Undoubtedly, many Corolla sales are down to its affordability, practicality and reliability, rather than any dynamic greatness or cutting-edge design. It’s not the sort of car for which you’ll hear much in the way of effusive praise.
But it’s also not the sort of car you hear much criticism of. It produces quiet contentment from owners, the sort that results from a well-made product that gets the job done.
That’s a tough task: the family car market is ultra-competitive, and many firms struggle to produce a refined all-rounder. With the Corolla, Toyota has done so for more than 50 years, across 12 generations.
That brings us to another point of contention: those 12 generations and 45 million sales span a range of vastly different cars united only by a nameplate. Since it first launched, the Corolla has been rear-, front- and four-wheel-drive, offered in hatch, saloon, estate and coupé form, grown and shrunk in size, and taken different forms in different countries. Some felt the Corolla shouldn’t make this shortlist as a result.
Certainly, those 12 generations, with numerous variants, don’t have a development lineage in the style of, say, a Porsche 911. But what unites them is that they were all made to – and nailed – the same brief: to be an affordable, desirable people’s car. Each generation of Corolla has been a family car for the era in which it was made – and Toyota has never been afraid to change a winning formula to achieve that. Other car firms have been more conservative when it comes to updating long-running models – and paid the price.
For example, Toyota spotted market trends by fitting downsized, more economical engines with the third generation in 1974, and by introducing front-wheel drive on the fifth generation in 1983. In 2000, Toyota shifted design of the ninth-generation model to Europe for the first time, determined to grow the Corolla’s appeal in that vital market.