Freshened up looks and styling give Corolla handsome appearance
No car in the history of the world has sold in greater numbers than the internationally acclaimed Toyota Corolla. The Japanese firm has long since been on to a winner with its simple and straightforward hatchback. The T Sport is the 'hot hatch' version and it aims to give the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Vauxhall Astra SRi something to think about.
It has been said that hot hatches are on the way out due to high levels of wealth and prosperity among the car buying public. The logic being that if people want a fast car they can afford to buy a proper fast car and if they also need something practical, then they can buy an MPV too.
However, these rumblings about the impending doom of the hot hatch don't seem to have trickled through to the manufacturers. Honda has given us the Civic Type-R in recent years, Ford continues to release ever hotter versions of its trusty Focus and, of course, there will always be a Golf GTi.
But how does Toyota's flagship match up to the competition? Can the humble Corolla match Volkswagen's uber-hatch in terms of image or the Civic for out-and-out performance? It's a tall order, but Toyota has a reputation for being up for a challenge.
Reliability and build quality certainly shouldn't present any problems for the Corolla. Whether it's produced in Japan or Turkey, Corollas seem to have a bulletproof constitution and the company regularly finishes near the top of customer satisfaction surveys.
Corolla T Sport looks good and handles well, but Toyota's desire to attract younger customers without scaring off the valuable older cliental makes it feel a bit compromised.
The T Sport's price tag does come dangerously close to that of the far quicker and more desirable Honda Civic Type-R. That said, the Corolla's legendary reliability, coupled with the extensive and highly professional dealer network will make running costs and repairs infrequent and relatively inexpensive. Reasonable fuel economy and decent CO2 figures - for a 'warm hatch' - should result in some kind of benefit for the company car user.
There is an ample amount of space available in the Corolla for a car in the hatchback segment. The boot is large enough for a couple of holiday suitcases or a large family shop, with numerous cubbyholes and stowage bins located throughout the cabin. The door pockets in particular are large and practical.
The steering wheel-mounted stereo controls standard on all but the base T2 model are intuitive and unobtrusive. Climate and sat nav (a cost option) displays are similarly easy to use, if a little bunched up on either side of the LCD navigation screen. The white dials of the T Sport housed in the instrument binnacle will appeal to some but may turn off more reserved buyers.
Noise, vibration and harshness are all improved over previous generations. An acoustically sensitive windshield helps to keep down wind and road noise and were it not for the car's engine sounding stretched at motorway speeds, the cabin would be totally serene. The front seats are highly adjustable as is the rake/reach manoeuvrable steering wheel. However, the bases of the front seats are a bit hard and flat and likely to induced bouts of cramp on long journeys.
Given that joyriders will probably pay more than a passing interest to the T Sport Corolla, it's hardly surprising that Toyota saw fit to fit remote central locking, a transponder key engine immobiliser, alarm, security etched windows and VIN traceable body parts.
Safety is almost as important to Toyota as it is to a certain Swedish manufacturer. Little wonder then that Corollas are generously equipped with safety gizmos and gadgets. Buyers can expect numerous airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, seatbelt reminders, ISOFIX child seat anchors, a de-coupling brake pedal, side impact beams, ABS, EBD and vehicle stability control. A passenger airbag switch is also now fitted as standard so that very little ones in their child seats can sit up front.
T Sport flagship models are the only cars in the Corolla line capable of getting the blood pumping. Nimble handling and an eager engine make for a reasonably entertaining ride. The smaller 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols and 1.4 and 2.0-litre D-4D diesel engines are worthy of praise for their economy and robustness, but to call any of them exhilarating would be to flirt recklessly with overstatement. The Corolla remains very much a car for the average Joe, not Schumacher wannabes.
There is enough room in the Corolla's boot to transport a fair amount of stuff. 289 litres are on offer in three-door guise, with that figure increasing to 437 in the saloon. Plenty of head and legroom is on offer both front and back. Infinitely manoeuvrable front seats coupled with a rake and reach adjustable wheel means that even the most strangely shaped person will fit comfortably. Three children will be adequately accommodated on the rear bench. However, the Corolla's larger cousin, the Verso, is still the clear choice for the family buyer.
There will be countless red-blooded young men interested in the T Sport model in particular. Many of the flagship model's styling cues are taken from the Max Power school of thought and this is clearly designed to entice the under 25s. From that point of view, the Sport's insurance grouping of 14A could be much worse. It won't be terribly cheap for younger people to insure, but then again, no hot hatch is. Reasonable combined fuel consumption should keep those painful trips to the pumps to a minimum and being a Toyota it'll be reliable, too.
As far as quality is concerned, there are very few car manufacturers with such an unblemished reputation as Toyota. The name is a byword for reliability and sound engineering. In the image department, however, the marque struggles a bit. The kudos evoked by the Volkswagen badge and familiarity of the Blue Oval still eludes the Japanese firm. The advanced age of many Toyota drivers doesn't help the manufacture in its quest to be seen as young, exuberant and trendy.
In three-door guise access to the rear seats isn't as complicated as one might expect as the forward seats slide forward creating a large opening. Getting out from the rear bench isn't quite so easy, but only the elderly and immobile will really struggle.
A single disc CD player with six speakers and an RDS radio comes as standard across the range. Steering wheel-mounted controls aid practicality and safety. Satellite navigation is available on T3 models and upwards, which features a large clear LCD display screen and easy to fathom controls.
While it is obvious from the aluminium pedals, white dials and carbon fibre-effect trim that Toyota was trying to achieve a sporty environment for the occupants of the T Sport's cabin, it hasn't really managed it. These race-bred styling cues look somewhat like afterthoughts; something just stuck on after the event. The red sections on the base of the seats really lighten up an otherwise rather oppressive dark interior. Everything feels well appointed and together, even if some of the materials used are clearly from the shelf marked 'budget'.
There are no parking sensors as standard or on the options list, but this shouldn't cause too many problems as the Corolla's windows are large and all-round visibility is relatively unhindered. Light steering helps in tight situations, as do the Corolla's large exterior mirrors.
A full size spare alloy wheel is fitted as standard.
Five engine options - 1.4-litre (95bhp) petrol; 1.6-litre (109bhp) petrol; 1.8-litre T Sport (189bhp) petrol; 1.4-litre (89bhp) D-4D diesel and 2.0-litre (114bhp) D-4D diesel. All models come with a five-speed manual transmission as standard. A four-speed automatic transmission is available on the 1.6-litre petrol and a five-speed MMT automatic gearbox is available with the 1.4-litre D-4D. Specific trim designators include T2, T3, T Spirit and T Sport, with the latter sitting at the top of the range.