JOHANNESBURG - The Toyota Corolla recently celebrated a milestone, with the 50-millionth unit having rolled off the assembly line.
This makes it the world’s best selling car of all time, if we’re talking multiple generations of course. The original Volkswagen Beetle remains the best-selling single-generation car, having achieved 21 million sales in its lifetime.
First introduced in Japan back in 1966, the Toyota Corolla has evolved through 12 generations, from a small and basic runabout to a larger and more luxurious family car. And it continues to evolve, with the imminent release of the Corolla Cross set to take the nameplate into the popular SUV realm.
If you think the original 1966 Toyota Corolla looks completely unfamiliar you’d be correct as the first two generations were never sold locally. South Africans had to wait until 1975 for the third generation Toyota Corolla.
3rd-generation: Introduced in 1975, SA’s first Corolla was also built locally from the get-go. But it was worth the wait as this Corolla, which was sold in two-door, four-door and wagon guises, was more comfortable, efficient and aerodynamic than its predecessors.
4th-generation: Introduced to South Africa in 1980, the E70 generation Corolla ushered in Toyota’s market leadership in South Africa. It was also available with a wider array of petrol engines, from 1.3- to 1.8-litres.
5th-generation: This was the first front-wheel drive Corolla and it also introduced a five-door hatchback body style for the first time, which became known as the Conquest, as well as a liftback called the Avante. On a more exciting note, gen-five also gave birth to the GLI and RSI pocket rockets, powered by Toyota’s iconic high-revving 4AGE engine.
6th-generation: This Corolla hit the scene in 1988 with increased dimensions and a much more rounded design than its boxy predecessor, and it has become affectionately known as the Kentucky Rounder in Mzansi. It also offered more luxury than before, thanks to the GLS and Executive trim grades. This Corolla enjoyed an extended production life, with the Conquest hatchback having survived until 2006 as the budget-friendly Tazz.
7th-generation: This new Corolla took another big step forward in terms of size and refinement. But you won’t have seen many of these on the street (apart from the odd grey import) as Toyota South Africa skipped the seventh-generation Corolla, opting instead to introduce a facelifted version of gen-six in 1993.
8th-generation: Toyota introduced gen-eight in 1996, alongside the aforementioned Tazz, as the first new Corolla in eight years. Beneath the skin it wasn’t all that different from the gen-seven model that we missed out on. It also saw the reintroduction of the 4AGE engine, this time in 20-valve format, in the RSI and RXI models.
9th-generation: With the millennium Corolla, launched locally in 2002, South Africans could once again have a modern hatchback variant, this time wearing a RunX badge. Feeling every bit like a baby Camry, the E120 Corolla also saw its predecessor’s outdated engines being replaced by more modern 1.4-, 1.6- and 1.8-litre units, featuring variable valve timing. There was also a high-revving RunX RSI variant, which offered 141kW.
10th-generation: Introduced in 2007, this Corolla upped the ante in terms of luxury, safety and boring design. It also enjoyed an extended production life, having lived on until 2020 as the Corolla Quest that Uber drivers love so much. The hatchback version was spun off into a completely different, MPV-inspired model called the Auris.
11th-generation: Launched in 2014, this was the last Corolla sedan model to be produced locally, although it still lives on for now in the form of the ‘new-generation’ Corolla Quest. As with its predecessor, this Corolla was offered with 1.3-, 1.6- and 1.8-litre motors, although today’s Quest model is only available with the latter.
12th-generation: The first generation to be fully imported, the latest Corolla was introduced in hatchback form in 2019, with the sedan following in 2020. The hatch also ushered in turbo power, as well as a more edgy design and modern cabin electronics.
Corolla Cross: The latest evolution of the Corolla has just gone into production in South Africa and is expected to go on sale in November. With this model, which shares its TNGA architecture with the twelfth-gen hatch and sedan, Toyota is aiming to make the Corolla nameplate relevant again in a world that has come to prefer SUVs and crossovers. Buyers will get to choose between a normally aspirated 1.8-litre petrol engine and a hybrid powertrain - a first for Toyota SA production. Pricing has yet to be announced.