Some love to be the centre of attention, others are happy to follow the crowd. When it comes to cars, driving a Toyota Corolla puts you firmly in the latter camp â the Japanese brand has sold more than 40 million Corollas globally since 1966 and the model has been a staple on the Australian market since then.
Fancy owning one? You won’t be alone. The Corolla was our best selling car for 2013-15, shifting 40,000-plus annually.
The 11th generation Corolla from late 2012 has proved reliable, affordable, fuel-efficient, spacious inside for a small car and even quite fun to drive.
Its popularity is equal among fleet, rental and private buyers and Corollas litter the used car classifieds.
A more streamlined look arrived with the 2012 Corolla, shaking off some of the model’s beige image. Coming in hatchback form first, these Japanese-built five-doors were sleeker, sharper, lower and altogether more modern.
Across the range the sole engine was a
1.8-litre four-cylinder good for 103kW, with a six-speed manual or optional ($2000 more) constantly variable transmission replacing the old four-speed auto.
You could buy four grades of Corolla: Ascent, Ascent Sport, Levin SX and Levin ZR, with equipment increasing as you climbed.
The base Ascent came in under $20,000 so specification was lean but there were seven airbags, cruise control, aircon, Bluetooth and audio streaming.
Ascent Sport scored alloy wheels, fog lights, 6.1-inch touchscreen and reverse camera. The Levin SX gained paddle-shifters for CVT-equipped cars, satnav, sports front seats and sportier body and cabin trim.
Flagship Levin ZRs added brighter headlamps, LED daytime running lights, chrome body flashes, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and smart entry and start.
Built in Thailand, the sedan arrived in February 2014. Never as popular as the hatch, its styling was less sporty but had a bigger boot — the hatch was criticised for its cramped cargo space relative to other small cars.
The sedan shared the hatch’s engine and transmissions but came in just Ascent, SX and ZR grades, scoring the touchscreen and reverse camera. The SX got smart entry and start, the ZR had leather/power seats and in these grades, Toyota Link multimedia enabled smartphone access to apps.
An Ascent Sport-based special edition RZ launched in November 2014 with satnav, sporty black body detailing and black alloys.
The hatch was facelifted in June 2015 with body kits for the SX and ZR grades, and range-wide improvements to fuel economy, audio, dashboard and suspension. All Corollas now had touchscreens and reversing cameras too.
These Corollas were praised for their handing ability, cabin space and low service costs. As always, the model was seen as a safe rather than exciting and enjoyable choice.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
A great many used Corollas of this vintage will have been rental or fleet cars and, arguably, won’t have been as well looked after as private cars. Check the full history before buying.
As expected of any Toyota, reliability appears generally excellent. Many Corolla owners are smitten with theirs but common complaints are rearward vision in the hatchbacks and cabin noise at speed.
The vast majority of used examples come with a CVT, which can take some getting used to. They can be very whiny when you put your foot down and don’t bring much joy to driving.
Less common grumbles include Bluetooth troubles and dashboard rattles. Given the volume of sales, it would be a miracle if a few buyers didn’t experience some niggles.
Some of these Corollas have been caught up in the Takata airbag scandal. Check any car you’re considering has had the dealer fix if it was on the recall list (view productsafety.gov.au or contact Toyota with the car’s VIN).
Some 2012-14 Corollas were also recalled last year for a minor fuel suction plate issue.
Much like buying a new one, the Corolla is a safe rather than exciting choice on the used market. It’s cheap to buy and run, safe, spacious and attractive in hatch form, plus there’s little reason to doubt Toyota’s reputation for reliability won’t continue with this model.
Jenny Morcom: Our first Corolla was a 1973 two-door hatch and we never had any trouble with it. The next one, sold reluctantly last year, also was trouble-free for more than 100,000km. It was peppy to drive, with comfortable seats and good all-round vision. Servicing was reasonably priced and at the time of selling all that needed doing for a roadworthy certificate was polishing the headlights and a new brake pedal. A truly reliable little car.
John Milne: I am on to my sixth Toyota, starting from 1967 with Coronas. I moved to Corollas in 1999 and have had my 2012 Levin ZR since new, now with 28,000km. It’s a fabulous car — like all the others.
Andrew Yeend: I’ve had five Corollas between 1974 and 2013 (with a Cressida in between for 19 years). Unbeatable value, unrivalled reliability, untrammelled transport! I’ll ditch my present Fords (Falcon ute and Mustang) just as soon as Toyota does the same with that bloody CVT gearbox.
THE EXPERTS SAY
The Corolla has a reputation for being bulletproof and Toyota sold about 170,000 examples of this generation in Australia. Automatics and hatches dominate the used ads with the low-spec Ascent hatch and Ascent Sport hatch the most popular variants.
Corolla sedans retain value slightly better than the hatches, despite the popularity of the five-doors. The entry Ascent manual hatch from 2012 ($19,990 new) is worth $12,000 for a vehicle in good condition that’s done 15,000km a year. From the same year, the range-topping Levin ZR hatch with CVT ($30,490 new) is now fetching $17,400.
For 2016 models, pay $16,600 for the Ascent manual hatch ($20,190 new) and $24,250 for the ZR hatch with CVT ($29,570 new).
Retained values for the hatch from 2012 are generally better than competitors other than the Honda Civic. The Corolla sedan of the same year trails the Civic, Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Lancer sedan. For values of 2016 examples, both body styles trail Mazda3, Civic, Lancer, Ford Focus and (for hatch) VW Golf. — Red Book
TOYOTA COROLLA 2012-16
PRICE New $19,990-$30,490
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 103kW/173Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed man, CVT; FWD