Let’s play a game of word association; when you think of the Toyota Corolla what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Cheap, reliable, boring, cardigans, Nanna? Yeah, me too.
But here’s the thing, for 2019 Toyota has grabbed all our preconceptions, doused them in e10 fuel and burned them to the ground. The phoenix which has risen up from these ashes is far different beast. Today the Corolla is edgy, eye-catching, modern, stylish and even a little upmarket. Shocked? Yeah, me too.
It all stems from Toyota’s recent pledge to make their cars more exciting. In 2018 Toyota president Akio Toyoda proudly declared, like an old Drumstick TV commercial, that his cars were to no longer contain any ‘boring bits’. He realised they were churning out the white bread of the car world; everyone likes white bread but it’s just so bland.
So a conscious decision was made. They did away with the brown-nosing approach of trying to appease every automotive tastebud. Instead, let’s keep all the substance but add some style to the recipe. Now it’s white bread, with a big squirt of chili sauce. Hungry? Yeah, me too.
The small-sized automotive meal feasting before our eyes is the 2019 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport. You know Toyota’s turning up the heat when they use ‘Sport’ for the entry level/Pov-Pack variant. Furthermore it’s all a bit Stranger Things when they paint it the same colour as one of the most iconic race cars of all time. Richard Petty approves.
But I must say, how good does this look for a ‘Rolla! Body lines so sharp you’ll get paper cuts opening the boot. It’s got flared guards, a wide stance, bi-LED lights and sculptured lines everywhere you look. Everyone is weak at the knees over the new Mazda 3 but I think this takes the cake in the looks department for this segment.
Digging deeper you realise the good genes are not only skin deep. The new model has been completely redesigned from the ground up according to what they’re calling Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). In plain English this means the Corolla is built more like a sports car than a fridge on wheels. Compared to the outgoing model the 2019 Corolla has vast improvements in the overall body structure/chassis stiffness, uses an independent rear suspension setup and features a low centre of gravity, all the better for Nanna to nail that apex en route to the bingo hall.
We punted the Ascent Sport up and down our favourite mountain road and were impressed by its ability to remain calm and composed over bumps and undulations. Despite going at a brisk pace the suspension never felt out of its comfort zone and the Corolla provided oodles of compliance. The dampers and valving are fantastically tuned, for it glides over potholes and remains planted at all four corners in the turns. Even the body roll was kept in check and never upset the driver’s rhythm. It was not the fastest I’ve ever traversed that road but it was easily the most comfortable. It was like piloting a cloud.
The silky smooth nature of the Corolla’s handling also flows to other aspects of the package. Our car came with the Hybrid drivetrain which is a 1.8L 4 cylinder engine mated to an electric motor and CVT transmission. The electric motor handles short trips to Church and the petrol engine helps recharge its batteries and provide more grunt on the open road. You never really feel these two engines chopping and changing driving duties and aside from the odd whooshing sound you don’t notice a real difference to a standard ICE-only affair. The CVT transmissions of old are thankfully relegated to the history books too; the setup in the new Corolla shifts organically when driving around normally and always finds the right RPM for the power necessary. A bit of self-doubt does start to creep into its decision making when driving hard though, with hills proving to be a real challenge. Perhaps some more time playing Bridge is in order for the CVT ECU.
Are there any downsides to the 2019 Corolla Ascent Sport? Yes, yes there are. You see despite the big dollop of chilli sauce the base ingredient is still white bread, and white bread is not exactly known for having high nutritional substance. It never scores a 5-star health rating. What does this mean for the prospective 2019 ‘Rolla buyer? It means when you really get into the nitty gritty of this car and ask it the hard questions, it comes up a touch short.
That magic carpet-esc ride through the mountains I described earlier? It was numb. The steering gave me flashbacks to my cheapo PS2 steering wheel setup from 10 years ago. It was completely void of any feedback. This lack of feedback is then compounded by the electrics changing the steering rack speed based on your actual speed; it’s really light and fast on slow hairpins but then slow and heavy through the fast sweepers. Sounds good in theory but when you have such lifeless steering the result is a car that is completely unpredictable when cornering. More than once I had to adjust my steering input mid-corner because on a mountain road the ‘Rolla turns at a different rate around every bend.
The brakes were not of the ‘Sport’ persuasion either, more akin to an on/off switch than a progressive system like a pedal. Even the gentlest brush could send poor Grandpa through the windshield. I guess it’s a good thing the 2019 Corolla is packed with safety features then: Lane Departure Alert, Lane Trace Assist (CVT only), Pre-Collision Safety, Road Sign Assist & Active Cornering Assist is a great spread for a base model car.
That Road Sign Assist was my personal favourite because a camera on the front of the car scans every speed sign and displays it on the dash next to the speedo, so you’re never left wondering what speed you should be doing. It was absolutely brilliant when driving through unfamiliar parts of town and keeps you safe from the Big Brother hidden speed camera regime we live with.
Some things were however lacking in this base model Ascent Sport, the most glaring was the lack of Apple Carplay/Android Auto and Sat Nav. I realise this is the base model but when you’re asking just under $30,000 for blue chili sauce you expect a certain level of spice to come standard. You would also expect a proper steering wheel but alas Toyota only gives you a plastic one here, you’ll need to step up to the higher spec models for such a luxury.
Room in the backseat is very sportscar-esc though, with the rear door opening a tight squeeze and on a funny angle. If you do manage to contort yourself in there the back of your head is greeted by the hard plastic of the B pillar as soon as you try to sit upright. Grandpa’s chiropractor will be rubbing his hands with glee.
Nevertheless, we here at Gears and Beers came away mighty impressed with what Toyota have done with the Corolla for 2019. Although it has its short comings we feel it’s actually the perfect car for every day driving. It looks great, rides amazingly and has everything a young (or old) couple could ask of a small car made for city slicking. White bread with a whack of chili sauce sounds good to me.
Light-hearted, entertaining but still informative, ‘A Weekend With’ is a feature article series by the Gears and Beers Automotive Podcast! Whenever we review a car an article like this will accompany it. So grab your favourite beer, a comfy chair and enjoy our laid-back take on automotive journalism.