This 11th-generation Corolla is the most evolved in recent history and the focus (at least on the outside) is clearly on dumping the ‘boring’ tag. Viewed from the front, the hunkered-down sporty stance makes a solid first impression. It isn’t just 80mm longer than the old car, but is 15mm wider and a bit shorter too, lending it sleeker proportions. But despite the increase in size, the weights for both remain the same as before, which is remarkable.
Between the petrol and diesel versions, the diesel tips the scales at 50kg more for the manual variants, but weighs exactly the same as the petrol automatic at 1270kg. Viewed head-on, the large airdam, aggressive upswept headlights with a strip of LEDs and the slightly flared wheel arches are a welcome departure from the conservative design of the previous car. The profile is quite attractive too, but is let down by the wheels that look at least a size too small. The problem isn’t the 16-inch wheel size itself, but that Toyota has raised the new car by 5mm to offer best-in-class ground clearance. Since a car’s ‘breakover angle’ is inversely proportional to the wheelbase, engineers played it safe and raised the suspension to compensate for the 100mm increase in wheelbase. So, while the profile’s aesthetic appeal may have taken a hit, you can be assured the underbody won’t. The new car now rides a good 180mm above the road; enough to sail over even some comically large speedbreakers.
The rear has received the same bold styling cues with attractive tail-lights and a good bit of chrome garnish that we Indians seem to love. However, while the panel gaps are consistent, opening the boot reveals where the company has saved a few bucks. The inner lining of the 490-litre boot uses cheap materials and the overall fit and finish of the fabrics in the boot cavity is quite shoddy too.
Even before it was first launched in India in 2003, its legendary reputation preceded it. Yet, the world’s best-selling car couldn’t really replicate its global triumph in India. Sure, it had bullet-proof reliability and promised fuss-free motoring, but it had to deal with twin challenges of a segment that was fast shrinking and increasing competition from rivals that were more exciting to look at and drive. Worries that the all-new car is popped from the same mould can be cast aside. The new styling is superb not just by conservative Corolla standards, but even when compared to the competition. The interiors are completely new too, and spec-for-spec, these cars have now been better-equipped.
However, the pricing is a bit tricky. The new petrol car starts at a very competitive Rs. 11.99 lakh while the base diesel costs Rs. 13.07 lakh, which is cheaper than the competition. But as you start going up the spec-chain, they get quite expensive. Our top-spec test cars cost Rs. 16.89 lakh for the petrol automatic and Rs. 16.68 lakh for the diesel manual. So if you choose the diesel, there’s a whopping difference of Rs. 3.61 lakh for a car that’s mechanically identical across variants! While the lower entry prices may have been devised to increase footfall in showrooms, the lower variants are quite barebone and you’ll have to shell out significantly more for a trim with at least a half-decent level of kit. We tested the top-end variants of both the petrol and diesel options to see if they are worth the asking price.
Space was never in short supply in the old car, and there’s even more of it now, courtesy of the lengthened wheelbase and better packaging. From behind the wheel, the long range of steering wheel adjustment and a good amount of travel to the electrically adjustable seat means people of all frames won’t have a problem getting comfortable. And thanks to the large glass areas, visibility is great too.
The seats themselves use foam that’s a touch on the soft side and feels really comfortable. Spread before the driver is an all-new dashboard which ditches the T-shaped design for a vertical layout and imparts a feeling of spaciousness, but it looks a bit too block-like. To break the monotony, the carmaker has divided the design into multiple layers of textures and shades. The black top surface is made of rich, soft-touch materials (but it reflects a bit on the windscreen) while the facia employs a light beige shade. However, on the lower bit of the dashboard, the overall plastic quality and finish feels quite patchy for a car that strives to be an upmarket luxury sedan.
A seven-inch touchscreen takes centre stage on the dash and apart from the climate control settings, every other function is digitally controlled through this interface. This means you have to take your eyes off the road and navigate through a bunch of sub-menus for pretty much everything. Luckily, the large audio control buttons on the steering wheel save the driver the trouble of hunting for the volume control. The aftermarket-looking, low-resolution display isn’t especially pleasing to look at and neither is it easy to read on a sunny day.
Additionally, the tacky pseudo-carbonfibre panel surrounding the screen and the overall selection of fonts don’t do much to defend the near Rs. 17-lakh price of our top-trim test car. On the plus side, pairing your phone and streaming Bluetooth audio is fairly intuitive and the audio system sounds surprisingly good. The cubbyhole just under the climate control console is especially useful to keep your phone in. All door pockets get bottle holders and there’s a useful XL-sized glovebox, but it isn’t cooled.
It redeems itself once you settle down in the rear seat. Legroom is simply superb and the reclining backrest makes it one of the most comfortable rear benches in the segment. It’s also easy to seat three abreast here as the floor is absolutely flat and the 136cm internal width means you won’t brush shoulders with co-occupants often. However, headroom is just about adequate and the carmaker has skimped out on the rear AC vents — a risky omission while competing in a segment dominated by chauffeur-driven owners.
Between the two, the top-spec petrol still remains the better-equipped; even in its highest trim, the diesel loses out on basic kit such as fog lamps, navigation and cruise control. However, what’s alarming is the fact that the carmaker has skimped on safety and gets just two airbags even in its highest trim, which is quite unacceptable in a segment where four or even six is the norm.
