There’s few people who would say the Toyota Corolla hasn’t been an iconic car for New Zealand – or more realistically, the whole world. It hasn’t been called ‘New Zealand’s Favourite Car’ for no reason.

This year, Toyota New Zealand (TNZ) launched the 12th generation 2018 model, with much of the emphasis on assisted driving and hybrid Corollas.

Can the new Corolla make waves in a segment that seems to be losing out to SUV sales, more and more?

DriveLife went along to the launch of the car at Toyota’s New Zealand headquarters in Palmerston North to find out.

We met to get the details in the ‘Corolla’ meeting room at TNZ, photos of every Corolla model since the First Generation model in 1966 adorn the walls. It’s been a long journey, and it doesn’t look to end anytime soon.

DAY ONE: TNZ revenues and Spare Parts Warehouse tour

The first day didn’t include actually seeing or driving the car. We’d go through the engineering and story behind the new model, and also do a tour of the new spare parts warehouse – Toyota’s single biggest dollar investment in this country.

GM Customer Services & Product Planning, Spencer Morris, gave us the run-down on some of the numbers for TNZ. Apparently there are 900,000 Toyotas on the road in New Zealand – that’s an impressive number in any terms.

As far as revenue goes, in 2004, TNZ managed $63m. In 2017, that number was $140m. Again, impressive.

He went on to talk about the new extension to the spare parts warehouse, all 10,000 square metres of it. This will increase the total floor space to 34,000 square metres. Impressed? You should be. The original spare parts warehouse was just under 10,000 square metres.

TNZ carries around $27m in spare parts inventory, and this is turned over every 3.5 months.

The next day delivery promise of parts in stock is 100% on target – complete with a Posthaste plane leaving Palmerston North every night, 60% full of Toyota parts heading to the South Island.

They’ve even got spare parts for the yet to be released Corolla, they are that committed to the cause.

We moved back to some of the TNZ numbers, especially around Corollas. So far, there has been 263,000 Corollas sold here brand new. Compare this to 127,000 Hiluxes, and you can see why TNZ is invested in developing the Corolla to keep it current, and also future-focused.

Toyota was the first brand here to get over 900,000 vehicles on our roads, and 25% of all passenger cars are a Toyota. The Corolla itself is the most common individual model in New Zealand.

And the Hilux? There’s still 108,000 of them on the road! Apparently it’s close to true, that you can’t kill a Hilux.

Next up was the warehouse tour, and it’s almost a shame Toyota doesn’t offer this to the public. It’s pretty impressive, if just in size. There’s over 5,000 bumpers alone in stock It was well worth the long walk around the existing warehouse, and then we went into the new addition which is almost finished, all 10,000 square metres of it. I could only long for a go-kart to have a blast around it while there was no stock there.

DAY TWO: Drive Day

An aggressive drive plan was set for the day, including a drive from Palmerston North over the Paihiatua Track, and on to Martinborough for lunch, then returning via the same route.

The weather in some ways wasn’t ideal: wet, windy, wild. For testing a car – even for just a day – this made for some good conditions to see how the new Corolla would perform.

But as always, first up was the info on new Corolla range, as well as sales numbers and other info on the range.

Apparently, Corolla means ‘crown of a flower’. It was launched in 1966 and one in 5 cars sold globally since it was launched is a Corolla, and a new Corolla is sold every 15 seconds. That means a total production run to date of 44 million.

The official launch date is October 1, although Toyota say they’ve already sold several hundred cars.

With TDP, or ‘Toyota Driveaway Pricing’, the new model has been priced well, for the specifications we are getting.

Base model GX; 2.0-litre $29,990 or 1.8-litre hybrid $32,990

SX 2.0-litre $32,490

ZR 2.0-litre $37,490 or 1.8-litre hybrid $38,490.

The Levin and GLX models have been retired from the range.

You can also get 3 years of service costs covered with your new Corolla for $195.

The new model is slightly wider and longer than last model, although the boot is slightly smaller and there’s a little less rear legroom as well.

Standard across the whole range will be Toyota’s Safety Sense features, which includes auto high beams, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, lane trace assist, night pedestrian detection system, day cyclist/pedestrian detection, Lane Tracing Assist (the new Corolla is the first Toyota to have this) as well as lane departure warning, and vehicle sway warning. These systems will work with no lane markings, as the cameras can determine the sides of the road.

There’s also a Lane Centring feature – this will keep the car in centre of lanes, and also doesn’t need road markings to make it work.

Added into this safety feature set is my favourite item to date – Road Sign Assist. Other manufacturers have this, but it only works with the speed limiter system. For the Toyota Corolla, it works with adaptive cruise control. So say you’ve got adaptive cruise set at 100km/h, then you pass an 80km/h sign, the camera will pick this up, give you a warning in the display and a quick flick down on the cruise speed adjust button will automatically set cruise control to the new speed. Brilliant. We tried this out during the drive and it works a treat.

