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Electric flower power

By Roger Walker
Photography by Luke Browne

The Corolla is the ring of petals around the central part of a flower. To me the original Corolla was Japan’s brilliant answer (60 years later) to Ford’s Model T, except the Model T came only painted black.

In the mid-seventies, I needed transport for my young family, but in those days without foreign funds you could not buy a new car.

Commercial vehicles were exempt from this ridiculous rule. The two-door Corolla van was on the market, and available in NZ dollars. With the simple insertion of side windows and a rear seat, it became a station wagon, and suited our needs perfectly. It performed loyally and reliably for the next 12 years. It was never garaged.

I really love the idea that cars, like clothing, are not merely reliably functional tools. We know that the primary purpose of transport is to get from A to B. To truly enjoy the journey, I believe, you actually have to like your car, be comfortable with its design and be happy to be seen in it.

From its outset, Toyota overwhelmed the European manufacturers, by selling cars that actually started when the key was turned on, and didn’t break down inexplicably, leak oil all over the garage floor, or have bits falling off. Reliability has been Toyota’s mantra since their inception but recently, and at no extra cost, they have added style and beauty to the mix, proving that I am right.

This new Corolla’s body now sits between its very pretty wheels, rather than on top of them, and is visually planted on the road, with sculpted flared haunches and a sexy stance.

In terms of propulsion, Corollas have historically been petrol-powered frugal fours. To their credit they have never been attracted to diesel engines (fuelled by a hydrocarbon not much more sophisticated in my view, than coal), with their unpleasant clatter and fuel smells; and we still don’t know, after the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, to what extent they actually pollute the atmosphere.

It’s clear to me, as we see the atmosphere warming at an alarming rate, that wholly electric-powered cars are inevitable.

But electric motors have very few moving parts, and there’s no need for a radiator or gearbox. So I can’t quite understand their current costs (no pun intended) – they must surely be cheaper to make. It must be the damn batteries. But these will inevitably become cheaper and more hairy-chested as time goes on.

Major electric vehicle manufacturers are enthused about the new technology. They have begun to energetically but quietly promote an electric future by showcasing their cars in competition racing on central city circuits in locations like Riyadh, Hong Kong and Brooklyn.

In the meantime, here’s Toyota’s glimpse of this future: petrol/electric motoring within reach of most, tiding us over the wait until affordable, long-range, pure electric cars arrive.

The newly introduced Corolla Hybrid has a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine producing 72kw. This is boosted by 53Kw/163Nm by the electric motor, through a continuously variable transmission, to the front wheels.

An affordable $32,990 drive away, the GX model comes with a ‘safety sense package’ including autonomous emergency braking, stop-start at the lights, reverse camera, lane departure alert and pre-crash safety system.

The $38,490.00 drive-away ZR model adds features such as larger wheels with low-profile tyres (less rolling resistance) leather upholstery, digital speedometer, eight-speaker audio system, auto-dimming inside mirror, 7-inch multi-information colour display, two-tone seat option, and a head-up display on the windscreen that shows both the vehicle’s speed and the local legal limit. It also informs you as to the rate of fuel use and the car’s geographical orientation.

But what is it like to drive? Performance wise it’s not a tyre fryer, but it’s not meant to be. It’s an eager puppy always wanting to please. It feels solid, and its low-profile tyres grip the road superbly. It’s quiet and civilised, and changes imperceptibly between petrol and electric modes.

Its steering, ride and handling are exceptional. It has a capacious interior and an impressively sized boot. WOFs are free for the first four years and the new vehicle warranty can be extended to five years or 150,000km with free WOFs.

The plain Jane is now the Belle of the Ball. Raise a glass of sake and toast her inevitable success.

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