In India, it has never had a powerful motor and, disappointingly, the new one doesn’t break away from the trend. In fact, it carries over the same motors as its predecessor and in the same state of tune too. So there’s the 138bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine and a 87bhp 1.4-litre diesel mill. Like earlier, the petrol motor is mated to either a six-speed manual ’box or a seven-speed step-CVT automatic, while the diesel gets just a six-speed manual gearbox.
From behind the wheel of the 1.8 automatic, the refined engine has a character that’s more relaxed than rushed and the power delivery is smooth and predictable. Sure, there’s the infamous rubber-band effect if you nail the pedal, but at part throttle, the CVT ’box keeps this effect to a minimum and shifts seamlessly. For those who’d like to take complete control over the reins, the paddle shifters work great in manual mode and obediently follow commands.
In fact, at about 65kph, tugging at the ‘minus’ paddle enough can push the cogs all the way from seventh to first! But pushing this motor to its 6,600rpm redline isn’t much fun as the last 2,000 revs just pile on more decibels than useable thrust. It’s best to work those paddles to keep the engine between 2,000 and 5,000 revs, where it feels the most responsive. Give it some stick and the petrol auto hits 100kph in a reasonably swift 12.16 seconds, making it quicker than it suggests from behind the wheel.
As the 87bhp power figure for the diesel suggests, there’s a severe dearth of oomph. But while outright performance is weak at best, the lack of a sudden turbo-spike makes for a smooth urban drive. Ambling around in the city is easy, thanks to the light clutch and gearbox that make cycling though cogs far less of a chore. Which is a good thing, since you’ll find yourself downshifting rather often to keep the engine above the 2,000 rpm mark -- below this, the engine feels all but arthritic.
Even when you enter the meaty region of powerband, it’s just gently coaxed forward. The meekly performing motor doesn’t encourage you to stretch the car’s legs and it feels most at home at around 120kph, with the motor ticking around the 2,500rpm mark in sixth gear.
All that tinkering with the suspension to tackle our roads has finally paid off. Over our monsoon-battered roads, the new car tackles potholes, ruts and speedbreakers with the aplomb of an SUV. The long suspension travel definitely helps here and does a fine job at dampening road shocks. Even with five on board, it sails over speedbreakers without scraping its belly. We happened to carry a fair bit of speed over an unmarked speedbreaker, but it didn’t crash through as hard as expected and it held its composure rather well. But on a series of undulations, it doesn’t feel as grounded or ride as flat as its German rivals; there’s a fair bit of vertical movement.
As for handling, it doesn’t have a quick or lively steering geometry but handles in a safe and predictable manner instead; the chunky steering feels quite nice to hold too. However, that doesn’t mean it’s sloppy around the bends and, if you so choose, can carry a fair bit of speed through the corners. But most importantly, it doesn’t feel overly light on the highway even though it’s quite light at lower speeds, and the tight turning circle is quite city-friendly too. Ironically, it’s the petrol car that has a hint of torque steer under hard acceleration at lower speeds.
Both cars sip fuel quite judiciously and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. The petrol automatic returns a respectable 9.8kpl in the city that stretches to 14.5kpl on the highway. A fuel tank of 55 litres means you can comfortably cover about 650km on a single tank under mixed driving conditions. The small capacity diesel manages a much better 12.1kpl in the city and 17.1kpl on the highway. While these figures are quite good, we reckon the highway figure could have been even better if the engine had some more oomph as that would avoid the need to downshift often. The diesel car gets a slightly smaller 50-litre fuel tank, but still gives you an impressive range of about 730km between fill-ups.
The Seven-inch touchscreen interface looks a bit aftermarket, is highly reflective and the resolution feels a generation old. However, the Bluetooth-enabled interface is easy to pair with and can make calls as well as stream audio from your phone. You can also connect an iPod or thumb-drive through USB or any audio source via aux. Audio quality from the six-speaker setup in our top-spec test car was surprisingly good — most owners won’t feel the need for an upgrade. The petrol variant gets navigation too, but it isn’t scrupulously mapped out or particularly friendly to operate.
Toyota has finally stepped out of its safe zone and built a Corolla that’s great to look at. This new model also improves on the strengths of its predecessor with fantastic interior space and an especially comfortable rear bench. Then there’s the made-for-India suspension that tackles our worst roads without much of a fuss. Both petrol and diesel engines are well-suited to the urban environment and the light controls do well to keep driving fatigue at bay. However, it has its share of shortcomings.
Both engines (especially the diesel) lack the kind of power and excitement offered by the competition and the car still isn’t very well-equipped for its segment. But its biggest weak point is that it lacks the ‘feel-good’ factor. Yes, it’s very spacious, but Toyota has skimped out on crucial areas, leaving it with an interior that feels low-rent and struggles to justify the over Rs. 16-lakh price. Sure, the new sedan is great in some areas, but on the whole, it falls a bit short of the lofty standards set by the competition. However, if you want a car that’s sensible, fuss-free and promises to give you years of painless ownership, the car with its legendary dependability is hard to beat.