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2019 Toyota Corolla SX long-term review

By Cameron Kirby, 26 Jul 2019 Reviews

2019 Toyota Corolla SX long-term test

The Toyota Corolla is a perennial favourite, but does the latest version live up to its reputation?

Update One: Only driven at COTY

IT’S a strange sensation, knowing something you’re about to take delivery of is going to be put through its COTY paces.

Imagine buying a new mattress, for example, and then discovering the store staff would be spending the week before delivery jumping on it.

2019 Toyota Corolla SX

But so it was with my new Toyota Corolla SX, which had something of a brutal introduction to the Wheels garage.

After picking it up, I had it on regular duties for just three days before it was whisked away for Car of the Year 2019, where it was subjected to our gruelling testing process alongside its Ascent Sport manual and ZR hybrid siblings.

Read next: Toyota Australia unfazed by slowing Corolla sales

It was odd watching what was to be ‘my’ Corolla subjected to such enthusiastic judging. Needless to say, 026-YGM was in desperate need of a good scrub after seven runs through the dirt loop.

You can read how the Corolla fared on COTY testing here, but there can be more to a car’s life than a COTY examination, and if any vehicle deserves a shot at redemption as a long-termer, it’s what will surely be Australia’s best-selling passenger car.

So, what’s new? Firstly, the dimensions have changed, growing in length by 45mm, with 40mm added to the wheelbase. It’s also wider (by 30mm), and lower (by 40mm), giving the car a more hunkered-down appearance.

2019 Toyota Corolla SX

The model grades have also been revised, with Toyota’s shift away from its longstanding fleet-sales focus meaning there is no base model equivalent to the outgoing generation.

This leaves the Ascent Sport, SX, and ZR variants in the three-strong line-up.

WhichCar TV Episode 1: Toyota Corolla review

The SX petrol, which is what I’ll be driving for the next few months, is expected to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of sales for this new 12th-generation Corolla. If current trends continue, Toyota’s stalwart hatch will continue to sit atop the best-selling passenger-car throne, albeit looking up at the dual-cab interlopers that now rule outright.

Some back-of-napkin maths dictates that, by virtue of being the most popular variant of the most popular car, the SX petrol-powered variant will be the best-selling individual spec for passenger cars in Oz.

While undecided on the paint choice, I’m an unapologetic fan of the new Corolla’s styling. While polarising (with the division, anecdotally drawn, across generational lines), I’d go as far as saying this is the best-looking Corolla that Toyota has made to date.

2019 Toyota Corolla SX

One of Wheels’ major gripes with the new ’Rolla from our recent comparison was the boot space, which is one of the poorest in the class at a mere 217 litres. While disappointing to read on the spec sheet, this oversight hasn’t proven to be a major pain yet.

Read next: Small cars: a quick guide

One of the Corolla’s first duties as a long-termer was to transport enough food to feed the 21-person COTY team for three days at Ford’s You Yangs proving ground. Three cartons of water and four large bags of groceries fit neatly in the boot without having to first remove the parcel shelf.

That’s all for my brief jaunt with 026-YGM. As I write this, the methanol-guzzling crew at Street Machine have borrowed the keys in order to use it as a support vehicle for their five-day Drag Challenge road trip. And you thought COTY testing was tough...

Update Two: A Corolla In Drag

I could tell you that I have the keys of the Corolla SX long-termer because I’m eager to see if Toyota’s punt on a sportier, less-practical volume seller is likely to pay dividends for the world’s second-largest car company.

Or, I might claim I needed a break from the highly modified V8s that form my automotive diet as editor of muscle-car bible Street Machine.

Read next: Small cars: a quick guide

Neither suggestion would be true. Rather, I was on the bludge for sorely-needed support vehicles for our annual Drag Challenge event. Kirby offered me the Corolla, on the condition that I’d document the experience.

toyota corolla driving

Drag Challenge sees more than 200 of Australia’s quickest street-registered cars do battle over five days on five tracks. The road course exceeds 1500km, much of it on rural Victorian B-roads. It’s a hot, bumpy ride, with some night driving thrown in.

In other words, perfect conditions for revealing the deeper qualities of an unfamiliar car.

Photographer Chris Thorogood and I agree that the SX looks sharp, but we’re not sure it is going to have space for our gear. While the Corolla’s boot is inadequate for the job, folding back the 60/40 rear seat allows us to fit all of Chris’s camera cases, a couple of soft bags and a large Esky.

toyota corolla driving

Once we find a group of competitors and a safe place to overtake, we move to the right to shoot tracking shots of the cars. I tuck in the side mirrors with a press of a button – lest they appear in the photo frame – and Chris swivels forwards and back, searching for the optimum mix of blur, light and shade.

The opportunities are brief and there are impatient civilians to contend with, so we’re grateful that the Corolla has sufficient poke to do the job safely, if somewhat noisily.

Read next: Toyota Corolla wagon could come to Australia

We learn later that the Corolla’s CVT gearbox is assisted by an actual first gear and torque converter, which explains the punch off the line. We’d much prefer a manual, but you can only get that on the base Ascent Sport. This would save $1500, but you’d miss out on a bunch of fruit.

You’d still get a heap of active safety features, though – and a real spare tyre.

toyota corolla rear

The new Corolla may indeed be a sportier thing to drive than its predecessor, but there was little opportunity for us to put that to the test on this event. What we can report is that it handles bumpy country roads with aplomb, has great air-con and effective sat-nav.

