As I write, the launch of the all-new Toyota Corolla has been Covid-19 struck and instead of being a jolly affair with motoring scribes from around the country descending on Cape Town for a ride-and-drive and in-depth technical and marketing presentation, it is reduced to a drive opportunity for Cape-based writers only.
Not the first – and certainly not the last – new model launch that will hammered by this virus, it is sad because over the past 45 years or so, the launch of a new Corolla has always been a grand affair from the Sun City Superbowl to Malawi.
Even though newer entrants to the car market are exposed to a whole lot more product, there is still enough in the South African automotive psyche that keeps Corolla as a benchmark car in its sector – and full details of the new one will be revealed next week.
What we are talking about here is the Corolla Quest. Now the last of the Corolla line to be produced locally, the Quest is a unique local product allowing Toyota to keep up production numbers at its Prospecton plant and to offer something for more budget conscious and fleet market.
Quest is now a standalone member of the Corolla family consisting of the soon to be launched sedan, the hatch and the Quest.
The latest version of the Quest gains a 1,8-litre engine and is a spec-adjusted version of the outgoing model in order to maximise its price point.
To achieve cost reductions, a three-prong approach was followed. Firstly, comprehensive studies were performed on how to make the production line more efficient; secondly component part commonisation and sourcing were re-looked in order to implement savings and thirdly, vehicle specification was tweaked to match customer requirements.
Corolla Quest makes use of the IMV (Hilux and Fortuner) colour palette (assembled in the same factory), to improve economies of scale and simplify production processes. Other non-aesthetic componentry has also been commonised between the two model ranges with additional localisation further contributing to cost savings.
On the new car the front bumper has been given an updated treatment (grade dependent), replacing the gunmetal accent trims previously employed and my Prestige test unit models had a continuous matte-black lower apron, whereas the Exclusive model boasts partial colour coding.
The headlight trim matches the radiator grille treatment (matte black vs colour), with the front fog lights now phased out. At the rear, the number plate garnish has been changed from chrome to body colour.
Inside, Prestige variants are equipped with a fabric and leather combination – available in either Blue/Black or Grey with red accents.
I have two niggles with the Quest – the first being the USB slot in the car is not a charging unit and can be used only to play music and the second is the shape of the bottom of the boot lid.
From the rear this looks as if the panel gap is out of kilter, possibly the boot even open. The fact there is not dust ingress does means it shuts and seals correctly but the look is disturbing.
The change to the bigger engine also formed part of the overall cost plan as the 1,8-litre is standardised across more Toyota models globally versus the previously fitted 1,6-litre engine – providing cost and sourcing benefits for TSAM.
The 1,8-litre mill produces 103 kW and 173 Nm at 4 000 r/min. One of the advantages of the engine is the torque figure is not only higher but also produced 1 200 r/min earlier, compared to the 1,6-litre.
Overall fuel efficiency is actually better than I achieved with the older version and the test average was 7,1 l/100 km over a good mix of rural, city and highway driving.
The Corolla was – and is – designed provide safe and efficient transport. It never has, nor will be, a trendsetting design, ground-breaking performer and rip-snorter of a car. Driving one, it must be taken in the context of who it was designed for and what it was intended to do.
In that context, the new Quest is a neatly turned out, well specced car that will cope with the daily grind in the traffic and the annual long-haul to the coast with no problems and repeat this procedure year-in and year-out.
Definitely the extra ‘oomph’ from the bigger engine meant the car was not breathless at altitude and there was that extra bit of confidence while overtaking. Corolla has always had a touch of front-end ‘push’ when pressed into corners and the new Quest continues this front-drive tradition.
Getting a bit feisty with the car is not a problem and the understeer is as predictable as it is controllable with a touch of throttle modulation. The steering is more precise and accurate than has been the case on some previous iterations of the Corolla and it is also quite a feather light as previously.
The platform is identical to the 11th-generation Corolla, with a McPherson strut layout in the front and torsion beam design in the rear, this latter design also contributing to a large flat boot space.
Four-wheel disc brakes, with ventilated front and solid rear discs provide solid braking performance and the 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205-55-R16 rubber work well with that combination to provide a comfortable ride that irons out the worst of the road ripples.
All of that means ride quality, handling and overall road feel does not differ from much higher priced cars in the same segment.
TSAM is aiming to conquer a wide audience with this Quest (remember the new Corolla heads quite a long way upmarket) so the product range to cater to a wider spectrum of buyer and allow the new Corolla Quest to appeal to the values of the traditional Corolla buyer.
The Prestige grade offers a blend of value and style, with colour-coded exterior treatment, 16-inch alloy wheels and added comfort ‘spec’. All Quest models come with driver, passenger and driver-knee crash bags – while the Prestige and Exclusive models receive side bags.
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Hill Assist Control (HAC), ABS, EBD, Isofix, LED daytime running lights and rear fog lights are standard across the board.
All models feature auto door-lock with remote operation, power windows, air-conditioner, steering wheel switches, follow-me-home headlamps, radio/CD with USB, Aux and a minimum of four integrated speakers.
The Prestige models receive an upgrade to a touchscreen DVD audio system with six speakers, reverse camera, cruise control, leather steering wheel, combination fabric and leather seats.
All Corolla Quests are sold with a 3-services/45 000 km service plan with intervals pegged at 12 months/15 000 km. A 3-year/100 000 km warranty is included.