On Sep 24th 1966, project KE10 took of at Toyota, Japan for the development of a new vehicle to follow the Toyota Crown, and so, the first Corolla MK1 model was born as a direct result of this effort. Produced from 1966 onwards, there have been new models of this make appearing at regular intervals of three to four year, culminating in the MK9, which is the current model in the market.
This line of economy cars has been one of the most successful vehicles from the Toyota stable since 1966. When the Corolla first hit the streets, it has gained the reputation of a car that appeals to those that want a vehicle that is affordable, comfortable, convenient, and as sensible as any Japanese car is likely to get. This has up to now been the appeal of the Toyota Corolla.
In Nepal, Toyota launched the new Corolla on 16th January 2003, bringing in yet another economy sedan into the market here. The new Corolla is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor and features a 5 speed manual transmission as well as a 4-speed automatic transmission version. There are both 1.5 and 1.6-liter engines with Toyotas VVT-I technology, which means that by enabling the vehicle to vary its valve timings, greater power as well as fuel efficiency is expected from them. Toyota already has a fair following here and looking at the new styling of the Corolla sedan, it is apparent that Toyota has decided to refurbish the earlier hatchback look and create a car that is more in keeping with the look of the new millennium – which seems to be bigger and more powerful.
From the five cars that have been brought into Nepal Toyota’s dealers, Mr. Bhola Thapa, travel entrepreneur and proprietor of President Travels, has bought one. A self confessed Toyota fan who already has two other vehicles from Toyota, including a Land Cruiser and the ever so popular Rav 4, Mr. Thapa says that this is a brand of automobile that he prefers over others. The reasons he quotes are that it has a good resale value, good after sale service, and a reputation for quality and reliability. His most recent purchase of the Corolla is as a birthday present for his wife.
Accompany Mr. Thapa for a test ride to Dhulikhel, and then further along the new Bardibas highway, the first impression one gets, in terms of the looks of the car on the road, is good. Its styling consists of a solid, heavy look, which is apparently a deliberate effort on the part of its designers, who built it with European roads and driving conditions in mind, where the buyers like to feel the protective bulk of their vehicle.
The bulk works fine here too as we nose through the morning mist on the Ring Road and the thing one notices about the car, once inside, is the surprising spaciousness within the vehicle. This spaciousness is a result of the curved design of the rear component of the vehicle and the fact that this car has and overall length of almost 4.4 meters, and a width of 1.696 meters. This gives generous leg space to the rear passengers, and the front space is almost as generous. Mr. Bhola Thapa had also thought that the vehicle might be a bit small initially but on driving it for the first time, he felt the same way I felt about the space. Boot space is 13.5 cubic feet and makes for a cavernous luggage carrying capacity.
The road to Bahaktapur, which is shrouded in morning mist, yields a cow, several vehicles shouldering their way through on the wrong side, and a barbed wire barricade at short intervals, and so we get to feel the brakes on the vehicle at such intervals. The seatbelts and the large dashboard looming over in front with the reassuring words ‘Airbag’ printed on the passenger side of it lend to me sense of security on such occasions. Despite the poor visibility and worse traffic, it feels safer in the front than other vehicles of the same class. Adding to my serenity was the fact that the Corolla sales brochure contained words like crumple zones, high integrity cabin, EDS, ABS etc - coupled with the fact that Mr. Thapa happened to be a serene driver.
Safely out of the mist once we reach Banepa, we climb up toward Dulikhel and finally get to open her up a bit on short stretch to the hilltop. The suspension in this vehicle, which consists of MacPherson struts in front and rear Torsion beams, has a taunt feeling, which is probably because it was designed for autobahns and not the average Nepali road. Not that it does not take the potholes with élan, but that it is too responsive to the smaller feature that make up our roads here, and though a comfortable ride, one can feel the smaller bumps on the road coming through as suspension feedback.
On open roads however it seemed fine and with its 1.6-liter petrol engine, it delivers 135 bhp at 3000 rpm giving us quick responses when needed. This meant that we could surge past uncooperative buses that hogged the road and not fear to fizzle and have to back down on an overtaking maneuver, our tails between our legs. Power was not a problem here.
Bhola Thapa meanwhile talks car. His dream car would be a Mercedes convertible, but he feels that it is impractical in Nepal, and looking at the dust haze that hangs over the city behind us, one is grateful for the pollen and dust filters on this car. Turning right off the road leading to Dhulikhel, for our drive along the winding Bardibas road, he opens up the car a bit and all is smooth and responsive with the Corolla. We drive on for a few kilometers along the scenic highway before turning back and the Toyota is everything one expects of a well-behaved sedan.
In the end, the Corolla brings to mind words like stable, practical, roomy and perhaps even staid. Words like adrenalin, and excitement did not feature, contrary to what the brochures stated and for most practical purposes, in a city where cars are more transport than a stormy passion, it seems a car that will do well enough for most urban requirements. Judging it in terms of styling, it is chunkier and more attractive than its predecessors from the Toyota stable, but if one looks at the competition in the other cars it does not really stand out too much – though this is not to say that this a bad looking car at all.
On our return drive to Kathmandu we stop over at Bhaktapur at the Nyatapola square to let the vehicle show of its curves to the passing public, as we watch from the heights of the Nyatapola Café. It raises a fair amount of interest and it seems to me that Mr.Thapa, who says he is lucky with cars, might not be wrong about his choice here. Asked what he liked best about the car, he felt that it was a stable car to drive and very roomy on the inside. Thus, in its essence, it is a car that meets its utility requirements though it is a rather heavy vehicle for Nepali roads.
Toyota company figures state that so far, Toyota has sold 29 million units of the different models of Corolla. According to them, it is a car that is matched in popularity and sales only by the Volkswagen beetle, which comes a distant second with eight million less sold. Toyota is currently targeting the 30 million figures in order to make it one of the most popular lines of vehicles ever sold. In Nepal however, the Corolla has long been a popular car for its practical aspect and the new model, with its more attractive looks, stands a good chance of making a dent in the market.