Toyota Corolla GX

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

You might have heard that the new Toyota Corolla is sleeker-looking, better to drive and aimed on conquering more private-buyer business than ever before, with new top-line models such as the Levin SX and ZR.

All of that is true. But here’s something I think you need to know: the fastest, best-to-drive and most tastefully trimmed Corolla is in fact the least expensive fleet-fodder version, the GX.

That’s because every single Corolla has the same 1.8-litre, 103kW/173Nm engine and suspension setup. The only real dynamic difference is in the wheel sizes, which step up from 16-inch steel on the GX to 17-inchers on the more upscale models.

So why GX? Because it’s the only Corolla that offers a manual-transmission option. Its six-speed, three-pedal gearbox automatically (bit of transmission humour there) makes it much more fun than the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) models higher up the range.

The basic GX also has the best interior, if not the best equipment levels. The cabin is finished in basic black and the simple grey plastic grain-effect inserts on the dashboard are much more attractive than the faux-leather finish on the bells-and-whistles Levin. While we’re at it, compare bottom with top: the GX’s cloth seats are much more comfortable and supportive than the Levin ZR’s leather chairs.

Now, that’s not to say that the GX is suddenly a highly desirable machine. It is, after all, a fleet machine first and foremost: witness the unadorned exterior and plastic wheeltrims. Manuals are a hard sell to private buyers: this car really only exists as a price-leader for fleets ($33,490, only $1000 cheaper than the CVT) and for rental companies, who apparently still get plenty of requests for three-pedal cars from European tourists. I like European tourists.

But the GX is arguably the best way to appreciate the advances made in the 11th-generation Corolla. It still looks sharp even in basic specification (55mm lower than the old model), the build quality is as good in this model as it is the upmarket versions because the architecture is the same, and a more engaging transmission gives you more opportunity to enjoy the Corolla’s lighter weight (it’s down 45kg on the old car) and fluid chassis.

It really is good to drive and the GX would provide an excellent base for the mooted Toyota Racing Development (TRD) version of the Corolla, which will be created by applying a bunch of parts-bin equipment to the base car (as Toyota did with the 86 TRD). The GX would provide a beautifully blank canvas – and the right gearbox for a sportier model.

Agreed, the GX is still not the Corolla you’d buy. But that’s a shame, because it is the best from a driver’s point of view. And it’s hardly a stripper: the GX still gets the full complement of airbags (front, side, curtain, knee), stability control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control.

The GX is not the most economical Corolla, however. The days of automatic cars being more thirsty than their manual equivalents are fast-disappearing. The CVT-equipped Corollas achieve an impressive 6.6 litres per 100km. The manual, despite direct-drive and six ratios, manages just 7.1 litres.

A small price to pay. Renting a Corolla has never seemed so appealing.