Odometer at pick-up: 1,744 km

The Toyota Corolla is a legend. An icon.

While it is often the object of some derision in enthusiast circles, it’s only the truly blind that cannot see its brilliance. At various times in its past the Corolla has worn both the crown of reliability and the shackles of complete and utter lack of character (as well as one glorious shining moment of mythological prowess in the AE86). But the latest generation of Corolla has struck an interesting blend of practicality, style, quality and competence that has impressed me thoroughly.

Throwing off the blandness of the previous generation’s design and massively improving the lacklustre driving experience while retaining its comfort, efficiency and practicality allowed it to reign supreme in a showdown with its archrival Honda Civic and place an impressive second in our last Mega-Comparison of compact cars. In its previous incarnation, it was a disastrous last place in our first compact car mega-comparison in which I dubbed it “The Anti-Car”, unable to capitalize on its reputation for reliability and resale value to climb the rankings, when it had very little to offer mechanically and others that eclipsed it for practicality and efficiency.

But that was then and this is now. The Corolla is now something entirely different, even if you can still get it in beige (calling it Brown Sugar doesn’t sweeten the drab colour quite enough to not be beige), and still expect it to be reliable and retain value as well as or better than any other compact.

You can see for yourself that the design is sharper and features a large prominent grille with more angular detailing and creased body panels. I’ll leave the “bold” and “dynamic” adjectives to the PR folks, but I think it safe to agree that this is a braver design than Corollas past and far more of the people with whom I’ve discussed it have positive things to say about this styling direction.

Under the skin, it retains the common front-engine, front-wheel-drive formula for efficient commuting, with typical MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam in back. Power is provided by a 1.8L four-cylinder, but it can be had in a couple of different ways. Most models use a dual variable valve timing mechanism to deliver an efficient combustion process with ample power at 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Eco models use Toyota’s Valvematic continuously variable valve-train mechanism for greater efficiency and a bump to 140 hp, but a drop to 126 lb-ft of torque. Despite the Eco badge it is the base engine that earns a cleaner ULEV II emissions rating compared to the Eco’s LEV3.

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