ROAD TEST: Toyota Corolla 1.6 Prestige & 1.4 D-4D Prestige
Johannesburg - It is often said by certain wise souls that your biggest competitor is yourself, or who you were yesterday to be more precise. Not a bad life philosophy if you're human, but it would hardly make much sense to you if you were a car. Unless you were the new Toyota Corolla.
You see, unlike most cars that simply replace their predecessors, Toyota's new Corolla has to compete with the previous-generation Corolla, which lives on as the Corolla Quest - much like VW's Polo Vivo slots beneath the latest Polo.
In the Toyota's case we're looking at a R50 000 price gap between the entry-level 1.6-litre Corolla Quest and the cheapest new Corolla 1.6, the Esteem, and that gap grows to between R75 000 and R85 000 if we're talking about the higher-spec 1.6 and 1.4 turbodiesel models featured in this test.
If your mind is locked in accountant mode then there isn't really much point to this discussion or the new Corolla for that matter - end the argument and buy a Quest now, finish and klaar.
WORTH THE PREMIUM?
Yet if there is a part of you that wants more than just an automotive appliance, then you'll be asking yourself whether the new Corolla is actually worth the premium. And is it actually more desirable and less appliance-like?
It really is a step in the right direction, with its more modern design and lower stance. Although the front end of SA's Euro-spec Corolla is a bit on the fussy side, the rest of the car is rather easy on the eye and there's a neat elegance about it that its predecessor just didn't have.
Inside not everyone is crazy about the upright, very horizontal stance of the dashboard, but it does exude a more sporty flavour and the textures feel more premium than before. The Prestige version that I tried out is rather well appointed despite its mid-range status, with the standard goodies list including leather seats and a modern touch-screen audio system with a reverse camera.
ROOM TO SPARE
That famed Toyota solidity is still part of the deal and there's more stretching space for your passengers, the car's longer wheelbase and thinner seatbacks translating into 92mm more rear legroom. However, the sedan's lower roofline means that taller adults won't have much in the way of headroom in the back. Corolla's practical argument continues with its really spacious 452 litre boot and there's a full sized spare stashed neatly beneath that vortex.
Mostly everything that you can see and touch in the new Corolla seems a bit classier and its extra refinement also extends to that which you can hear - or not hear for that matter, thanks to an increase in sound-deadening material. On the road, the Corolla has a refined feel to it; the ride is comfy, the road holding predictable and the smooth-operating driving controls make it painless to haul through the urban madness.
I spent time with both the 1.6-litre petrol and 1.4-litre turbodiesel versions in Gauteng and it's the latter that really stands out in my mind as I write this. Look, there's really nothing wrong with the normally aspirated 1.6-litre, with 90kW and 154Nm. Sure, a turbo would be nice but even without it the petrol motor provides more than reasonable urge, delivered smoothly throughout the rev range. It does exactly what it says on the box and will probably never irk you in any way.
As mentioned, the interesting new choice in the range is that little diesel motor and I did have my apprehensions about it as its 66kW power output - even bearing in mind the twisting force of 205Nm - sounds a bit puny for a car of this size. Granted, this Corolla is not fast by any stretch of imagination and you don't even get that 'boosty' sensation most turbodiesels deliver within their narrow power bands, but on the upside it did fall just short of feeling underpowered. After taking it on a road trip from Gauteng to Durban and back, the first word that comes into my head is adequate. It'll be a fine tool for the average user, perhaps a rep that has to do lots of long-distance driving. Gear down and it'll overtake a reasonable pace, but it's not exactly effortless.
What this engine is really good at is not using diesel and my trip to the coast and back saw it average just 4.7 litres per 100km. I didn't have to slipstream slow trucks to achieve that either - in fact the speedo hovered between 120 and 130km/h for most of the journey.
There's no denying that the new Corolla is more desirable than its predecessor. It looks and feels like a more premium product, and even though it's not going to beat the Quest in any rational arguments, the very well appointed 1.6 Prestige offers good value next to its modern rivals and the 1.4 D-4D Prestige doesn't have any natural rivals. Both are solid choices.
Toyota Corolla 1.4 D-4D Prestige
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.4-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 66kW @ 3800rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 1800 - 2800rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 12.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 185km/h
Consumption (claimed): 4.5 l/100km
Price: R259 900
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 5-year/90 000km
Toyota Corolla 1.6 Prestige
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.6-litre petrol
Power: 90kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 154Nm @ 5200rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 10.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 195km/h
Consumption (claimed): 6.6 l/100km
Price: R249 200
Chevrolet Cruze 1.4T LS (103kW/200Nm) - R249 600
Ford Focus 1.6 Trend (92kW/159Nm) - R254 800
Hyundai Elantra 1.6 Premium (96kW/157Nm) - R247 900
Kia Cerato 1.6 SX (95kW/157Nm) - R243 995
VW Jetta 1.2 TSI Trendline (77kW/175Nm) - R253 600