THERE is little doubt that the Toyota Corolla is one of the most popular cars in the world - nearly 40 million sales in five decades bears testimony to the fact.
Prized for its reliability, drive quality and resale value this nuggety performer made a name for the Japanese manufacturer at a time when European giants were flailing.
It is this reputation, gained at the coalface of hard knocks, that has carried Toyota through the later years with many cars in that stable still chosen on nostalgia alone.
This Toyota Corolla, the 11th edition, may look amazingly different from the trailblazer that first rolled off the production line some 46 years ago but the premise remains the same.
Despite its new sporty exterior, its true value remains beneath the skin, with its dependable nature convincing buyers to seal the deal.
The interior of the Corolla doesn't really complement the sporty exterior - in fact it is somewhat disappointing.
Of course you expect hard plastics in a car in this price range but these are dark and gloomy, making the inside rather foreboding. The cloth seats are stylish and pretty comfortable except for in the small of the back. The steering, nice and weighty to the touch, is adjustable for both height and reach. Instruments are clear and concise, the large centre console is a thing of the past but the straight almost vertical dash is unlikely to find favour.
The Corolla has been lowered by 55mm but so have the seats and although taller passengers have to stoop to get in, once seated the headroom is pretty fair for a small car.
Legroom is good for children, less so for adults and we were surprised by the miserly portion reserved for the driver.
There are fewer storage spaces than you would expect and at 280 litres the boot is on the smallish side although admittedly that is much improved (1120 litres) when the 60:40 rear seats are folded.
On the road
Under the skin the Corolla remains largely unchanged with the same 1.8-litre engine powering our six-speed manual, although the gears feel considerably smoother than the previous model. The drive is quite obviously Toyota's strength and this one is accompanied with excellent dynamics, good steering feel and a zippy demeanour.
True, the "sport" on the badge is more for display purposes than actual performance but it has enough grunt to keep you honest.
This is a car suited to the quick changes of city driving and is nimble on its feet and quick to respond. It is quite able when you do take it out on the highway with variable road noise, sturdy travel in the wet and an efficiency over irregular road surfaces. Annoyingly it is sometimes difficult to make clean gear changes with the Corolla continuing to rev even when you have released the clutch in time and you are no longer troubling the accelerator. We didn't test the CVT ($2000 more) but reports of its performance are glowing.
Toyota have tried to improve their inclusions in order to keep the faithful and, let's face it, with the pace set by its rivals this is certainly an area that needed attention.
Our Ascent Sport included 16-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, power windows, Bluetooth with steering wheel audio and phone controls as well as cruise control, reverse camera and six-speaker CD audio. The mid-range Levin SX adds sat-nav and 17-inch alloys while the range topping Levin ZR ($28,490) lays claim to push-button start, bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, leather trim and LED daytime running lights. Safety is five-star across the range courtesy of seven airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, stability control and traction control.
The Mazda 3 (from $20,330) and Hyundai i30 (from $20,990) are leading the pack with the Ford Focus (from $20,290), Holden Cruze (from $21,490) and Kia Cerato (from $19,640) also holding their own.
Toyota is looking to the Corolla to both attract and keep young upwardly mobile singles and couples who work and live close to the city. To that end it is a car that has suitable comfort levels, driving dynamics, exterior design advantages and an excellent price tag.
Driving position is good and vision pretty decent but it does sometimes feel tinny and cheap, especially when you are closing the doors. The small boot of the hatch and back seat make it less suitable but not impossible for a growing family.
The sedan is available later this year so that may change the game a bit.
The official combined average figure for the manual is 7.1 litres/100km and we stuck close although we did do quite a bit of highway driving. Insurance and licence costs are on the low range of the scale and as always Toyota can lay claim to high resale values.
New Toyotas come with a three-year/100,000km warranty which can be extended for a further three years, and fixed-price servicing ($130 per service) for the first three years or 60,000km.
As is Toyota's pattern when it comes to freshened up models, the Corolla Hatch has had an extensive exterior makeover with its streamlined upper grille, lower bumper grille, slim headlights and highlighted curves with bold lines adding to the sporty feel.
The Corolla Hatch is not a car to get the pulse racing or glean nods of admiration as it basks in the sun on your driveway. But then again that was never a promise it made. It is, however, a good drive and a trusty companion and with a price hovering around the $20,000 mark is worth a look.
What matters most
What we liked: Driving dynamics, sporty exterior.
What we'd like to see: More style inside. Cruise control on steering rather than stalk.
Warranty: Toyota offers a three-year/100,000 km warranty and three-year/60,000km fixed-price servicing.
Model: Toyota Corolla Hatch.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive hatch.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed CVT.
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW at 6400rpm and peak torque of 173Nm at 4000rpm.
Consumption: 7.1 litres/100km average.
Bottom line: from $20,990