The local C-segment has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent months after Mazda launched its new 3 to much fanfare while an updated Civic is confirmed to be just around the corner with Honda Sensing in the mix. The party has gotten merrier now that Toyota has joined the picture - the 12th iteration of its hugely successful Corolla sedan now in Malaysia with a sole 1.8-litre engine on offer.
Underpinned by the new TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform on which the new Camry is also built, the new Corolla is 10mm longer and 5mm wider than its predecessor. Within its roomier frame sits the returning Dual VVT-i engine that makes 137bhp and 173Nm of torque, mated to a Shiftmatic CVT with seven virtual ratios. And herein lies the problem with Toyota’s new C-segment fighter from a purist’s standpoint: its dynamic makeup has gotten too good for the rudimentary 1.8-litre powertrain.
This is what we gathered from a quick stint behind the wheel of the new car going up Genting Highland’s notorious uphill hairpins. The new chassis is incredibly composed when chucked around the bends, making the 2ZR-FE engine’s lack of low-end grunt to maintain the Corolla’s pace shockingly obvious - the efficiency-biased CVT not helping the car’s cause amongst drivers at heart either. Ride damping and weight distribution under heavy cornering are spot on, and we wish UMW Toyota Motor maintained a peppier 2.0L variant to better maximise the Corolla’s newfound driver-oriented qualities.
Then again, a starting price of RM128,888 for the base 1.8E model is already a tall ask, especially when compared against the current outgoing Honda Civic 1.8 and Hyundai Elantra 2.0, both priced below the RM110k mark. This is partly due to the Corolla’s CBU status owing to its Thai origins. But its TNGA bones make quite a compelling case for the jacked-up prices. You also get keyless ignition, a reverse camera and a 6.8-inch touchscreen head unit in the mix. But that last item, which looks like the biggest afterthought in the cabin, isn’t exactly a strong selling point.
Splash another RM8k on the range-topping G variant (RM136,888) and you’ll get LED headlights, bigger wheels (17 inches versus the E’s 16s), dual-zone air conditioning, wireless charger and a bigger display (which still struggles to convince), among others. It also adds on Toyota Safety Sense features such as Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beam on top of standard kit such as stability control, hill start assist and seven airbags.
It’s a fair amount of extra tech to go with the Corolla’s sleeker looks and enhanced athleticism to somewhat justify the pricier package. But we just can’t shake the feeling that Toyota is just a better engine away from potential C-segment dominance, such is the TNGA platform’s knack of applying the gloss on every nameplate it has been associated with thus far, from Corolla to the Lexus LC500 V8 sports car.
Pictures: Aaron Lee / UMW Toyota Motor