The Toyota Corolla is recognised the world over as a best-selling car, thanks to its 55-year heritage which has seen no less than 12 models launched.
The most distinct departure from tradition on the latest model is the striking new design, it’s high level of trim and technology, and sporty-looking pretensions.
Additionally, what I initially thought was a facelift turned out to be a completely new car built on the new Toyota global architecture: C platform.
This is the same platform that underpins the new Prius, Toyota CH-R crossover, Corolla hatchback, Lexus UX, and upcoming Corolla Cross SUV – which is due later this year.
The result is a Corolla that sits lower, looks more dynamic, and is – dare I say – sporty.
One of the most notable changes to the new Corolla was the company’s decision to rationalise the models: down from 11 to just three: a 1.8 XS CVT, 2.0 XR, and 2.0 XR CVT.
In doing this, the new Corolla sedan now takes a more prestigious and sportier place alongside the practical and slightly-more-affordable Corolla hatch and Uber-drive-favourite Corolla Quest.
Having received the keys to a range-topping 2.0 XR CVT, I was keen to see how the car has adapted to its new role as the sole-surviving C-segment sedan in South Africa.
It’s been a number of years since I last drove a Corolla, opting rather to be a fee-paying passenger, but the platform has been tuned to deliver an engaging experience.
What struck me most was the level of refinement and driver comfort.
In today’s turbo-charged, small-engine world, the Corolla XR still employs an old-school 2-litre, four cylinder motor driving the front wheels through an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The engine puts out a relatively lazy 125kW and 200Nm of torque, which is good for a 0-100km/h sprint in around 8 seconds and a 200km/h top speed.
We also know this engine will be ticking along merrily by the time all cars have turned to electricity in 10-15 years.
A driver-selectable drive mode dial next to the gearshift allows the driver to choose between Normal and Sport modes, which each implement different shifting patterns for the gearbox and steering sensitivity.
In the case of Sport mode, it turns the speedo red, holds onto the revs longer, and generates much more engine noise.
Whether this translates into significantly better acceleration is debatable, but engineered shifts from the 10-speed “Shiftmatic” CVT provide a sense that something is happening.
Normal mode is the one likely to be used most often, however, and that’s fine.
The Corolla XR also illustrates how far CVT gearboxes have come and in this case is actually quite easy to live with.
The benefit being that when brisk acceleration is not required it simply gains speed effortlessly in virtual silence, which was blissful.
Toyota claims a fuel consumption figure of 6.0l/100km, but it’s more likely to settle in the 8-litre/100km range for most driving – which in itself is acceptable given the type of car it is.
Long, open-road cruises should be far better and this is really where the Corolla shines.
Piloting the car is comfortable, too.
The interior features soft-touch finishes and brushed metal accent strips. Blue stitching on the seats adds an air of sportiness and highlights the blue illumination for the switchgear and instrument panel.
The seats are comfortable and supportive for drivers of most sizes, and are covered in a new-age synthesized fabric offering the comfort of fabric with the premium feel of leather.
Features and tech
Your granddad will be lost in here with all the technology.
The XR model I had comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense package featuring adaptive cruise control, an intuitive pre-crash safety system, blind spot monitor, and a lane keeping system with lane departure alert and lane trace assist.
This traces painted road markings to automatically adjust the steering wheel to stay in the centre of the lane.
Most of the car is then controlled through a 7-inch touchscreen centre display and an array of buttons on the steering wheel.
Android Auto and Apple Carplay support make the built-in navigation and radio redundant, and in this model wireless charging was a welcome addition.
MyToyota is also supported in the car and provides connectivity through an in-car hotspot with a number of additional music and entertainment, service booking, vehicle monitoring, and roadside assist services.
It’s one of the most remarkable but least-known services on offer from any large manufacturer nowadays.
The South African car-buying public has shown us they don’t buy station wagons, convertibles, and – of late – sedans, which leaves the new Corolla and this XR CVT model in a playing field with few competitors.
Despite this, Toyota has for the first time in a long while gone the extra mile to make the Corolla desirable.
It’s a genuinely good C-segment sedan that will serve many owners for decades to come.
The only potential catch here is its price.
The South African pricing for the Toyota Corolla XR CVT is R442,400.
While previous Corollas have been the car of choice for people looking for reliable transport right through their retirement, the new sedan may be a little too sporty and a little too expensive.
That being said, it is unrivalled in its segment and I am so glad Toyota moved on from the generic, nondescript passenger carrier the Corolla has always been to something that is enjoyable to drive and provides a premium feel.