When it comes to popularity contests the Corolla Levin ZR and GLX are the Wills and Kate of the car world. The Corolla, a 5-door, front-wheel drive hatchback, is the biggest-selling car by quite a long way, eclipsing the Ford F-Series, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Beetle with (probably) more than 40 million units sold by the time you read this, versus around 36, 27 and 24 million for the others, respectively.
While the new Corolla doesn’t have anything as interesting to the masses as a barely visible baby bump, it is a solid improvement over the older model including the replacement of the aged four-speed with a CVT gearbox, a nicer interior with slightly better ergonomics, better sound system and better fuel economy (6.6l/100km combined). The styling is far more distinctive and looks like a baby Camry and this has brought the coefficient of drag down to 0.29.
The 1.8-litre, 103kW, 173Nm motor is an evolution of the previous one and while producing more power, it comes with less torque. The seven-speed CVT gearbox theoretically should keep the engine in the best rev range to give better performance, but this highlights the problem of CVT which is that it give the engine a moaning, monotonous tone.
Driving dynamics are benign and not designed to be sporty. It’ll hold its own in a corner, but it’s best if you drive smoothly without too much pace as the suspension is set up for a comfortable ride.
The touchscreen entertainment system integrates with your phone (though not that swiftly), as well as offering all the standard ways of playing audio (AM/FM, CD, USB, auxiliary port), an SD card for photos and supports voice recognition for commands. This screen displays the reversing camera and static reversing guide.
Safety is the same spec across both models: seven airbags (driver and passenger front, front side, front/rear curtain shield and driver’s knee), plus electronics for traction control, anti-lock brakes and various skid prevention systems.
The differences between the two models: Levin ZR vs GLX
The Levin ZR is the king of the range, while the GLX is third in line to the throne, above the GX. The main differences are that the Levin ZR gets sports-style leather seats with front seat heaters, dual-zone climate control, alarm with smart entry and start system, 17-inch wheels, paddle gear shift, and there’s an optional panorama roof (which was installed in our test car).
The GLX makes do with 16-inch wheels, but over the base GX model it gets a reversing camera and 6.1-inch touchscreen display, like the ZR.
The ZR has the option of the panorama sunroof. These are great in the winter to let more light and heat in, but a greenhouse in summer. The roof comes with a retractable electric blind which blocks the sun completely if you want it to feel like a standard roof.
There are some external cosmetic differences on the ZR such as the chrome surrounds on the fog lights, a sportier grille and heated, auto-retracting wing mirrors.
So, will the world’s best-selling car continue to be king of the castle, or has Toyota royally screwed itself? There are some definite big improvements to the Corolla, but there are compromises, too.
For some reason (probably tyre choice) it seemed very noisy on rough roads, and this sapped the lower-mid-range frequencies out of the stereo. On the motorway it was fine, but get onto the coarser chip seal and you’ll find yourself using the steering wheel-mounted controls to pump up the volume.
It took up to three minutes for the automatic connection of the car to my iPhone 5 via Bluetooth – this seemed like the longest of any car I have tested recently, and it failed to auto-connect first time frequently.
The interior is much better than the previous model, but it’s lost the double-decker glovebox which was useful, and there’s slightly less headroom in the back, despite the seats being positioned lower.
Finally, the rear seat comfort wasn’t applauded by my passengers. Tall ones found their heads rubbing against the ceiling and, despite there being a bit more legroom than before, there still wasn’t enough.
But if you’re purchasing a Corolla, you’re not going to be transporting five adults to Hamilton and back on a regular basis like I did. You’ll go for something a bit bigger like a Camry. The rear seats are fine for children, and the five-star crash safety means you don’t have to get an SUV.
The Corolla isn’t supposed to be exciting. It’s kind of like the monarchy – reliable, consistent, inoffensive and conciliatory. Unlike the monarchy, though, it doesn’t cost an enormous amount of money and the value (especially for the GLX model) is good. I expect it won’t lose its crown anytime soon.
Price: range from $33,490 (manual GX); GLX: $37,490; Levin ZR: $43,690, or $45,490 with panorama sunroof (as tested)
- Does everything it needs to without a modicum of fuss
- Sharp styling
- Improved interior
- Road noise
- Slow Bluetooth connection to phone (tested with iPhone 5)
- When will someone create a nice CVT gearbox?
Words and photos: Darren Cottingham