The Numbers

1.8-litre, 4cyl, 103kW, 173Nm, 6sp manual/CVT, 0-100km/h 9.3sec, 8.4L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

Hits the target for those after a keenly priced, well equipped, (big) small sedan, that’s conventional and comfortable, but far from boring.

2013 Toyota Corolla Sedan

So, what is it?

The sedan version of Australia’s best-selling car, designed to add more comfort and space to the Corolla equation. It’s 80mm longer overall than the previous sedan, with an extra 100mm stretch to the wheelbase.

There are three grades, base Ascent (likely to be the volume-seller), mid-range SX, and top-spec ZR.

Why should I care?

It pushes the definition of small car to the limit. Rear seat legroom is limo-like, and like its key competitors (Mazda3 and Hyundai i30), the ‘Rolla four door delivers impressive value for money.

What's new about it?

Toyota says it applied a six-point plan to guide this car’s development, focusing on design, economy, interior space, (user-friendly) features, equipment, and driving dynamics. The interior makes greater use of more premium ‘soft-touch’ materials, the suspension and steering have been tuned (in Australia) for local conditions, and the ‘Toyota Link’ infotainment system, on the two higher spec variants, delivers a bunch of interactive, smart phone enabled stuff, accessed via touch-screen.

That's all fine. What's it like to drive fast?

Single engine option is a 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre four, driving the front wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox, or CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). A taller diff ratio to optimise fuel economy compromises acceleration relative to the hatch, and 0-100km/h takes a somewhat leisurely 9.3secs in the manual, and 9.8 in the CVT.

But like the hatch, it’s is bloody good dynamically, just 10 to 15 per cent softer. The electrically-assisted steering calibration is still sharp, while the damper tune and spring rates on the strut front, torsion beam rear suspension have been eased off, and ride comfort is the winner.

Tyres are 195/65 wrapped around 15 inch steel rims on the Ascent, with the SX and ZR picking up 205/55s on 16 inch alloys. The fatter, lower profile rubber makes a discernible difference to steering response and outright grip, but there’s no 215/45 x 17 option, as per Levin versions of the hatch.

The manual is positive, and a stepped, manual shift mode on the CVT works well if you’re keen for a fang, although the droning nature of the auto alternative makes its presence felt occasionally.

And driving from home to the office in the city?

A launch drive across north east Tassie covered several hundred km, including commuter-style freeways and suburban crawls, and the Corolla sedan soaks up bumps and corrugations calmly and quietly.

The interior is relatively conservative but spacious, nicely finished and comfortable. The ‘Toyota Link’ system (standard on SX and ZR) provides instant info on things like the nearest petrol station, weather updates, local accommodation, and restaurants, through the car's touch-screen display audio system. All models feature six-speaker audio controlled through a 6.1-inch touch-screen.

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?

The entry level Ascent weighs in at $20,740, and features cruise control, reversing camera and sonars, multi-information speedo display, and hands-free mobile connection. The $22,990 SX adds the 16-inch alloys (including the spare), front fogs, an upgraded instrument package, as well as keyless entry and start, and front proximity sonars.

Predicted to account for just five to 10percent of Corolla sedan sales, the $30,990 ZR ticks off climate-control air, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights and daytime running lamps, sat-nav, leather-‘accented’ seats (with eight-way power adjustment for the driver) and paddle shifters connected to the standard CVT.

What about a performance model?

If you’re after a sporty Corolla experience, until recently something of an oxymoron, your better bet is the ZR Levin version of the hatch. No powerhouse, but an entertaining drive.

Would you take this or the Mazda3?

That’s the $64,000 question in the Australian car market this year, as these two will undoubtedly arm wrestle for the top (overall) sales slot. The Mazda is superior dynamically, with sweet chassis balance and communicative steering, but the Corolla sedan wins on accommodation and ride comfort. Horses for courses.

Reviewed by: James Cleary

Driven: February 21, 2014