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2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport petrol quick review

By Tony O’Kane, 17 Aug 2018 Car News

2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport

It’s all-new, but is it all-good? We take a look at the entry-level version of Toyota’s box-fresh Corolla hatch

The 12th generation of Toyota’s long-lived Corolla is now on our shores, and this time around Toyota says it’s imbued its volume-selling hatchback with a great deal more equipment, refinement, and performance than before.

TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR

Toyota typically takes a conservative strategy when it comes to generational changes, but with the 12th-generation Corolla nearly everything is fresh from the ground-up. The foundation of it all is Toyota’s TNGA platform, which first appeared in the new Prius and C-HR, and now underpins the 2018 Corolla, bringing with it a sophisticated new multi-link rear suspension and dimensions that are longer, wider and lower than before.

Two engines will be initially offered in Australia, a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol inline four, and a 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid. The hybrid is no longer a standalone model and can be had in any of the Corolla’s three trim grades (Ascent Sport, SX or ZR), but here we’re focusing on the petrol – the engine that’s expected to be the most popular choice in this country.

2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport rear

STRENGTHS

Engine – Under the bonnet of the new Corolla lies a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol inline four – a fairly ordinary configuration in this day and age, but this engine – which is all-new for Toyota – has a number of trump cards. For one, it’s powerful for its size. It generates a maximum of 125kW and 200Nm of torque, and it has the most power of all naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engines in its size class. Furthermore, thanks to direct injection and variable cam timing on both the intake and exhaust it has the highest thermal efficiency of any engine currently in production, able to extract 40 percent of the latent energy in every litre of fuel it burns. Bottom line: it makes good power, yet sips fuel. Toyota claims an average burn of 6.0L/100km.

Driveability – Hooked up to the engine is your choice of a six-speed manual or a CVT automatic (the manual being only available on the Ascent Sport), but curiously we don’t necessarily favour the manual option. Toyota has engineered what it calls a ‘launch gear’ for the CVT that gives it a far crisper pick-up when moving away from standstill, something that CVTs (or continuously variable transmissions) typically don’t excel at. On the road, the Corolla’s auto performs well with none of the usual sluggishness or rubberband feel that CVTs normally display.

Ride and handling – Rolling on 16-inch wheels in Ascent Sport guise, the new Corolla excels when it comes to handling variable road conditions. It offers plenty of compliance to deal with lumpy rural roads, while its all-new multi-link rear suspension imparts a calm and composed manner over rough stuff. Aim for a set of corners, and the Corolla shows off a well-balanced chassis and nicely-weighted and direct-acting steering, making it surprisingly good fun to hustle hard.

2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport interior

Cabin quality – It’s good to see that Toyota has put a greater emphasis on cabin design with its 12th-generation Corolla. From the urethane steering wheel and harder door card plastics it’s obvious that the Ascent Sport grade is the lowest-spec model, but the design is clean, handsome and ergonomically sound. The materials used also have a high quality feel (yes, even the harder plastics), and build quality is hard to fault. The cloth upholstery also feels durable and comfortable.

Features – Toyota Australia may have cut the entry-level Ascent grade from the Corolla lineup, but it’s compensated for the higher price of entry by dramatically improving the standard equipment list. All Corollas now come with active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, dusk-sensing headlamps with automatic high beam, heated wing mirrors, a reversing camera and an 8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display. Seven airbags are also standard, and opting for the automatic nets you lane keep assist as well. The car can also recognise speed limit signs and display them for you, meaning wondering what the speed limit is on your stretch of road should become a thing of the past.

WEAKNESSES

Boot capacity – The greatest disappointment of the new Corolla presents itself when you open its lightweight plastic hatch. Measuring just 217 litres, the Ascent Sport’s boot space is well behind the rest of the small car pack, where the average luggage capacity is well over 100 litres more than what the Corolla offers. The spare wheel is the culprit – the top-grade Corolla ZR Hybrid has a tyre inflator kit and consequently has a far more generous 333L boot space – but is having a full-size spare worth the inconvenience of a boot capacity that’s smaller than what a Yaris offers? For the vast majority of metropolitan motorists, the answer is probably ‘no’.

2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport boot

Rear seat space – The new Corolla measures 40mm longer in its wheelbase, and normally that translates into a significant improvement in legroom. Unfortunately, that’s not so in the Corolla. While the front seats are spacious and deliver superb comfort, the rear seats lack knee room and headroom. That’s a shame, because the rear bench is actually shaped very well and offers good support for a pair of adults. The absence of rear air vents is also a negative, given they’re available in the ZR grade but omitted from the Ascent Sport.

Infotainment – The Ascent Sport’s 8-inch touchscreen covers all the basics, but given its price point it does lack some crucial features. For example, there’s no integrated navigation system on the base grade as standard, and Toyota charges an extra $1000 to install it. The issue is compounded by the absence of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, which can allow drivers to display the navigation software on their phones through the car’s screen. Toyota says it’s coming on a future update, but right now the Ascent Sport’s infotainment tech lags behind price rivals like the Hyundai i30 Active and Honda Civic.

2018 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport seats

ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?

The competition is fierce in the small hatchback segment, and core rivals for the Toyota Corolla include the Mazda 3, Hyundai i30, Honda Civic, Peugeot 308, Volkswagen Golf, Kia Cerato, Renault Megane, Skoda Rapid and Ford Focus – though the Ford is right on the cusp of an all-new replacement, and the Kia Cerato has only undergone a generational change in sedan form, with the hatch carrying over until the new model arrives in the New Year.