Corolla rewrites the Hatch rules

How Toyota made its hatchback number 1 again

To be blunt, Toyota lagged well behind in its passenger car engine tech as South Africa’s biggest carmaker kept churning out naturally aspirated old school lumps that could never hold a candle to its European rivals’ more recent force-fed downsized engines and space-age gearboxes. Not only did they deliver far better performance, but those Continental cars benefited significantly superior economy and drivability too. 

Add 1500m of Jozi altitude and that ancient N/A disadvantage was even greater, so considering that’s where 70% of us live, it was a major issue as Toyota simply failed to compete with a growing list of far more sophisticated, higher tech hatchback rivals. Well, in engine and gearbox tech anyway. Perhaps it was that the Orient was less concerned about ‘global warming’ than say Europe or California was, but the result of that lack of efficient turbo performance certainly had Toyota on the back foot.

Right back on top of the pile
Happily, that's all history since this Corolla Hatch arrived in SA about a year ago, to kick those old performance and efficiency shortfalls squarely into touch. But that's not all — this latest Corolla also delivers excellent ride quality, crisp handling and even more space in a safer cabin to propel the world’s best selling car right back to the top of the hatchback pile. 

The resurgence is however thanks en main due to Corolla’s huge new under-the-bonnet advantage. Powered by Toyota's contemporary 85kW 1.2-litre four-pot turbo petrol it shares with the C-HR, the little engine delivers 185Nm all the way from 1500 to 4000rpm and drives the front wheels through a solid and slick-shifting 6-speed manual. 

But that's just half the story — Corolla Hatch gets a smooth and responsive 10-step Sport Sequential Shiftmatic to also tackle Europe’s slickest rivals with what I’d go as far as to say is the best continuously variable transmission we've yet driven. It doesn't feel like a CVT, nor does it cause the engine to drone like a suffering drunk like most CVTs do, all of which is most impressive.

We've enjoyed ample time road testing both versions of the Corolla, where the manual rushed to to 100km/h in a fleet 8.9 seconds, crushed 400m in 16.1 seconds at 139km/h and pulled from 80 to 120km/h in 6.39 seconds. The CVT took a few tenths of a second longer to do the same and Toyota claims a 200km/h top end and 6.1 litres per 100km for both variants. Best of all, this turbo Corolla Hatch no longer suffers that draconian thin air performance penalty that normally aspirated cars do at over 1500m, where most of South Africa lives.

Better than Golf?
Now our tests not only proved quicker than Toyota’s own claims, but they also made for an intriguing comparison with arch rival Volkswagen’s 81kW Golf 1.0 TSI. Now that Golf was once the quicker option by far compared to the Corolla Hatch’s 1600cc N/A Auris predecessor. This time around the Golf proved a bit slower than the latest Corolla Hatch and cost a tad more, even if it is slightly more economical. But the VW is now also by far the older tech car — the wheel turns, they say.

There's far more to Corolla Hatch than just a quantum step forward in under-the-bonnet technology and this first middle-of-the-range five-door Toyota to carry the best seller Corolla tag since the Tazz over twenty years ago is also more than just a re-badged Auris. Corolla Hatch benefits excellent ride quality and handling dynamics thanks to its much stiffer and lighter TNGA platform, complete with a multilink rear suspension with an advanced shock absorber design for a smoother and more comfortable ride in a compact design that also allows for more cabin and load space.

Corolla Hatch looks the part, never mind, and its stylish, spacious, modern and cohesive cabin packs another giant leap forward in materials and finish to deliver a practical and eye-catching mix of new textures, colours and trim gains. A slim instrument panel dominates a sporty wraparound cockpit, while the driver adopts a sportier position in a bucket seat that keeps you nicely in place when the going gets brisk.

Corolla Hatch has a superb quality cabin of course crammed full of active and passive safety features along with a raft of really cool high tech infotainment touches to shove the world’s favourite car right back to the top of the hatchback pile in every respect. It has multifunction steering wheel assisted infotainment packed with 6-speaker audio, Bluetooth and USB and auxiliary input, with Android Auto and Apple Car Play smartphone mirroring set to join the fray across the entire Toyota range very soon too. 

Great specification
Add a multi-information display, power steering, power windows, cruise control, climate control, a reversing camera and a power socket, while the Corolla Hatch features a host of safety kit too. Those include a full compliment of seven airbags for the driver and passenger, along with two side and curtain, as well as driver’s knee bag, plus Vehicle Stability Control and a full suite of electronic driver aids from ABS and EBD to Brake Assist and Hill-assist Control and it also comes standard with ISOFIX attachment points for child seats.

All Corolla Hatch models come standard with the regular comprehensive Toyota back-up from a 6-service/90 000km Plan with intervals set at 12 months/15 000km, and 3-year/100 000km warranty.

So, this Toyota’s Corolla has completely turned the middle of the road Hatch market right on its head as it rewrites the rulebook to properly salute its best selling car in history reputation. Click here to find out more about buying your Corolla Hatch...