I’ve just been out in the Toyota Auris for a week and found it a touch disappointing, I have to confess. I had expected the Auris hatchback to rock my world but instead it just rocked me to sleep. Toyota’s spin doctors would have us believe it’s a true segment buster, just as the Yaris was, but alas it’s not.
It’s a tall, wide hatchback that doesn’t drive badly and is well equipped, but has an overwrought centre control and rather lacklustre plastics. That would be fine if I hadn’t been built up to expect so much more. Sometimes marketing has a way of backfiring, I think. The reason I tell you this is because right after I dropped the Auris back I collected a new Toyota Corolla, which is essentially a booted Auris from an engineering point of view.
The Corolla name might not mean much to most Europeans but in Ireland it’s one of the top sellers, which is why the tenth derivative is being sold here in Ireland (and in Turkey) while the rest of Europe goes without. So what we have here is a saloon version of a car I didn’t care for much to begin with. Great. Here’s the thing, though.
Because the Corolla and Auris share pretty much all of their mechanical components, the Corolla handles just as well as the Auris does –not eye-widening fun, perhaps, but certainly responsive, grippy and well controlled. The engines are shared, too, so while our 97bhp 1.4-litre isn’t going to set any landspeed records it does cope surprisingly well with the saloon’s heavier body. The ride is firm but decently compliant over rough roads and the suspension doesn’t let too much road noise into the cabin, either.
The gearbox is a zillion times better than the old Corolla’s while the brakes are responsive and rather meaty, too. Just a little more steering weight and a touch more throttle steer is all that’s needed to make the Corolla a bit of a laugh, but as it is it’s certainly on a par with, say, the Jetta or Megane saloon. The Corolla’s interior is very similar to that of the Auris but instead of the annoying gear lever ‘bridge’ there’s a proper centre console with usable storage areas. Because this car will be sold in America, too, there are proper cupholders and an armrest storage box so deep you could store a few pizzas in there. It’s not the most exciting interior design in the world but at least it’s well made (with fewer painted plastic surfaces and half-hearted embellishments than the Auris) and utterly painless to use.
The driving position and seats are also well up there with the class best, which means front-seat passengers are very well taken care of. However, because of its odd proportions (it has the same wheelbase as the old Corolla) it feels very cramped in the back compared to rivals from Ford or VW. I can’t say the styling does much for me either, but I doubt the featureless flanks and dreary detailing will dissuade many in the long line of prospective buyers. None of the saloons in this market segment are much to look at, to be honest, so why not buy one you know won’t go wrong. You know the best thing about the Corolla, though? The marketing. There’s no spin, no hype. In fact, the Corolla ad just features a picture of the car with some people getting into it, going somewhere to do something. They’re happy because it will start first time. They’re happy because it doesn’t draw unwanted attention. They’re happy because it rides better and is quieter than the old model, and will be worth more than any of its rivals second-hand. Come to think of it, I don’t think I like the marketing anymore. God, they don’t half look smug...
Toyota Corolla 1.4 Strata
Engine 1.4-litre four cylinder 97bhp, 130Nm torque
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Acceleration 0-100km/h 13 seconds
Top speed 170 km/h
Economy 11.7 litres/100km
CO2 Emissions 158 g/km
Boot Capacity 450 litres