Corolla ZR sedan: Toyota's juggernaut rolls on
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Toyota has not changed a winner, just updated it
The Toyota Corolla has become so familiar it is an easy model to take for granted.
But every day so far this year about 17 Corollas have been driven from Toyota showrooms, making it easily the most popular passenger vehicle in the country.
So it is understandable Toyota hasn't messed too much with a successful formula while updating the Corolla range.
There are minor refinements to the front, and the latest models are loaded with technological driving and safety aids such as lane-departure alert, daytime running lights and even an automatic high/low beam system.
The new frontal treatment improves and simplifies the appearance of the Corolla sedan and, inside the car, changes have simplified and improved the look while accommodating buttons and lights for the new systems on the car.
However, the annoying way the bonnet drops down from the bottom of the windscreen so the front extremities of the car cannot be seen from the driving position, remains.
Toyota has also tweaked the familiar 1.8 litre four cylinder engine and refined the CVT seven-speed gearbox to extract more power and fuel economy.
The Corolla ZR sedan tested by Driven is the top-of-the-range model, with leather-accented upholstery and smart alloy wheels. It sells for $44,690 plus on road costs, around $5700 more than the baseline GX model at $38,990. There is also a mid-range sedan available for $35,990 plus orc.
The Corolla is said to be the world's top-selling model with around 44 million models sold since its introduction a half-century ago. It has been a remarkably consistent sales success in New Zealand. Just last month there were 508 Corolla models registered in this country, once again topping the passenger and SUV sales figures. In fact, the Corolla has been New Zealand's top-selling passenger vehicle since 2008, available in hatchback, sedan, station wagon and hybrid variants.
Hatchbacks accounted for 74 per cent of the Corollas sold here so far this year, whereas the sedan made up only 15 per cent of Corolla sales.
This is hardly surprising given the huge market swing away from four-door sedans towards SUVs, accelerated in recent years as the majority of manufacturers have introduced compact SUV models.
But clearly the Corolla sedan still has its fans, although many of the 281 sedans sold so far this year will have joined rental car and company fleets.
The Glacier White Corolla ZR sedan Driven tested is powered by the 1.8 litre petrol engine that, after tweaking, now produces 103kW of power and 173 Nm of torque. It is paired with an updated CVT gearbox, which Toyota says delivers a smoother ride and greater fuel economy than in previous models.
The sedan is comfortable and familiar to drive, although it is fair to say some aspects of the model are showing their age.
For example, it is a surprise these days to hop into a new car and be confronted with such an upright dashboard. You also sit quite low in the Corolla, a sense heightened by upright nature of the dash. The minor changes made to the dash in the latest model have helped simplify it, with most of the information the driver needs available in or around the twin circles immediately in front of the driver.
There is a 7-inch colour touchscreen well placed in the centre of the dashboard, incorporating audio, and navigation systems and, unusually today, there is even a slot to play your CDs.
The screen can split into two, one for audio and the other for 3D-view navigation, and it is easy to pair your phone to the Corolla's system.
There is an ECO button on the home screen, which provides well-presented and useful information about fuel usage, average speed and fuel range.
There is also a vehicle set-up option where door-lock settings, light settings and other aspects of the vehicle can be customised to suit. A voice recognition function is also available.
Four-door sedans with a boot are generally quieter than the equivalent hatchbacks. This is certainly the case with the Corolla sedan. It is distinctly quieter than the hatchback and the large boot offers plenty of space for bulky items such as golf clubs. In fact the 470 litres of luggage space is greater than many of the Corolla's competitor compact models.
There is a claimed fuel usage figure of 6.4 litres per 100km, but the most economical motoring I achieved during five days of driving was 7.2 litres per 100km.
Around town the Corolla performs well, and although no head-turner, it delivers a reliable and efficient mode of transport.
It is only on the open road when pushed that the car starts to struggle. It sits at the speed limit well but if the driver is pushed to complete a quick and efficient passing manouevre, the Corolla is found wanting.
At relatively high speeds, the engine seems to be working hard and the overall result is a less than relaxing drive, maybe it needs another gear.
The interior is functional, although in this model with leather seats that are electrically adjustable in the front, it is not exactly austere.
However the front seats could provide more lateral support in tight corners.
In its current shape, the Corolla continues to beat more stylish and contemporary competitors such as the Mazda 3 in the monthly sales competition, despite lacking that model's composure on the road.
Corolla stays a core model in the Toyota range, and clearly appeals to older buyers unimpressed with more adventurous models such as its sibling, the new CH-R compact SUV.
2017 Toyota Corolla ZR
Pro: Reliable transport
Con: Should be more composed on the road