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2019 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport quick performance review

By Louis Cordony, 31 Jan 2019 Reviews

2019 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport quick performance feature

Hire-car hottie? Not just yet

Traditionally, one of us at MOTOR would only review a Toyota Corolla as punishment for too many spelling mistakes. But we’ll admit the new 12th-generation model roused our curiosity, and a pinch of excitement, when we read its press kit.

It’s as if its engineers had spent one too many lunches around those who worked on the 86. Its new TNGA platform extends its wheelbase by 60mm, widens its tracks, drops its centre of gravity 10mm and stiffens torsional rigidity by 60 per cent. The top-spec ZR on 18s looks like it’s out to hunt competition, but it’s restricted to an automatic transmission.

We’re in the base Ascent Sport, that costs $22,870, because it’s the only variant that offers the six-speed manual transmission. Boot capacity falls 69 litres since the fitment of new multi-link rear suspension, that might kamikaze its appeal to hire car companies, but the upside is a plush, cushioned ride on its 205/50 R16-profile tyres that still feels controlled.

Inside, its seats are well bolstered, the manual shifter is placed exactly where you want and there’s even a decent rev-match function that helps mask its annoyingly high-clutch bite point on downshifts.

Its new 2.0-litre atmo four has had a fair bit of work as well. It’s lighter than the old 1.8, employs direct injection and variable valve timing on the intake side, and produces 125kW/200Nm. It revs to a 6850rpm redline with enthusiasm, and would feel potent in a Mazda MX-5, but it’s nothing but pragmatic in the Corolla.

Instead, its chassis balance is the talking point. The steering is direct and linear. Yes, the base Ascent Sport squirms on big tyres (the ZR upgrades to 225/40 18s) at turn-in, but it doesn’t immediately fall into horrible understeer. Its chassis feels dynamic and perhaps capable of brake-activated oversteer if the seemingly undefeatable ESP didn’t squash the fun so early on.

Overall, it’s no hire-car hottie. But we want Toyota to prove us wrong. The new Corolla makes it easy to imagine a GRMN version if it ever finds the courage to build one. A set of springs, swaybars and 25kW/50Nm could unlock a true, almost exciting, warm hatch. 

Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews

 2.0-litre DOHC inline-4
Power: 125kW @ 6600rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 4400rpm
Drive: FWD
Weight: 1320kg
Price: $22,870