TOYOTA has always found a place of fondness in Australian hearts, a 50-year association cementing the manufacturer's position in our automotive industry.
The love affair started in an era when reliability and good solid bones were prized above fancy glitterati and those roots have stood the test of time.
So well, that despite Toyota's worldwide recall of more than 10 million vehicles in the past year, sales figures have increased by more than a quarter.
That is undeniable testimony to brand power and Toyota's ability to identify a target market and play to it.
The latest upgrade to the Corolla Ultima range comes in response to technology savvy consumers demanding more for their dollar.
Toyota has responded with a splash of luxury and generous inclusions that it hopes will make loyal followers out of a new generation of car buyers.
Plush leather seats and soft touch plastics set the tone for the improved interior. The functional and aesthetically pleasing instrument panel is given added interest by funky orange accent lighting.
In true Toyota fashion, even the secondary controls are close at hand, ensuring navigation is a breeze.
The seats are comfortable, but perhaps could lose a little more of that benchy feel and while the Ultima gains in width, the back seat should remain very much the preserve of children.
Boot space is impressive while storage pockets are well-placed, but minimal.
On the road
While the Ultima is the only Corolla to get a 2.0-litre engine, it only really equates to a 2% increase in power and an 8% improvement in torque.
Throw in the four-speed auto (rivals have five or more ratios) and it is easy to see why it may lag the competition in the power stakes.
That said, it still delivers a solid drive. Engine noise is minimal and it is smooth going on good roads.
Take-off speed is excellent, handling is good and the steering pretty responsive.
What do you get?
Well, considering this is the Ultima's selling point, Toyota has pulled out all the stops. It comes with Bluetooth connectivity, reversing camera, climate and cruise control, leather trim, keyless start and automatic headlights to name just a handful of features.
Safety is excellent, too, with seven airbags as well as ABS brakes with EBA and EBD as standard.
The Mazda3 SP25 ($29,255), Honda Civic Sport ($31,990), Hyundai i30 ($22,990) and VW Jetta 118TSI ($30,990) will provide the stiffest competition.
The Ultima can easily serve the needs of a small family, retired couple, young starters or even those who want simple run-around, functional transport with a touch more features.
It is inoffensive to the eye, has the necessary bells and whistles and is not too cumbersome on the hip pocket.
We like the reversing camera LCD screen in the rear-view mirror – easy to use and very practical placement.
Toyota claims 7.7 litres/100km. We found it a touch more on the highway and steeper still in city driving but comparable to rivals.
New bumpers and subtle changes to the radiator grille and lights give the Corolla a fresher, if a somewhat Camry, look about it.
The Ultima's style isn't flamboyant, but it stands proudly on its 16-inch alloys.
It is no secret the Corolla is not in the heart-pumping, blood-rushing, sweaty palms business of excitement.
It depends on a tradition of dependability and value, of few surprises, and the Ultima delivers on that – with a touch of luxury.
Model: Toyota Corolla Ultima.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive compact sedan.
Transmission: four-speed manual automatic.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 102kW at 5600rpm and peak torque of 189Nm at 4400rpm.
Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km combined average.
Bottom line: $31,490.
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