By: Jason Woosey
Durban - Cars that stick around well beyond their conventional sell-by dates have become something of an institution in South Africa. Who could forget stalwarts like the Citi Golf, Nissan 1400, Toyota Tazz and the 1980s Mazda 323? Those relics eventually died, 'newer' ones came along and today we see the previous VW Polo living on as the Polo Vivo and the Ford Fiesta as the Figo.
While the latter pair fight it out in the 'sub-B' ring, Toyota is creating what it calls the 'sub-C' segment by bringing the previous-generation Corolla back to life as the Corolla Quest. Its new role is to offer a family-sized sedan package for the price of a compact hatch, with the 1.6-litre Quest starting at R174 900.
So how did they keep the costs down?
Firstly, the amortisation factor. You can say a big thank you to every person that bought the previous Corolla when it was still the latest model as they've already covered the vast investment Toyota made in tooling up for it. Toyota plans to build it in big volumes too, which improves economies of scale.
The bean counters also no doubt cheered at the various small changes that Toyota made to the car. On the outside, Toyota pinched some pennies by moving the side indicator lamps from the mirrors to the fenders and by switching to matt black trim for the grille and number plate garnish. The Quest can be further distinguished by new headlight and taillight clusters.
The 'features editing', as Toyota calls it, continues inside where the Corolla Quest now shares its carpeting and roof headlining with the Hilux and its seats with the latest Corolla. There have been some casualties though, like the deletion of the overhead console and sun visor vanity lamp, and you can forget about loading bulky items as the rear seat no longer folds.
On the upside, Toyota hasn't hacked away at the really important content and even the base Quest model comes with air conditioning, remote central locking, rake/reach adjustment for the steering wheel, dual front airbags and ABS brakes. It's pre-wired for an audio system too, although you'll get that as standard if you upgrade to the Quest Plus grade, which also adds alloy wheels and colour coded door handles for those wanting that extra dash of bling. Both versions offer peace of mind in the form of a three-year/45 000km service plan.
Another area where Toyota hasn't cut any corners is under the bonnet.
All Corolla Quests are powered by a 1.6-litre VVT-I petrol engine that delivers 90kW at 6000rpm and 154Nm at 5200rpm. Floor the right pedal and you should get to 100km/h in 10.4 seconds at the coast, according to Toyota. Both grades are offered with a six-speed manual gearbox but the base model can also be ordered with an autobox, albeit an old-fashioned four-speed unit.
I spent some time with the Corolla Quest manual model at its launch in Durban and what impressed me most was what an effortless driving experience it offers. The driving controls all operate with easy precision, the ride is smooth and the engine provides just enough oomph. It's the kind of car that won't really annoy you in any way, although it also lacks any ambition to entertain you.
But how does it stack up against the new Corolla and other more modern C-segment sedans?
This is where it gets tricky. The new Corolla costs around R50 000 more in 1.6-litre form, but it feels somewhat more desirable. There's just more style and class in its overall look and feel. The Corolla Quest, by comparison, comes across as rather bland.
It's an automotive appliance, pure and simple, but let's just consider that many motorists are not looking for anything more than that. In that context, the Corolla Quest comes across as a solid, competent and brilliantly priced sedan that undercuts its size rivals by a massive margin. You simply don't get more sensible than this.
1.6 Quest - R174 900
1.6 Quest auto - R198 900
1.6 Quest Plus - R197 900