Also standard across the range, is SatNav with SUNA Traffic alerts. For the prices of the Corolla, the specs are pretty high.

Wireless phone charging is standard on the mid-spec SX and the top-spec ZR.

Styling

There’s a lower bonnet on the new model, and it’s more rounded at rear. The rear screen is more steeply raked, and there’s a roof spoiler as standard.

The GX and SX both have 16” alloys, with the ZR is fitted with two-tone 18” alloys.

The ZR front seats are something special, with massive side bolsters, and electric lumbar support adjust. There’s cloth seats in the GX and SX, while the ZX has leather and suede.

Performance

The new car uses Toyota’s GA-C global platform that we saw first used in CH-R. Mechanically, the non-hybrid cars have a new 2.0-litre ‘Dynamics Force Engine’, and a ‘Direct Shift CVT’. The new 2.0-litre engine is physically smaller than the old 1.8, apparently.

Power for the new engine is 125kW and there’s 200Nm of torque. This means power is up 22kW, and torque up 27Nm. Fuel economy is pretty much the same, at 6.0l/100km (down from 6.1 for the 1.8).

The hybrid versions now have the same 1.8-litre motor as the Prius, and should return 4.2l/100km for fuel economy.

Toyota have gone to great lengths to push the fact that this transmission has an actual mechanical first gear, even though it’s a CVT – a first in the world. Driving will tell if it’s a better experience than a normal CVT.

The centre of gravity is now 10mm lower, which has reduced body roll and apparently torsional rigidity is up 60%.

Time to Drive!

We were all over the talking by now, and wanted to hit the road. As is usual for a car launch, we’d swap cars during the day, and also swap between being passenger or driver.

First up we took out a ZR model hybrid, which has had the TRD treatment – so side skirts and so other accessories added to the car.

The red interior caught my eye first as I got in as passenger. It’s extremely eye catching, and looks great. The seats look very supportive too, and I’ve got to say they feel as good as they look. The central display is standard across the range at 9”, but it looks much bigger than that.

There’s definitely a luxury feel to the interior – it’s finished beautifully, and the controls look and feel like quality.

From the passenger’s seat, there was still the sound that only an engine behind a CVT can make. I’d reserve judgement until I drive the car.

There was a reasonable amount of tyre noise coming into the car, but that may be because wind and road noise seemed well muted.

The Qi wireless phone charger was welcome, I love it when a car has this feature. To have this on the mid-spec model too is excellent.

We switched spots and I got behind the wheel. Being a hybrid, the performance felt subdued at times, but we were driving on the open road by now.

At one point,  we got far too far behind the rest of the Corollas, as had to push along quite hard through some twisty bits to catch up. Hands down, this is the best handling Corolla to date. The chassis is superb, sitting flat and almost falling into the corners. It’s nice to drive on a twisty road, and inspires quite a bit of confidence in its abilities.

The only let-down for me here was the lack of steering feeling. There’s almost none, which is a bummer.

We stopped and switched cars, moving to a ZR model again, but this time the 2.0-litre, so no hybrid. This is the model to get. Instantly, performance was increased, and that new engine loves to rev. Torque seems quite high up the rev range, but overall it’s a cracker of a motor.

With less weight, the handling also seemed to improve on the hybrid, although steering feel was still non-existent, even in Sport mode.

It was great having the paddles to change ‘gears’ in the ZR 2.0-litre, although the experience from the CVT is the same. Starting off, it does feel better with that ‘real’ first gear, and gentle driving from there on is just fine. But give it some gas, and there’s still CVT flaring evident.

We moved to our next car, a GX model hybrid. Much the same experience as the ZR hybrid, but we’d lost our Qi charging and the heads-up display. The ZR is the one to go for. The cloth seats in the GX are just fine – comfortable and cosy, but not a patch on the ZR’s seats.

The GX had a better ride than the ZR, no doubt down to the smaller wheels and higher profile tyres. The ZR still rides okay, but the GX is that much better, and felt like it was top of the class for ride quality.

We popped the boot of the GX to take a look, it does look smaller than the previous model, but still useable.

Our fourth car was the mid-spec SX with the 2.0-litre engine, and it was a bit of déjà vu from the ZR, just without as many goodies and the smaller wheels as well.

Before we knew it, we’d got back to Palmerston North.

Will the new Corolla win new friends and keep that loyalty that Toyota is known for?

At a quick look and drive, yes. But as always, we reserve judgement until we’ve spent a week behind the wheel.

Stay tuned.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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