TOYOTA'S COROLLA LUXURY SEDAN SCORES
Should Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, ever contemplate a small sedan, the Corolla Ultima would provide a fine starting point.
The range-topper of the Corolla lineup comes fully equipped with luxury items including leather seats and proves that the terms ‘small car’, ‘luxury’ and ‘reasonable price’ can be mutually compatible.
What You Get
Toyota says the Ultima sedan includes $6,000 of extras to leave its major rivals languishing in the specifications department. These include 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seat trim, keyless entry and start system, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, climate control air-conditioning, auto headlights, and more.
Styled at Toyota’s Nagoya (Japan) studio, with considerable input from Toyota Europe, this Corolla sedan (the 10th generation of the world’s best-selling car) is the longest and widest ever.
It’s also very safe – the Ultima model boasts seven SRS airbags including a drivers’ kneebag, ABS anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution plus Stability Control and Traction Control.
Under The Hood
Australia is one of only a few markets to secure Toyota’s all-new !.8-litre dual VVT-i engine for the Corolla. And while a 1.8-litre engine has been standard in Corollas sold here since 2000, the new engine is a major advance with its variable valve timing including infinite adjustment on both the inlet and exhaust camshafts – good for performance both at low speeds and highway cruising.
Featuring an intelligent electronic throttle, the engine delivers 100kW of power at 6000rpm and peak torque of 175Nm at 4400rpm.
Drive is to the front wheels and the Ultima model we tested is only available with Toyota’s intuitive four-speed electronic automatic transmission which ‘reads’ gradients to reduce the number of upshifts during acceleration uphill and optimizes engine braking when going downhill.
Ultima’s marketplace rivals - the Mitsubishi Lancer VRX and Mazda3 sedan - offer 2.0-litre, 2.3-litre and 2.4-litre engines which deliver more power and torque. Nissan’s Tiida sedan Ti has a less powerful 1.8-litre powerplant.
The Corolla Ultima scores top marks for its surprisingly luxurious and generously-equipped interior.
Remembering this is a small car, the Ultima delivers nicely finished leather seats – the fronts are actually quite generous in size with a supportive base and firm sides.
As you would expect in this segment, the rear seat is fine for children but gets a little squeezy for adults – especially if the front seat occupants stretch-out.
We like the sporty three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel which is adjustable for both rake and reach.
The bridged center console and instrument cluster are well-designed and all controls are logical and easy to reach.
Ultima also boasts power windows and a six-disc MP3 audio system with Bluetooth compatibility.
Exterior & Styling
Like all Corollas, the 10th generation lineup presents a modern, contemporary look that is conservative and doesn’t polarize.
We like the ‘swoopy’ low-mounted front grille and modern taillight designs.
And the extra 150mm in length, 65mm in width and 5mm in height (compared to the previous Corolla) have been handily used by the designers to give an almost cab-forward look to exaggerate space and proportions plus a large glass area for enhanced visibility.
On The Road
Toyota’s efforts to make the 10th generation Corolla the quietest yet were extensive – including minimized hole sizes for firewall passages (air-conditioning hoses and the steering column) plus a cowl louver to direct airflow over the wipers.
Certainly Ultima succeeds in delivering a luxury on-road feel in part because it is so quiet. In fact we’ve driven some mid-size prestige sedans with greater noise intrusion.
The 1.8-litre engine delivers with refinement and the auto changes gears smoothly.
Safe, predictable ride and handling plus excellent suppression of suspension noise over bumps like rail crossings complete a nice on-road package.
Corolla Ultima’s excellent chassis could handle a larger engine with more power and torque. And when compared directly with the powerplants of Mitsubishi Lancer and Mazda3, this is the Ultima’s only shortcoming.
Sophisticated, well-equipped, nice to drive and great value-for-money, we’re not surprised Toyota is aiming for Corolla sedan models to capture increased sales compared to their hatchback relatives.
The Ultima surprised us with its extensive standard equipment and luxury feel, but also its execution - a genuine luxury small car.
The Volkswagen Jetta is in the same league, but to get a direct specification comparison, pricing is getting closer to $40K.
Well-equipped; value-for-money; nice to drive; nice build quality
Nicely tuned chassis could handle Toyota’s 2.4-litre engine