 1.8-litre engine.
 
Our tester has power sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s no secret the popularity of stick shifters is in decline. This is only a concern to enthusiasts (like us), not the wider market. Now that the majority of the market has migrated to automatic transmissions, most youngsters don’t have access to a manual when learning to drive. It’s lamentable in many ways, there’s still a sense of romance found in old-school shifting.
 
On the road, the new powertrain is easy to like. The engine revs freely and the stick is comfortable to operate. Same goes for the clutch, it never feels like a chore to press, but again this is from the perspective of an enthusiast. The Ascent Sport is sprightly off the mark, more so if you can get the first change completed quickly.
 
The Corolla feels tight and well anchored when pressed, although the chassis is very unlikely to be fully exploited by owners. There are rumours, along with a good dose of wishful thinking, that Toyota will use its new Gazoo Racing division to turn the Corolla into a genuine hot hatch to sit alongside the new Supra.
 
There is a level of unexpected accuracy in everything the Corolla does, it’s uncharacteristic of the moniker and the brand. This precision is most notable in the brilliant steering.
 
Everything is well controlled with the discipline of a samurai. The locally-tuned suspension delivers a quality ride even on the abysmal roads of country Victoria. It’s also pleasingly refined on a long highway run.
 
While it might be irrelevant to many Corolla buyers, the car’s newfound dynamic character needs to be praised. This is an enjoyable car to drive, there’s a level of satisfaction here that will get different buyers to consider the car. The manual does help to bring more of said character to the surface, but the $1500 spend to add the CVT automatic represents strong value.
 
Interestingly, the more powerful 2.0-litre engine didn’t compromise efficiency. At the conclusion of this 746 kilometre test, the combined consumption figure read 6.5L/100km. Those chasing even better fuel consumption can opt for the Ascent Sport hybrid for $3000 more. Choosing a hybrid brings an automatic transmission as standard.
 
If the decision is less about the drive and more about the style, the new Corolla continues Toyota’s move to a more emotional design language. There’s also a flash new interior that makes the outgoing model seem older than it actually is. It’s a great looking hatch from all angles. We’ve already said plenty about the design of the new Corolla here.
 
There is an abundance of things to like about the new Corolla, however, there are a few bones to pick. There is a price to pay for those great exterior looks, the rear seat space is limited despite a 40mm longer wheelbase. The boot is also skinny, practicality takes a hit with only 217 litres of space behind the back seat. These packaging issues may negate the quality of the drive for many which is a shame.
 
The 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that resides at the top of the dash needs satellite navigation to take advantage of its size and clarity. With no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, buyers will need to pay $1000 extra for sat-nav which is bundled with privacy glass which seems expensive.
 
From an ownership perspective, the Corolla needs to be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, whatever comes first. The first four services are capped at $175 each.
 
Toyota bolstered its warranty package in January, now offering five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty coverage. This can be extended to seven years for the engine and transmission if cars undergo scheduled log-book servicing.
 
It’s easy to label the new Corolla as the most talented car to ever represent the badge. It delivers an engaging drive that will catch many a driver unaware with appealing styling to keep buyers of all ages happy. That appeal will extend to the new engine and a long list of standard kit.
 
Perfection is hard to achieve, but the balanced package the Corolla now presents is hard to walk past. In a competitive market, the Corolla will still find enough support to maintain its position as Australia’s best-selling passenger car.
 
2019 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Specifications
 
Price from $22,870 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol Power 125kW @6600rpm Torque 200Nm @ 4400-4800rpm Transmission six-speed manual Combined Fuel Consumption 6.3L/100km Tank Capacity 50L Length 4375mm Width 1790mm Height 1435mm Wheelbase 2640mm Kerb Weight 1400kg Turning Circle 11m Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre