The Toyota Corolla has been the consistent leader in the passenger-car stakes, staving off hot competition between the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 year after year. The Corolla’s reputation for reliability has been a big sales driver in recent years, though the well-equipped fourth-generation i30 stole a march on it in several metrics – not least of which being driver engagement – when it arrived in May 2017.
The launch of the 12th generation Corolla brought the generational pendulum back, however, and the playing field between Korea and Japan’s top-selling hatchbacks is now a lot more level as a result. To see how the two measure up, we brought together 2.0-litre automatic petrol versions of the entry-level Corolla Ascent Sport and the similarly-priced i30 Active to find out.
HOW AFFORABLE ARE THEY?
Priced at $24,370, the Ascent Sport is the cheapest automatic option in the new Corolla range, attracting a $1500 premium over the six-speed manual.
As well as a more convenient continual variable transmission (CVT), the Ascent Sport auto also gains three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) adaptive cruise control that works at low and high speeds, and lane-keeping assist.
The vehicle we tested was the Ascent Sport auto in Glacier White, which is the only paint option not to incur an additional cost – the other seven colours attract a $475 premium. Optional extras included satellite navigation, digital radio (DAB+) and rear privacy glass, which are bundled together as part of a $1042 package, which took the retail price of our Corolla to $25,412.
The Corolla’s highly efficient 2.0-litre petrol engine has a frugal official fuel consumption rating of 6.0-litres/100km when coupled with the automatic transmission. Our real-world testing showed 8.1L/100km with a mix of highway and inner-city driving.
The petrol Corolla requires a service every 12 months or 15,000km, which is about average. Each service between from 15,000km to 75,000km is capped at $175 with Toyota Service Advantage.
The Corolla is covered by Toyota’s three year/100,000km warranty.
Priced at $23,390, the i30 Active 2.0-litre petrol automatic we’re testing here costs $2300 more than the manual version. The same grade can also be had with a 1.6-litre turbo diesel version in manual or automatic form, for $23,590 and $26,090 respectively, if you’re looking for a more fuel-efficient option.
However, if you’re looking for the most affordable i30 outright, there’s another variant below the Active called the i30 Go that starts at $19,990 for the manual, or $22,290. If feature-count matters not, then the Go is the one for bargain-hunters.
The vehicle we tested was standard, with the only extra on top of the six-speed automatic gearbox being the Marina Blue paintwork for an extra $495 that took the total retail price to $23,885.
The 2.0-litre engine’s claimed average fuel consumption is 7.4L/100km with the automatic, which is a little thirsty for a small hatch – the similarly powered Mazda 3, for example, sips unleaded at a rate of 5.8L/100km.
As for servicing, the i30 tested here has 12-month/15,000km service intervals. Scheduled services within the first five years are capped at $259 a visit, except for the 45,000km major service which will cost you $359. The i30 is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
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WHAT FEATURES DO THEY HAVE?
The Corolla Ascent Sport Auto is the most advanced entry-level variant in its class, and comes with advanced safety features that were unheard of in small hatchbacks just a few years ago. These include adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assist, and speed-sign recognition.
You also get a big 8.0-inch touchscreen with voice recognition, which clearly displays a reversing camera image with fixed guidelines. Infotainment includes AM/FM radio and connectivity with your mobile device via Bluetooth or USB for phone calls or music streaming. For an additional $1042 you can add satellite navigation with SUNA traffic information and digital radio DAB+ to .
Other features include cloth seats, and there's an electric parking brake that frees up space on the centre console, LED headlights with auto high beam, LED tail-lights, LED daytime running lights, rear fog-lamps, and power-folding heated exterior mirrors.
The Ascent Sport rolls on 16-inch aluminium-alloy wheels and you get a full-sized spare alloy.
You’ll find things in the i30 Active that are options in far more expensive cars, such Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone pairing, satellite navigation and digital radio (DAB+), which are controlled via an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
It also comes with LED daytime running lights, power-folding electric mirrors, cloth seats and cruise control. 16-inch alloy wheels are standard, and you get a full-sized spare alloy wheel as well – something that’s often a cost option in this segment, or replaced by a space-saver.
HOW PRACTICAL ARE THEY?
The 2018 Toyota Corolla is a five-door hatchback that seats up to five people.
Measuring 4375mm long by 1709mm wide, and weighing in at 1340kg, the Corolla Ascent Sport auto is average sized for its class, however the boot space is very small, with a miniscule 217-litre capacity that’s 142 litres smaller than the previous model Corolla and 69-litres less than the Yaris.
The Hyundai i30 Active is a five-door hatchback that seats up to five people.
It measures just 4.34m length with a 2650 wheelbase that accommodates a spacious interior and practical 395-litre boot space that expands to 1301 litres with the rear 60:40-split seatbacks folded down.
