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HomeDRIVENROAD TESTEDTOYOTA COROLLA 1.8 EXCLUSIVE

TOYOTA COROLLA 1.8 EXCLUSIVE

Coming from an era when safari suits and Grasshopper shoes were in vogue, the Toyota Corolla – now in its 11th generation and entering its sixth decade worldwide (and 40 years in South Africa) – has suddenly blossomed into a real looker. Shaking off its drab image which, in the past, was carefully overlooked because of the Corolla’s reputation for rugged reliability, the duckling has, at last, become somewhat of a swan.

Cognizant of the role that Corolla has played in our country over the past 40 years, during which time more than a million of these cars were built and sold locally, it was a logical choice that a Corolla – in this case, the 1.8 Exclusive –  would be a perfect candidate to serve as our medium-termer.

Delivered in immaculate condition (as usual) “our” Corolla, wearing a metallic golden bronze colour scheme, quickly established itself as a firm favourite in the hands of the three journalists fortunate enough to get a spell behind the wheel.

THE LOOKS

New headlamp clusters and a front bumper with a lower grille struck a very dashing note at first glance, assisted, in the case of the Exclusive, by LED headlamps for that expensive and, dare we say it, exclusive look. The rear lights were equally LED impressive. The engine hood has been raised, and the bumper corners have been given deep sculpting treatment to enhance what Toyota describes as a 3D effect. It certainly enhanced the car’s stature – making it appear even larger and more impressive than it already is.

However, the proof of the pudding lies in the interior, and here more surprises, all of them positive and pleasant, awaited our test crew. Seats are firm, supportive and should last for years.

Climate control is of the automatic variety, and numerous other goodies such as automatic headlamp levelling, rain-sensing wipers and no fewer than seven airbags (including protection for the driver’s knees) pointed towards a vehicle that punches way above its weight, but still remains civilised and pliable (as all Corollas have been through the ages) when in stop-start urban traffic. The turning circle is remarkably small, visibility to all four corners is quite reasonable, and the Corolla continues with that delightful, muscle-saving light clutch action that has become a hallmark of these cars.

THE POWER

Smooth and vibration free, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol unit is unstressed (to prolong engine life) and develops a modest (by today’s standards) 103 kW at a rather high 6,390 r/min. It’s a 16-valve (with variable timing) unit that also features a DOHC setup and maximum torque output of only 173 Nm at 4,000 r/min. Clearly, the Corolla, with its 1.8-litre twin-cam is not for boy racers but is aimed at a more “mature” market segment where reliability is a higher priority than a high top speed and startling acceleration figures. It must be conceded, however, that this market segment would probably prefer an automatic gearbox to the smooth-shifting six-speed manual version our test car was delivered with.

THE RIDE

I distinctly remember past generations of Corollas that had the tendency to wander – demanding constant steering adjustment. This agony is gone, and the 2017 version of this hugely popular car (one being built every 36 seconds somewhere in the world) is now a stable and delectable high speed tourer – capable of (almost) matching the long-distance capabilities of the mid-sized German “Big Three”, some entry-level Volvos, while matching Honda’s Civic in every aspect, apart from outright power.

The comfortable and stable ride is due, in no small measure, to the tuned MacPherson front suspension and rear torsion beam that enables the fitment of larger shock absorbers, which, in turn, strike a good balance between handling stability and ride comfort. The Corolla’s pretentions at being more than another mass-produced mid-sized Japanese offering also include particular attention to noise, vibration and harshness. Padding and sound-damping material in all the right places make for a quiet and civilised ride that’s less harsh than, for instance, the current Honda Civic.

LAST WORD

With the 1.8 Exclusive having spent all of six weeks in our hands, it’s fair to say that even sceptics who have always regarded Toyota’s passenger car range as boring will have to change their mindset. At R336,300, the Exclusive enjoys a 3-year/100,000 warranty plan, a 5-year/90,000 km service plan, and an ownership experience that should prove to be trouble free with a relatively decent resale value at the end. Highly recommended.

Report by BERNARD HELLBERG SR | Images by QUICKPIC

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