Road Tests

First Drive: Uber drivers, your Toyota Corolla hatch is waiting

Another Toyota heavyweight

Between the three good oaks of Hilux, new RAV4 and Corolla, Toyota SA is able to steady the brand’s sales volume during the bumpy peaks and troughs of the car market so when a new Corolla arrives the fleet, rental and uber drivers begin to salivate. But in order to attract customers up through the brand from a Yaris, the new Corolla hatch needs to offer something apart from low running costs, implacable resale value or that interior that any uber driver spends his life praying won’t be vomited in from Friday to Sunday.

Does Corolla hatch replace Auris?

It has done so in other places of the world already and even Toyota SA admits that the Auris name never maintained the same hatchback culture when it replaced the RunX. Corolla hatch is a derivative positioned in the same vein as Focus hatch, Polo hatch, Mazda 3 hatch… It will resonate with buyers immediately and skate over the costly marketing campaign required to educate or inform buyers on a new model.  

A sporty look

Even the base model grabs a tinge of sportiness which is something we saw with C-HR and will see with the upcoming RAV4, but never from a Corolla nameplate since those 20-valve models that only the best sales reps got. We’re constantly refreshing our frame of reference with Toyota’s design evolution and to ensure this continues the new Corolla hatch presents us with new ideas and concepts to puzzle over rather thoughtfully.

As we know, one of Toyota’s more recent obsessions is to build cars that are exciting to drive, so it becomes a reasonable expectation that they’re creeping away from the tastes of vanilla as new aspiring and emotive products you might be persuaded to share on Instagram. If you disliked Toyota’s formative styling, now is a good time to reconsider.

A GR-Sport version?

In South Africa VW’s R-Line has the largest conversion rate on its standard cars compared to elsewhere in the world; evidence then that we don’t refrain from spending money on bigger wheels and lippier bumpers. The Japanese brand should tap into this side of the market, if just to create public visibility around GR-Sport and GRMN. The Corolla hatch GR-Sport will arrive probably later this year and we’ve been told in the past that GR Sport needs to include some discreet handling enhancement to go with those cosmetic steroids. Don’t get too excited, that extra handling nous could simply come down to bigger wheels.

How does it drive?

The C-HR may look like a faster piece of kit but it’s the Corolla hatch that will open up a few car lengths in a quick direction change. That’s because the centre of gravity is lower but also because the rear suspension carries a few degrees of toe-in. This has a profound effect on how quickly the rear of the car dives for the inside of the corner while in that moment where the rear tyres are very involved the steering then feels lightly geared. I don’t think many Corolla hatch drivers will fully appreciate a setup that delivers those sneaky rewards at the edge but hatchbacks are supposed to be the fun bodystyle with a handling brio thrown in which reflects those brighter days of RunX.

Corolla hatch south africa

It’s good to see Toyota’s 1.2-litre turbo engines winning the votes for new model ranges. The only other feasible choice could, in future, be a hybrid of sorts like we saw arrive in C-HR far into the crossover’s lifecycle. The six speed manual gearbox is fine but we’re moaning less about the CVT gearbox than we ever have. This one comfortably eclipses all the versions employed by other Japanese brands in terms of smoothness and quietness. Could there be some justice for the CVT after all these years of suffering?

On the inside

Meticulous local product specification means that Corolla hatch ends up as a competitively priced R350 000 hatch with great value and not a R500 000 hatch – which would be the result had they followed international equipment lines. Inside it’s fairly sparse, unable to make the tactility or attractiveness of a Mazda feel vulnerable to attack. But it’s blatantly obvious that Toyota has spent money on a touchscreen and skimped elsewhere although tech-savvy individuals will be horrified by the screen’s chunky bezels as well as the robust way it’s been riveted to the dash – like a second grab handle for the passenger.  This is still a company that is clumsy with the fitment of new digital tech – no help from BMW here.

Verdict

The outgoing Corolla sedan still sells a bigger volume than newer rivals who have a thirst for anything Apple Carplay or Android Auto. Auris sales are stable but slowly falling off the same page as the Corolla sedan. Keeping in mind how sedan sales are sinking month on month and hatchbacks are still defiantly jostling with crossovers, the new tactics by Corolla are fresh but also grounded on solid facts. A very good hatch that maintains Toyota’s recent strong momentum but with Golf selling 40 per cent of its volume as GTI models, the door on a sporty Corolla hatch surely hasn’t closed.   Andrew Leopold

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