HOW SAFE ARE THEY?
The new Toyota Corolla hatch was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating in August 2018 thanks in part to its active safety features, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist and pedestrian detection, and lane-keep assist.
It scored well for crash protection – 96 percent and 86 percent for adult and child occupant protection respectively – and is equipped with seven airbags (front, front side, full length curtain, and driver’s knee), ISOFIX child seat anchors in the rear seats, and seatbelt warnings.
The Hyundai i30 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in April 2017. It’s a safe car in terms of crash protection, with seven airbags including a driver’s knee bag and full-length curtain airbags to protect your head.
Other safety features include a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto-on headlights, LED daytime running lights, seatbelt reminders on front and rear seats, and electronic stability control that all cars are required to have.
Active safety features including autonomous emergency braking aren’t included on the standard spec sheet, however it available as part of Hyundai’s SmartSense package that for around $1700 adds active cruise control, auto-braking, lane keeping assist, driver attention alert, blind-spot detection, and rear-cross traffic alert.
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HOW COMFORTABLE ARE THEY?
The 12th-generation Corolla has a fresh and ergonomically sound cabin design. Build quality is hard to fault and the materials used also have a high quality feel.
That said, the Ascent Sport’s plastic steering wheel isn’t as pleasant as the leather wrapped tiller in higher-spec SX and ZR Corollas, or similarly-priced Mazda 3 Touring, but the buttons are laid out intuitively, including the cruise control switchgear, which are mercifully no longer located on a separate stalk.
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The cloth upholstery also feels durable and the front seats have deep cushions and great lower- and upper-back support.
The back seats are comfortable too, however leg and headroom is tight, with the shins of the average sized adult touching the front seats. A centre armrest has two cup holders, and there is also a handy cup holder on each of the rear-door armrests.
Rear storage is confined to a map pocket behind the front passenger seat and there are no air vents or USB and 12v sockets for rear-seat occupants.
The ride down back is pleasant though, thanks to the Corolla’s advanced multi-link rear suspension that handles lumpy rural roads in a composed manner.
The i30 Active’s cloth seats are comfortable and there’s good leg and headroom throughout, though the rear seat is a little too narrow to comfortably seat three adults – though that’s common for this segment.
The smaller 16-inch wheels provide it with a better ride than the up-spec models that roll on 17s and 18s, and the locally-tuned suspension has a composed ride over bumps.
The conservative cabin design is a little bland and hard plastics abound, but the dashboard looks neat and uncluttered and the controls, particularly the switches on the steering wheel, are intuitively laid out.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen, which is a staple across the Hyundai and Kia range, looks good, works well and the infotainment system is very easy to navigate.
Rear-seat passengers miss out on their own air vents or USB/12v charging sockets, but if their phones go flat they can enjoy the view with good side and forward vision through the i30’s generous glasshouse.
WHAT ARE THEY LIKE TO DRIVE?
The new Corolla was built with the driver in mind, and has been re-built from the ground up on a new longer, wider and stiffer chassis with a sophisticated new multi-link rear suspension.
The well-balanced chassis combines with nicely-weighted and direct-acting steering to make cornering surprisingly good fun. It handles bumpy roads great too, with the multilink suspension feeling like it’s cutting through road imperfections rather than merely rolling over them.
The highly-efficient 2.0-litre petrol engine is the most powerful engine for its size without a turbo and, coupled with the CVT automatic, is the pick of the Corolla’s powertrains over the 2.0-litre petrol manual and 1.8-litre hybrid CVT.
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While CVT autos usually have a revvy but sluggish rubber-band feel, the 2.0-litre Corolla’s has a ‘launch gear’ that steps through the gears like a traditional automatic gearbox. This helps it take-off sharply from a standstill, while also offering responsive acceleration while on the move, such as when overtaking.
While it’s not intended to be as spirited or dynamic as the sportier i30 SR at the upper end of the range, the Active certainly feels nimble enough around town. Hyundai has honed its chassis and suspension for Aussie roads resulting in a great ride and body control on a broad range of road surfaces, which makes it feel like a bigger, more mature car.
Meanwhile, the 120kW/203Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine responds quickly to throttle inputs and the six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox shuffles smoothly between steps. It may be a comparatively thirsty engine, but it also produces more power than many others at its price point. For those that don’t like to dawdle, that’s worth noting.
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Sharp styling and vastly improved performance and handling has certainly seen the pendulum swing back the Corolla’s way. The Corolla Ascent Sport costs around $1000 more than the i30 Active, but we reckon its highly efficient powertrain, multilink rear suspension and standard active safety represent better value, with only that tight boot space letting it down.
However, there is still plenty going for the Hyundai, not least its superior versatility and smartphone mirroring-capable infotainment package.