There was a time, of course, when a Toyota Corolla with a 1,3-litre engine would certainly not have raised any eyebrows. But that was the ‘80s… Cars such as the Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta and Opel Astra have grown up into sophisticated offerings packed with the latest features and gadgets. And because consumer research always indicates a desire for more space, these cars have grown dimensionally, too. So, now it’s 2009 and we have a Toyota Corolla powered by a “miniscule” 1,3-litre engine – a Corolla that is not too far removed from an old Cressida in size, and which is loaded with features. Is it simply asking too much?
Upmarket finish for Toyota CorollaWhile you may expect a Toyota Corolla powered by a meagre 1,3-litre engine to be a bargain basement offering, it’s not the case here. In terms of its exterior finish, there’s not much to give the game away, except for 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, but even those look relatively stylish. Having been around since 2007, the current Toyota Corolla is by now a very familiar sight on our roads, and while it is true that the design is not the most progressive out there, it can also not be labelled boring as easily as before. Get one in a bright metallic hue to avoid losing it in the car park…
There are also no obvious signs of cost-cutting in the cabin. The Toyota Corolla 1,3 Professional boasts the same upmarket facia design as all other Corollas and very good quality all-round – there are a surprising number of soft-touch surfaces, and even some metallic accenting to add touches of class. The instrumentation is particularly neat, incorporating digital displays within the dials that are backlit in orange. Ergonomically the design is sound, too, with chunky rotary ventilation controls being well-placed on the centre panel of the facia and remote audio buttons positioned on the steering wheel.
Comfort levels are very high all-round, with the driver’s seat boasting height-adjustment and the steering wheel offering rake/reach adjustability. The wheelbase of 2 600 mm may not be the most generous in this segment, but rear legroom is nevertheless good, and the boot is capable of accommodating 450-litres worth of luggage – also class competitive. By the way, the width of the Toyota Corolla means that three-abreast seating in the rear is not such a squeeze.
Comfort levels are further boosted by a considered standard features package that includes; air-conditioning, remote side mirrors, electric (front) windows, radio/CD player and power steering. The seats are upholstered in a neat cloth material. On the safety side four airbags and ABS/EBD remain part of the deal.
Refined and willingSeen in isolation, a 1,3-litre engine developing 73 kW is certainly an impressive feat, but within the context of a rather heavy, big Toyota Corolla body, perhaps less so. A relatively low torque figure of 132 Nm, developed at a fairly high 3 800 rpm, makes the alarm bells ring even louder. The 0-100 km/h time of 13 seconds tells you almost everything you need to know about the Corolla’s limited sprinting potential. But what it doesn’t tell you is that the Toyota actually feels rather willing during normal town driving, responding keenly to throttle inputs. Of course, accelerating from higher speeds, or when overtaking, requires forward planning and shifting down a gear or three, but in general the performance will be acceptable for most, especially as the engine is so impressive in other respects (notably refinement and fuel economy) too. The feel of refinement is also evident in the very slick, smooth six-speed manual transmission. Note, however, that sixth is most certainly an “overdrive” ratio to save fuel, and that you’ll have to shift gear regularly to keep the engine on the boil.
All current-generation Corollas boast excellent ride refinement and bump absorbing qualities. The suspension (torsion beam at the rear) has been tuned to deliver maximum ride comfort, and is aided further in this regard by the fitment of generously sidewalled tyres. Consequently, the Toyota Corolla tends to waft along quietly, the serenity of it all boosted further by excellent NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control. In summary, the driving experience is top notch, with the Toyota Corolla exhibiting the refinement of a bigger, more expensive car. Those drivers who want their cars to rise to the occasion when faced with a twisty piece of blacktop will however have to look elsewhere for their kicks, because the Corolla’s soft suspension, dull steering and lack of oomph make it a non-starter in the excitement stakes.
Toyota Corolla - VerdictHaving read this far, you’ll undoubtedly realise that the Toyota Corolla 1,3 Professional is a car that appears to be worth more than the sum of its parts. Yes, let’s not beat around the bush – at altitude the 1,3-litre is going to struggle more, and you’ll have to use that slick six-speed ‘box regularly – but in every other respect the Toyota Corolla puts in a first-class effort. Less can, indeed, be more… Now add the Toyota after-sales service reputation and the peace-of-mind brought by a 5 years/90 000 km service plan, and it’s clear this model could contribute to the Toyota Corolla sales tally rather more than expected.
- Build quality
- Cabin space
- Ride quality
- Resale value
- Power (especially at altitude)
Engine: 1,3-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 73 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 132 Nm @ 3 800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch steel
Top speed: 170 km/h
0-100 km/h: 13 seconds
Fuel economy: 5 litres/100 km
- Mazda3 1,6i: Nearing the end of its lifecycle, but the Mazda3 remains an attractive car. However, in this instance, it can’t match the Toyota’s specification and although it has a bigger engine, it’s not vastly more powerful. Slightly unrefined, too.
- Hyundai Elantra 1,6 GLS: This largely uninspiring Korean offering does have some redeeming features, such as good power, refinement, a large boot and a very long warranty. Otherwise, mostly forgettable, but it’s unlikely to let you down.
- Kia Cerato 1,6: Brand new on the scene and certainly a looker. The specification level is finely judged and the cabin design neat. Good power, too, but the one let-down is relatively poor NVH control, with particularly road noise being intrusive.