Picture: Jason Woosey.
Picture: Jason Woosey.
Picture: Jason Woosey.
Picture: Jason Woosey.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.
Picture: Toyota SA.

Johannesburg - Here in Mzansi, many of our locally made cars have a tendency to linger longer. Think Citi Golf, Nissan 1400, 323 Midge and Tazz, or more modern creations like the Polo Vivo and Corolla Quest. These extended-shelf-life cars make a lot of sense given the cost savings afforded by amortisation, and in these tough economic times that’s becoming more relevant than ever.

Which brings us to the new Toyota Corolla Quest, although perhaps ‘newer’ is a more appropriate description here as it’s based on the outgoing 11th-generation Corolla sedan, which is making way for the imported, and more upscale, 12th-generation Corolla that's due soon.

Hitting showrooms in March, the new Corolla Quest takes the baton from the previous gen-10-based model, but improves the formula in more ways than one. Not only is it better to look at, but there’s also a new 1.8-litre engine that features as standard across the range, as well as enhanced spec and a bigger range.

The crew at the Prospecton factory have also made a few stylistic changes, and there are two easy ways to tell it apart from the previous Corolla. Whereas the latter had chrome treatment on the grille and rear number plate garnish, the new Quest gets colour coding on both elements, with the exception of the base model, which sports a black grille. 

But the most attractive thing about the Corolla Quest is undoubtedly its price tag, which ranges from R249 900 to R317 700 depending on how lavishly you want it specced. That’s a huge saving over the previous Corolla, and there’s more at play here than just amortisation. 

How did Toyota SA cut costs?

According to TSA, costs have been saved through production line efficiencies and parts sourcing. It also shares more bits and bobs with the locally-produced Hilux and Fortuner models, such as its colour selection, upholstery and headliner fabric, as well as out-of-sight items like the seat cross braces and floor silencers.

On the subject of silence, I found the new car to be quite a bit noisier than I’d expect from a car in this class, with the 1.8-litre engine making its presence heard loud and clear in the cabin. 

While I’m left assuming that Toyota has cut costs in the sound deadening department, there don’t appear to be any major cut-backs in the cabin, at least not in the leather-trimmed range-topper that we were exposed to on the launch, which had good quality materials including some soft-touch upper dashboard surfaces and classy stitching. You only get 60:40 split seats in the top model, however. I also found some evidence of cost cutting in the luggage area, in the form of a worryingly thin and ill-fitting boot floor panel and in some of the cars the boot lid would not close without a hard slam. 

None of these foibles are deal breakers in my opinion, and when you’re weighing up how much car you actually get for your money in the new Quest range, it still emerges as something of a bargain.

Let's take a spin

The fact that Toyota has upgraded to a bigger engine is another feather in its cap, and something Toyota attributes to “cost and sourcing” benefits given its proliferation across the global supply chain. With 103kW and 173Nm on tap, the 1.8 unit provides reasonably good performance, even at high altitudes as we found out on the car's local launch, held in Gauteng. As a further bonus, the new motor is said to be more economical than the previous 1.6. 

There’s little to fault the ride quality either, and the car hangs on rather well around corners too, although there is a bit of body roll in tighter bends. On the braking front, a pleasant surprise is that disc brakes are fitted at all four corners.

As before the manual gearbox option is a six-speed unit, and it’s rather pleasant to stir, but the previous four-speed automatic gearbox option makes way for a CVT unit, which drones unpleasantly under hard acceleration - it is a CVT after all. The box does have seven ‘steps’, however, which you can shift between using the gear lever if you want more control over the situation.

But what’s it like to ride in?

Assuming that many of you will jump into the back of the new Corolla Quest at some point in the future, I did the same and, perched behind my driving position, I was impressed by the abundance of legroom on offer, although headroom might get a bit tight for taller individuals due to the car’s fairly low stance. 

A walk through the range

Not only do you get to choose between manual and CVT gearboxes, but the six-strong range also gives you three specification grades.

The standard model has all the basics that you got in the previous model, including manual air conditioning, a conventional four-speaker audio system, electric windows and mirrors, a reach and height adjustable steering wheel, dual front airbags and ABS brakes. Compared with the previous base model, it has gained some features, including Bluetooth connectivity, hill holder, VSC stability control, ISOFIX mountings and a driver’s knee airbag.

Over and above what you get in the standard Quest, the mid-spec Prestige gains a touchscreen audio system with reverse camera, cruise control, leather-covered steering wheel and side airbags. On the upholstery front, the plain cloth fabric makes way for a cloth and leather combo, while the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels make way for 16” alloys.

The top dog goes by the name of Exclusive and it adds leather seats to the mix along with push-button start, automatic climate control, auto wipers, electrochromatic rearview mirror and LED headlights.

Aftersales back-up, across the line-up, comes in the form of a three-service / 45 000km service plan and three-year / 100 000km warranty.

VERDICT

Although there has been some cost cutting here and there, Toyota is essentially offering a fairly modern C-segment sedan here for less than the price of a Yaris, and with a bigger engine than you would expect. If you’re looking for a reasonably large sedan on a budget, this car is really hard to beat.

1.8 Quest manual R249 900
1.8 Quest CVT R270 400
1.8 Quest Prestige manual R286 500
1.8 Quest Prestige CVT R296 800
1.8 Quest Exclusive manual R307 400
1.8 Quest Exclusive CVT R317 700

IOL Motoring