These two Japanese cars may have family connections, but the common genes aren’t easy to see.

Young family man: Toyota Corolla Hatch

WHAT IS IT?

Launched onto the local market very recently, the new Toyota Corolla Hatch is a more sensibly named replacement for the Auris, which means it’s a C-segment hatchback aimed squarely at the VW Golf.

WHY THIS?

The Corolla has been a family favourite in South Africa for over 50 years, which is why it’s very hard to understand why Toyota took this long before giving the Corolla-derived hatch the Corolla name. You know what you’re getting with a Corolla – good value, great quality and reliability, and a car designed to be a jack of all trades. What might surprise you, though, is how good-looking the Hatch is, how enjoyable it is to drive, and the upmarket feeling of the interior. 

OUTSIDE

The Corolla Hatch is actually quite a belter, especially if you compare it to its humble predecessors, from the Conquest to the RunX and Auris. The most beguiling single aspect of the Hatch’s visage has to the headlights, shaped like hatchets and equipped with LED technology.

The weakest point of the Corolla Hatch’s appearance is the smallish wheels, which make the wheel arches look a tad empty. In the real world, though, this perceived weakness is actually a strength, because the 16-inch wheels have relatively high-profile tyres for better ride quality and, most importantly, resistance to pothole damage.

INSIDE

The exterior of the Corolla Hatch may be eye-catching, but the interior is by no means overshadowed. It’s clean and functional, the dash centred around a large touchscreen mounted amidships, and the materials supplying a distinctly premium feel for this market segment. Interior specs are fairly generous, with a touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, LED head and taillights, cruise control, a reverse camera and keyless entry. In addition, the Xr versions get heated leather seats.

Safety wise, the Hatch features stability control, seven airbags, ABS braking with EBD and brake assist, while the Xr versions also get blind-spot monitoring.

THE DRIVE

A single engine option, a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit, might limit the appeal of the Corolla Hatch, particularly to diesel fans and those in need of more thrills, but at least the only option is a good one, as this little powerplant delivers its 85kW and 185Nm smoothly and willingly. No, it’s not a fast car, but it is an engaging one to drive without using too much fuel (6.1L/100km is claimed). Both the six-speed manual gearbox and the 10-speed CVT automatic gearbox are very well suited to the engine, the manual more entertaining and the auto smoother and more relaxing.

FINAL WORD

Sedans are losing out as SUVs gain popularity, which is a great reason for Toyota to extend the use of the Corolla name. As a family car, the Corolla Hatch is perhaps limited by the dainty boot, but other than that it is very hard to fault and would certainly make a cost-effective office vehicle, especially with the potentially high resale value taken into account.

GO GET IT

Prices start at R336 800 for the 1.2T Xs and go up to R367 100 for the 1.2T Xr CVT. The 1.2T Xs CVT is somewhere in the middle at R347 400. All Corolla Hatch models come standard with a 6-services/90 000km service plan and 3-year/100 000km warranty. See www.toyota.co.za for more information.

Senior management: Lexus ES 250 EX

WHAT IS IT?

The ES range is the gateway to the Lexus brand, but it is also a beautiful sedan with a commanding presence on the road.

WHY THIS?

Some sensible businesspeople, and particularly business owners, might feel that it’s time to start hanging on to cars for longer than they have in the past. If that’s the case, buying a Lexus is not a bad idea – they are ruthlessly reliable and long-lived, and with Toyota’s might behind them, they have incredible service levels and spares availability. The Lexus maintenance plan and warranty, of 7-years/100 000km (the warranty is extendable to 8-years/unlimited mileage!), add to the confidence in the brand and makes longer-term ownership that much more attractive. More than this, the ES 250 is a beautiful car to look at and drive, so a practical decision can be enjoyable too.

OUTSIDE

It’s hard to get beyond that spindle grille, multi-faceted and incredibly sexy, but when you do, you see that the ES is more than a one-trick pony. It is elegant but purposeful, curved in parts and chiselled in others. The grille’s lines are mirrored by the LED headlights, while the size of the vehicle (it’s bigger than a BMW 5 Series and a Merc E-Class) is disguised by a swooping profile that is bracketed by a sharp, striking front and rear. The 17-inch wheels on the ES 250 (18-inch on the 300h) fill the wheel arches nicely, and despite being almost five metres long the ES manages to look well balanced and agile.

INSIDE

That beguiling exterior belies the fact that the ES 250 is a vast vehicle with space enough for five full-sized adult humans and all of their attendant paraphernalia. Legroom, headroom, elbowroom and luggage room – the ES provides it all in spades. It also features the Lexus ‘Seat in Control’ design, which means that all the vehicle’s controls are positioned within easy reach of the driver, so that attention is diverted from the road as seldom as possible.

The ES 250 is not perfect, I’m afraid to say – the interface between driver and infotainment system, which is a cross between a mouse and a trackpad, is fussy and tricky to use, and should be dispensed with entirely by Lexus instead of improved upon.

THE DRIVE

We can’t pretend that a Lexus is as fun to drive as a similar BMW or Alfa, but you don’t buy a Lexus to tear around the country looking for twisty roads and an absence of traffic cops. You buy a Lexus because you’re interested in getting to your destination relaxed and comfortable, ready to get down to business. When you arrive in your ES you won’t have to take a moment for your heart rate to drop to its normal beat, but that’s not to say the ES 250 is slow. A 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol-driven engine smoothly delivers 152kW of power and 243Nm of torque, while the 8-speed automatic transmission is a perfect partner to it. Average fuel consumption is a claimed 6.6L/100km.

FINAL WORD

The ES is a great entry into a premium brand, and because there aren’t that many on the road you’ll stand out. Another sneaky benefit is that you can be driving an affordable premium vehicle, but the Lexus badge will persuade everyone that it cost way more than it did. Also, the ES (the 300h SE model specifically) is one of the safest cars ever tested by Euro NCAP. Even the ES 250 has 10 airbags as part of its comprehensive complement of passive and active safety features.

GO GET IT

There’s only one model in the ES 250 range and it is priced at R593 300. There is another ES, the ES 300h, but it features hybrid technology and is priced accordingly at R843 800. The ES range comes standard with 7-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan. Visit www.lexus.co.za for more information.

Related

Motoring

Motoring

New Dawn? Where?

New Dawn? Where?

An African Approach to Traditional Coaching

An African Approach to Traditional Coaching