The idea of owning a brand new car off the showroom floor is generally something I’m not very keen on, though not being able to afford one is possibly a bigger factor. Personally, I’m more inclined to pre-owned cars or even better, imported cars from countries like Japan. While it is more of my personal opinion as most people would prefer the peace of mind of having a warranty and availability of parts, I’d rather reap the benefits of post first-hand ownership depreciation. While it depends on the car itself as well, for instance, if it’s something like this Corolla, I wouldn’t be too worried. It’s a Toyota, what’s the worst that could happen?
When I was told we’d be given the keys to a Toyota Corolla, I wasn’t really jumping over the moon, to be frankly honest. Excited, sure, but not overly excited that I was looking forward to it that much. It’s just a Corolla anyway, not like it was a limited-edition homologated for racing like the GR Yaris. But that is where I was completely wrong because ever since I started writing and being in front of the camera about driving cars, there was this slight sense of being a bit picky on the cars. That being said, the Corolla seems to have left a long-lasting thought on me even months after driving one.
The lasting thought being ‘how good a modern manual car can be’ because if you look into the current car market, it’s nearly impossible to find a brand new manual car. Though that might not be completely true because there are new manual cars but those are either the cheapest cars around like the Perodua Axia or the Proton Saga or some of the most expensive cars in the market like a Porsche 911 GT3 Touring. Regular cars like the Honda Civic or a Mazda 3 all come with a CVT or an automatic transmission.
While it is understandable that the manual transmission only caters to a niche market that is almost non-existent but it’s rather sad to see that even the youth aren’t that interested in cars anymore, particularly manual cars. This is actually becoming a problem in Japan as manufacturers are finding it hard to sell interesting cars because there isn’t really a demographic for these cars anymore. However, just because the youth aren’t interested, doesn’t mean they have to kill it off completely. And this is where the Corolla GZ Sports hatchback perfectly fits the bill.
The Corolla appeals to those who have grown up but are still young at heart. What I mean is, it’s the type of car that is suitable for married couples with one or two kids at most but still haven’t given up the fun things of life. Great looks, practical and relatively cheap on fuel. A combo that everybody wants, to be fair. And it’s still a Toyota, so most likely, it will start up every single time you press the start button.
The car market is generally flooded with new and used cars that cater to every wants and needs. However, if you are looking for an upgrade from your first car that can compromise between a daily driver as well as a family car, generally your options are within the 100-200k price point. You could go for depreciated German saloons or most of the time, people would just buy a Honda Civic. But there’s a lot in the Corolla that is to be desired.
First of all, welcome to the interior of the Corolla GZ Sports Hatchback where the car greets you with a lovely 6-speed manual transmission. Oh, how joyous. While most people would say the Corolla may be boring and dull, this is definitely something I wouldn’t even consider boring let alone dull. The cabin is surrounded by a blend of contrasting suede and leather, a lovely reminder to show you that Toyota can be fun and plush if you leave them to their own devices. A huge step up from the yesteryears of beige and the ‘uncle’ Camry vibes.
Another cool addition are the seats as well, these are similar to the ones on the GR Yaris. While the seats may look similar, it is unsure if the seats are actually from the GR Yaris but it is for sure lovely to sit in. Come to think of it, the seats are upholstered to the same colour as the Toyota ‘GR’ badge.
So now, let’s address the elephant in the room, the engine. Unlike the local Corolla Altis which has a 1.8-litre engine, under the hood of this Corolla GZ Sports is a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces around 115hp and 185Nm of torque. Though the power may seem rather inadequate for a car from 2018, what the Corolla lacks in power, it makes up for in the ‘fun’ department. That being said, this particular Corolla is running on a set of RSR lowering springs.
Driving The Corolla GZ Sports
My first impression after getting into the Corolla was how plush the interior felt. The interior feels much more premium compared to it’s Honda counterpart. And now that Toyota updated the instrument cluster for this model year, the instrument cluster seems much more modern as compared to its predecessor which did not receive the center display. It’s great that Toyota added a pinch of Lexus here and there into the mix making the interior a little bit better in general. And let’s get to the gearbox, shall we?
