It has never been easy for the Japanese to build a "reliable" car and make it look desirable and attractive.
But after spending four months of self-imposed exile in Italy trying to get inspiration from beautifully designed Italian cars, the 10th generation Toyota Corolla was conceived.
About five years later, the Japanese sedan was born and made its first official South African appearance this week during a two-day media launch in Knysna.
Unlike its previous generations that are proudly Japanese, the new Corolla has a design with an Italian flair.
True to Corolla
Although one doesn't really see any traces of the previous models in its new design cues, its DNA is still very much Corolla - especially in its ride and drive feel.
During a typical Toyota launch, journalists spend more time in the cars than outside, covering around 300 km during the first leg of the two-day driving experience. We covered a further 300km the following day travelling from Knysna's Pezulu hotel and resort to the Port Elizabeth airport.
During this time, the motoring scribes managed to take turns in several Corolla models. The line-up consists of three petrol engine derivatives - 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8 - and one diesel model, a 2.0 D4-D.
The turbocharged 2.0 D4-D engine is a first in the Corolla range and has found a second home after it was firstly introduced last month in Corolla's sibling, the Auris imported from the UK.
The locally-built Corolla comes in a choice of three specification levels. The base Professional, Advance and top-of-the-range Exclusive replace the base, GLE and GSX derivatives, respectively.
All in all, the new Corolla comes in 10 different models with three transmission options - Manual, Multi-Mode Manual Transmission (with shift-paddles on the steering wheel) and a fully Automatic gearbox.
Out of the 10 models, I only managed to drive two - the 1.8-litre petrol version and the 2.0D4-D diesel engine. The 1.8-litre engine develops 100 kW of power and 175 Nm of torque while the 2.0 D4-D produces 93 kW and 300 Nm of torque.
The 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines have been fitted with a five-speed transmission while the 1.8- and 2.0-litre engines have been mated with six-speed gearboxes.
Not spectacular, but not bad either
During our ride and drive experience, I found the Corolla to be pretty impressive. It is significantly bigger, wider and taller higher than the model it replaces and this translates to more leg-, shoulder- and head-room for five occupants. There is more. The new Corolla also offers style, luxury and good ride comfort.
But in terms of power, when compared to its rivals (especially the VW Jetta) Toyota took a conservative approach. Let's take the 1.8-litre model as an example. It delivers average performance and doesn't really offer anything spectacular. I also found its performance to be a bit flat especially accelerating from standstill. But once the pulling front wheels have enough traction on the surface, everything else feels alright.
As far as the diesel model goes, there is nothing really special that Toyota offers that is better than its rivals. The diesel engine in the new Corolla produces 10 kW of power and 20Nm of torque less than major rival, the Jetta 2.0 TDI.
I was not impressed by the level of refinement from the Corolla's diesel engine. I found myself battling to have a clear conversation on my cellphone due to the noisy engine. A passenger at the time of the call, I had the car's powerful in-dash six-load CD shuttle switched off and my cellphone volume at its peak, but that didn?t really help much.
However, the engine noise may not necessarily be an issue for a Corolla fan who is experiencing a diesel engine for the first time.
In terms of the exterior design, the Corolla has innovative looks never seen elsewhere before not even in any other Toyota model.
However, one can see a little bit of the design cues stolen from stable-mate Lexus IS250 in the new Corolla. The exterior of the new car also makes the current model look like the Yaris competitor in terms of size.
As much as the whole vehicle has been improved, the Japanese have also realised that the new Corolla wouldn't be complete without excellent safety features. Driver and passenger front airbags are standard across the range the higher-spec models get up to nine airbags.
All the models have also been fitted with anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA).
Prices are as follows:
Corolla 1.4 Professional - R149 500
Corolla 1.4 Advance - R164 600
Corolla 1.6 Professional - R164 900
Corolla 1,6 Advance - R177 900
Corolla 1.6 Advance (M-MT) - R182 900
Corolla 1.8 Advance - R184 900
Corolla 1.8 Exclusive - R207 500
Corolla 1.8 Exclusive Auto - R215 900
Corolla 2.0 Advance 2.0 D4-D - R203 900
Corolla 2.0 D4-D Exclusive - R226 600
The prices include a five-year/90 000km service plan and a three-year/100 000km warranty.