The seats are comfy over a long haul and we loved the wireless charging dock. If you’re an active single or couple, you can order a Corolla knowing it has the Drag Challenge seal of approval. - Simon Telford

Update Three: Escaping Cricket With The Corolla

You should pity our editor, Alex Inwood.

Not because of his job, he drives some of the world’s greatest cars all around the globe, so he gets zero pity for that.

No, you should pity Alex because he has to suffer me, and because he loves cricket. In the summer months, Inwood switches on every TV within eyesight of his office and tunes them all to the cricket. He monitors the lot like a Wall Street stockbroker, greedily devouring every piece of the action.

At least until yours truly wanders through and asks such probing questions as: “Who’s playing?”; “Why is everyone wearing white?” And “What do you mean the game goes for five days!?”

Read next: Boot sizes of Australia's best-selling hatchbacks

Yes, I am a cricketing cul de sac, having been raised in a family with the simple motto of: “if it doesn’t have an engine, it’s not a sport”. Hence why, with the T20 cricket in full swing, I decided I’d bypass the MCG and set the Corolla’s sat-nav for Avalon speedway, where the sprint-car season was in full, dirt-clumping action.

Yep, I’ll take a cup of greasy chips in my paw and the smell of methanol in my nostrils every time over a KFC bucket on my head.

Toyota Corolla SX review 2019

Unfortunately, as I discovered while racing to make the start of the meet, the Corolla’s sat-nav is designed to avoid idiots like me being able to do anything but drive while driving, and locks out any inputs once the car is travelling above walking pace.

Read next: Toyota Corolla v Hyundai i30 v Mazda3 v Honda Civic

Fair cop, I suppose, but the fact it also won’t allow a front-seat passenger to help out by inputting such info is mildly annoying. Curiously, there are no such concerns with the driver or passenger using the audio system.

Other than this minor annoyance, the Corolla has been performing its long-term duties with aplomb. The boot can easily swallow a pair of camping chairs and an esky primed with snacks, while the compact exterior dimensions meant it was easily able to slot in between the hulking dual-cabs in the dusty car park.

Active cruise control is now standard on every Corolla variant and came in handy for the bomb back to the city with the speedway traffic.

Read next: Toyota Australia unfazed by slowing Corolla sales

Having scratched my Speedway itch for now, I’m now wondering if Toyota might allow us to get some clay under the Corolla’s tyres? It’d be more interesting than cricket, that’s for sure.

Update Four: Farewell, Small Wonder

It has been a month of anxiety, unbridled joy and change in the Kirby household, and along for the ride as an all-important family member was my Corolla long-termer.

After much discussion, my partner and I decided it was time to expand the Kirby clan with a new addition. So it was that I found myself driving down the Hume with my partner in the passenger seat, making soft cooing noises at Noah the one-eyed greyhound puppy sat in her lap.

During the first weeks of pet ownership, the Corolla was invaluable, with the low ride height perfect for training Noah how to enter and exit a vehicle, and the little fella taking to napping on the cloth-trim seats on trips to the vet.

Read next: Small cars: a quick guide

While Noah is no larger than my forearm at the moment, he will grow rapidly, and this highlights the one roadblock preventing the Corolla from being a great permanent addition to the garage – interior space.

2019 Toyota Corolla SX

To explain why I need to go back to 1967. Toyota’s then-new two-door sedan featured on the cover of Wheels’ June edition for its first Aussie road test, accompanied by a bikini-clad blonde model.

Thankfully time allows us to cringe and shake our heads at the picture choice. Time, and the 12 generations since then, it seems, has not been so kind to the ’Rolla.

Read more: Toyota Corolla celebrates its 50th birthday

Wheels’ first road test stated, “the styling of the car has been highly successful in both eye appeal and accommodation”. 

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From our foray with this latest-gen car, it has only achieved one of those two things. The E210 Corolla looks striking and modern, but interior space is at a premium.

This became immediately apparent on a cross-town trip with four adults on board. Despite a shorter than average height, the two in the back were cramped, with the two upfront having to move seats forward to provide a small reprieve.

The rear pair’s luggage was made to fit, just, but it did require some intricate boot Tetris. If a two-door Corolla from the ’60s can carry four adults in comfort, and luggage for two with ease, it seems an affront that my modern example struggles with the same tasks.

And with the Corolla preparing to return to Toyota HQ, now’s the time to voice some other small niggles from our time together. Like the odd placement of the wireless charging unit, which can result in phones launching at the gear selector on hard acceleration; or the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, accentuated by the Bluetooth on my phone giving up the ghost.

Read more: Smartphone mirroring explained

But don’t write off the Corolla just yet. During its tenure, commuting has been its main duty and it hasn’t put a foot wrong, returning impressive fuel-economy figures of 6.9 litres per 100km on average.

It’s also surprisingly fun to drive, despite the fact that the ‘Sport’ button doesn’t really do anything. But while it has undoubted dynamic talent, this remains a chassis crying out for more power – good thing, then, that a GRMN hot-hatch variant is rumoured to be on the way.

And as for space, for most couples or singles, it should be near the top of their list – it won our October comparison test for good reason, with generous equipment and impressive refinement.

So while its long-term scorecard isn’t perfect, overlooking the Corolla’s shortcomings is simply a matter of personal preference. And perhaps a smarter choice in four-legged friend.

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