This particular car came with a 6-speed manual gearbox but there are also variants offered with a CVT. Now, let me clear the air right here, I passionately hate a CVT gearbox. To me, a CVT gearbox is the equivalent of biting into a cardamom while enjoying your favourite dish. It kills the mood instantly. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was only able to test the 6-speed manual and wasn’t able to check out the CVT. But credits where it’s due, Toyota is by far the only company that can make the CVT bearable but yeah, I’d still fancy the 6-speed manual any day.
So, where were we? Ah yes, the 6-speed manual. See, what I love about having the manual in this car is that it livens the whole car up. What I actually mean is, you can fully utilize the 1.2-litre engine with that gearbox. It’s the kinda thing that feels fast and exciting without actually breaking any laws. And in a city car like this, it’s not like you’ll be cruising at 180km/h and hitting the track every weekend anyways.
And instead of talking about 0-100km/h times and how fast I can go around a bend on Ulu Yam, I took it to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, where there are potholes all year round and nowhere to park. And to add to my misery, rain. However, it was actually pretty comfortable in the GZ Sports. Despite being RSR lowering springs, the Corolla was comfy enough to soak the minute imperfections on the road, the clutch was relatively light and with Toyota’s Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT), it automatically rev-matches the engine, making it easy for you to shift between gears. I actually forgot I was driving a manual after 10 minutes because of how easy it was. It was also difficult to stall the car (yeah, I actually tried stalling a car deliberately)
I later took it to the outskirts of the city to enjoy some lovely twisty roads and the car coped really well. Not to mention that we weren’t driving on some Yokohama AD08Rs mind you, it was just some used Dunlop Direzza DZ102s wrapped around the standard 18-inch alloy wheels. The car we had did not have the additional GR Line trimmings which were offered as an optional extra from Toyota.
The Corolla GZ Sports comes with a lot of standard tech such as a reverse camera (which should just be standard on any new car past 2020 to be honest), lane-keeping assist, Toyota’s pre-crash system, cruise control, push start and keyless entry. There is also a sport mode button for those who prefer a sharper throttle response and feeling a bit sporty. However, I’m not a fan of an electronic parking brake system because if something were to happen to it, you won’t be able to move the car.
The dashboard is decently laid out with physical buttons. Which unlike a lot of new cars that adapts capacitive touch buttons as well as gestures (which is even more rubbish). But I find the infotainment system rather dated especially for a car that came out in 2018, but it’s fine enough if you don’t fancy any luxuries such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto because you do get a similar dash to the local Altis counterpart. You may be able to update the software for the local market, however I may be wrong.
At RM160,000, the Corolla GZ Sport is not particularly a cheap car especially when directly compared to the Altis. However, you can’t really find any other Japanese manual hatchbacks that can fly under the radar albeit still interesting, especially to car enthusiasts. In my opinion, a car that can look as good as this with the build quality and reliability of a Toyota, is a solid plus for me.
While some people may still have that mindset of recond cars are not that good and some are uncomfortable with not understanding all the Japanese words on the screen means, you’ll end up getting used to them anyway. Plus, First Mile Auto in Cheras (the guys who imported these in) are pretty much the only ones who have these available. Not to mention that there’s also a Touring version that was actually a former Blitz demo car.
As someone who is somewhat biased to modern Mazdas, I’m at a crossroad if I had to choose between the Corolla GZ Sports and a new Mazda 3. My mind is like that Jeremy Clarkson meme that compares a Ford Fiesta to a Volkswagen Up!, “This is brilliant but I like this”. The Mazda looks like an Alfa Romeo and everything on the inside feels premium but the Toyota has a manual gearbox that really brings the car to life. Either way, I’d be happy to daily drive a modern manual Toyota that actually looks brilliant.
Written by | Danial Malek
Images by | Chua Chung Zhi