Registering almost 1.5m examples in the past twelve months, highlights Iain Robertson, through several generations (and even a name-change) since its original launch in 1966, the ubiquitous Corolla has been a world-top-seller since 1974.
Responsible for gifting Toyota its indefatigable reputation for total dependability, Corolla has been referred to as the ‘consummate grey suit’ of mainstream, high-volume car production. My God, it was boring beyond belief for more years than might be deemed reasonable. Despite the fact that the current model, created under the auspices of its CEO, Akio Toyoda, who is not just a motoring enthusiast but also a man with an eye for style, is regarded as one of the most handsome but also an immensely competent family car, the Japanese company has a history of thorough dullness.
My relationship with Corolla commenced in 1975, when my business acquired a 1.3-litre hatchback as a runabout/pool car. The buying decision was based on the car’s reported frugality but, thanks to a good equipment level, light power steering and wieldy dimensions, it also proved to be tremendously reliable, demanding little more than regular 6,000-mile servicing. It replaced a Mazda 1300 that had gained a reputation as a ‘thrash-mobile’, for its revvy engine and quirky but good handling. Even the most enthusiastic of drivers never treated the Corolla in the same manner, possibly in deference to its ‘blue-rinse’ appearance.
Personally, I went through a plethora of privately-owned makes and models, including a Toyota Celica, until a new company that I had established in 1986 was able to fund a company car for me. Having returned from the rear-wheel drive hatchback launch (which was held in Cyprus, in 1984) and then the front-wheel drive hatchback exercise (Portugal, 1985), I was torn between which of them I might prefer, although I was happy to live with either version. As we used a broker to obtain the best prices and availability, it was the front-driven ‘flatback’ version in GT trim that topped the list.
Powered by a remarkable 126bhp, 1.6-litre, fuel-injected petrol, four-cylinder engine that could rev to 7,700rpm, scampered from 0-60mph in around 7.5s to a posted top speed of 124mph, while it seldom got close to its reputed 36.5mpg, it proved to be an utter hoot to drive. In fact, three-up on the long but quiet downhill dual-carriageway into Inverness, to avoid being late for a wedding, it actually registered 150mph on its ambitious speedometer.
The late-1980s was a good period for Toyota. Its cars were in great demand, as much for their vastly improved chassis dynamics, as showroom good looks. Yet, the dullness reappeared in 1990, with the next generation Corolla, interjected by the introduction of the Auris around the turn of the New Millennium, where it remained virtually until 2019, when the current Corolla made its debut. In truth, I never comprehended why Toyota kept the Corolla name for markets other than the UK, apart from the fact that it was produced at its government-funded new factory, outside Derby.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the Auris. It was plain of appearance, average of performance and equipment levels and was priced competitively with the UK’s best-seller in the class, the Ford Focus. Yet, the all-pervading reputation for unbreakable build quality and a five-year manufacturer’s warranty clearly did no harm, when it came to moving metal. However, the no longer ‘new’ Corolla not only heralded the return of the model name but also led to a larger uptake of the new car, which is strikingly good looking from every angle and appears to have a wide-tracked, glued-to-the-road appeal to its stance. Thank you, Mr Toyoda!
Of course, much of Corolla’s success over the decades that has made it the single best-selling model from any carmaker lies in producing the car at several of Toyota’s worldwide plants. However, its business mainstay is North America, where low prices ensure that its role as a driver education vehicle, a student mode of transport and the car provided to retained staff remain unsullied. Put into perspective, the average list price in the UK is £24,185, while the North American version averages at £14,346, although a trip up to Canada will save adventurers a further £3,430, as it is listed at a mere £10,916, eh?
In fact, European buyers would have to head east to the State of Georgia, in the former USSR, to obtain the next least expensive Corolla listed at £11,374, with Moldova weighing in at £11,601. In fact, Mexicans receive the next best deal at £12,287, which is even better than in Toyota’s domestic market, where it lists for £13,165 and China is only marginally more costly at £13,178. It is no surprise that, even with a Toyota manufacturing plant and an engine facility (on Deeside, Wales), ‘rip-off’ Britain is comfortably in the Top Ten most expensive markets for the Corolla. Mind you, if you think we pay through the eye-teeth for our Corollas, the residents of Singapore top the chart easily with an eye-watering list price average of £53,940.
Israel holds second spot in the chart at a more reasonable £30,118, followed by Iceland (£28,504), Mauritius (£26,512), Netherlands (£25,400) and Indonesia (£24,814), before reaching the UK. Naturally, the reasons for such a wide variance in prices lie in a mix of taxation and what is known as ‘market pricing’, where new models are launched at equivalent rates of rivals, which does create a false economy of sorts, not dissimilar to that of property.
Conclusion: Sold in more than 50 countries worldwide, the Toyota Corolla has been a genuine ‘world car’ virtually since its late-1960s introduction. Today’s model is markedly different to the original, although its Japanese ethos has remained sacrosanct, a factor that has helped it assuredly to reach ‘Number One’ status.