Way back in the dim, dark, depths of the twentieth century, a small Japanese automobile company released a small Japanese automobile. Called the Corolla, Toyota was not to know just how well entrenched in the automotive psyche that name would become.
In late 2012, after numerous years of being a capable if stolid looking vehicle, Toyota’s design house decided that round and boring could be replaced by edgy and non lawn bowls related. In looks, drive and feel, Toyota has taken an already competent product and refined it even further. A Wheel Thing welcomed the Toyota Corolla Ascent in a five door hatchback configuration with CVT to the family for a week.
The exterior of the 2013 Corolla is part of the family revamp, with a new, sharper nosecone design leading to a flatter, more pedestrian friendly bonnet and windscreen aids the aero factor. The headlight cluster brackets a slim, almost Mercedes style single bar grille with the lower intake reflecting a semi F1 style influence. Around the back is a new set of angular tail lights, wrapping around into the rear fenders under the letterbox sized rear window (no, rear vision from the interior is not great) whilst the overall exterior looks lower and longer. Somewhat surprisingly there’s no reverse parking sensors…The interior in A Wheel Thing’s test car was sombre, with a dark grey metallic look plastic strip breaking up the soft look and feel black plastics. Oddly, the clock was placed to the far left of the driver’s position and next to the aircon vents; not terribly ergonomic, whilst the cruise control, hidden away at a five o’clock position behind the steering wheel, looked almost an afterthought. The upright, slabby look to the whole dash structure did nought but make me think that the basic design looks the same as a Corolla from the seventies and eighties; there’s no wrap around style to the look. The view from the driver’s seat is simple: speedo, fuel and tacho dials with a small LCD insert with some basic info toggled by a button at the three o’clock position on the tiller’s arm. Given the lack of reverse parking sensors it’s a little surprising to see Bluetooth included as standard but a reversing camera is available as an ption on this base model. The aircon dials are the classicly simple dial and button style whilst the audio centre is a double DIN unit, unusual in that more and more companies have the audio integrated into the dash construction. The audio itself was clear, with good depth to the bass but missed midrange tonal control to balance the crystal clean treble. The seats themselves are comfortable enough, with padding and support well laid out and unobtrusive. Leg room and rear boot space is spacious, as expected, with the rear seat a sixty/forty split.
On the road the Ascent rides nicely, with 16 inch steel wheels, clad in plastic trim, shod with 205/55 tyres, with a fluid and controlled feel to both the ride, thanks to rerated springs and dampers and the ratio tightened electrically assisted steering. There’s minimal understeer and tyre squeal when pushed and shopping centre carpark speedbumps have little intrusion into the cabin. The Ascent is powered by a 1.8L engine, with 103kW and 173 Nm (on 91 RON petrol) at 6400 and 4000 rpm respectively. Toyota has moved to a CVT (constantly variable transmission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuously_variable_transmission) and it’s one of the best A Wheel Thing has sampled. From a standing start the box the tacho spins to around 3500rpm and stays there whilst the speedo climbs. The computer recognises the throttle input and adjusts according to the reading, backing off the revs dependent on the readings. It’s also programmed with a seven speed manual change, reacting swiftly and decisively when asked with no apparent lag, aiding the claimed fuel economy of just under 7.0L per 100kms. The gear lever shifts through a zigzag pattern rather than a traditional north-south layout. Further helping fuel economy is a redesigned undertray, the lower ride height and a weight reduction of just over 50 kilograms.
With a starting price just a blueback shy of $20,000.00, the Ascent butts up against the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 amongst others; with a high quality ride and slick CVT plus the legendary Toyota reliability overriding the somewhat mired in the past interior, the Corolla will continue its inexorable path through automotive history.