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Corolla & i30 compared
Buying guide

Corolla & i30 compared

Australians are into their SUVs and pick-ups these days, but there is still plenty of life in the traditional small car segment.

Affordably priced, increasingly well-equipped and sized right for singles, young families and an urban traffic-congested life, they still have wide appeal.

Here we’re looking at two of the consistently biggest sellers in Australia, the hatchback versions of the Hyundai i30 and the Toyota Corolla.

Toyota Corolla

First sold in Australia in 1967 and manufactured locally from 1968 to 1999, the Corolla is one of Australia’s most consistently popular cars and a key reason along with the LandCruiser 4x4 that Toyota has built such a sound reputation for reliability.

Such is its level of local recognition, Toyota Australia has continued with the Corolla name through 12 generations, while in other places it has been renamed as the Auris (Europe and Japan) and Allion (China).

For all its success, the Corolla has not always been the best car in its class. Sometimes not even close to it. The Corolla’s hawkeyed predecessor was typical: It looked the goods but was, in reality, past its prime by the time it was replaced in 2018.

Toyota certainly made a bold attempt to modernise the Corolla. At its core was an all-new Toyota platform called TNG-A. The platform is the bit of a car you don’t ever see, feel or think much about, but it is as critical as a frame is to a house. Its engineering, strength and build quality define how good everything built upon on it is.

On top of that base, Toyota equipped the made-in-Japan Corolla with new drivetrains, a class-leading safety package, a vastly improved interior, a bold new exterior design and much better ride and handling.

A cornerstone of the new range was wider availability of petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains, as pioneered by Toyota in the Prius.

Obviously, we’re hearing a lot about electrification these days and the Toyota hybrid system is one of the easiest ways to experiment with this form of motivation. There’s no plugs, no range anxiety and, to be frank, not all that much electrical assistance.

What the small electric motor and tiny battery do is take a bit of load off the 1.8-litre petrol engine, especially around town in stop-start traffic. It does help improve fuel economy, which really can be frugal – down in the 4-5.0L/100km range - if driven with some sympathy.

That can be a challenge because the hybrid combo isn’t the most powerful around, which means you can spend a lot of time pressing the throttle pretty hard. The good news is a more powerful and responsive orthodox 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine is also on offer if you feel the need for extra oomph.  

Not that there is any Corolla you would think of as a hot performer. While rivals such as the Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf have really entertaining hot hatch models, Toyota has so far refused to venture down the same path, although rumours persist…

Assisting the Corolla drivetrain is much-improved handling, steering and ride. Much of this is due to TNG-A, which brings with it a lower centre of gravity, longer wheelbase and new multi-link rear suspension. That makes the Corolla  a pleasant day-to-day drive and more capable of responding accurately in an emergency situation.

Speaking of such things, the new Corolla reset the standard for safety equipment in the small car class. It includes low and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, all-speed active cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure alert, road sign recognition and blind spot monitoring.

The downside of adding that equipment, along with the other upgrades, was an inevitable price rise of about $4000 compared to the old model range. Considering Corolla hold their value very well, this in turn has had an inevitable knock-on for used vehicle prices.

Softening that blow was the stretching of service intervals from 10,000km to 15,000km (or 12 months, whichever comes first), which was good news for the budget.

Strangely, despite a bigger body, than its predecessor, the boot of the new Corolla hatch is as little as 217 litres. That compares to the class norm beyond 300 litres.

And those staples of modern living, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connection, didn’t become part of the equipment list until a November 2019 update, when the Corolla sedan was also introduced.


Hyundai i30

First launched in 2007, the i30 filled a huge hatchback-sized hole in Hyundai’s line-up. Since then it has progressed through two generations with the current iteration on-sale in Australia since 2017.

And progressed really is the right world. With each overhaul the i30 has become a better car, just as many other models in the Hyundai range such as the Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs have significantly advanced from their ‘cheap and cheerful’ roots.

Considering how long it’s been on-sale in Australia, it’s no surprise there are many, many examples of the third generation ‘PD’ i30 now being offered up as used cars. Unquestionably, their quality will vary enormously, which is why it’s great to have a  good mate in the business like Cars24.com.

Speaking of variety, that’s a core feature of the i30 line-up. There are naturally-aspirated and turbocharged petrol engine models, a turbo-diesel four-cylinder, manuals and automatics and a big spread in trim and equipment levels.

There’s even different suspension systems, with the base model making do with a cheaper solid rear axle when more expensive variants get a more sophisticated multi-link rear-end. This has implications of for ride and handling tuning, something that Hyundai has tailored for Australia for years.

Another variation to consider is service intervals. They are 15,000km/12 months for naturally-aspirated engines and 10,000km/12 months for turbos. More frequent servicing means more cost. If drive sparingly not such as issue.

While we are focussed on the five-door hatch here, there is also a sleek i30 fastback, a sedan (previously Elantra) and a station wagon that hasn’t been sold here in the current generation.

Over the years the model designations have changed, but the intent has been much the same. Back in 2017, those badges were Active, SR, SR Premium, Elite and Premium. These days there is an un-badged i30 base model, Active, Elite, N-Line, N-Line Premium and N.

N-Line rides on the coat-tails the hot hatch i30 N flagship. Think of it in the same context as what M-Sport is to BMW M, or Audi S-Line is to S, just without the same price or prestige.

A distinguishing characteristic of all i30 generations have been their European design, created at Hyundai’s German technical centre. This makes sense considering small cars are huge business in that part of the world.

When it rolled out in 2017 the latest Korean-built i30 was notable for being larger externally and internally with more boot space (now 395 litres) and having a higher-quality cabin feel with more soft-touch surfaces tan its predecessor.

Hop behind the wheel and there was no doubt about it being quieter on the road and having better driving behaviour than its predecessor.

Some reviews even judged it a better drive than the highly-respected Volkswagen Golf. The new engine line-up drew praise for its increased enthusiasm, married with decent fuel economy in the 7-8.0L/100km range.

The downside was the absence of life-saving autonomous emergency braking as a standard feature across the range.

Since 2017, equipment changes and updates have rolled out pretty regularly. The hotly-anticipated i30 N, with its crackling petrol engine, brilliant dynamics and value-for-money pricing starting at about $40,000, launched in October 2017.

A new entry-level ‘Go’ model priced under $20K appeared in late 2017 and a moderate update in April 2018 included more safety equipment for the mainstream range. The i30 N-Line appeared soon after in late 2018, boasting a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol four-cylinder engine and a sporty dress-up kit.

Late 2020 changes included AEB finally becoming standard for all models, front and rear styling revisions, the axing of the diesel engine and the ‘Go’ badge and a solid price rise around $3000 for the entry-level i30.

An updated i30 N with a dual clutch automatic transmission, added alongside the manual gearbox for the first time, was launched in mid-2021.


VERDICT

This is a tough call that comes down to personal preference and budget as much as black-and-white plusses and minuses.

Both cars are fine examples of the modern small car breed.

If your motivation is quality and safety then the Toyota Corolla has a stellar reputation and equipment inventory. If fuel economy is high on the list of priorities then the hybrid models are another selling point. But the interior packaging is inexplicably poor, especially in the boot and the driving experience – while improved - isn’t memorable.

The Hyundai i30 has more interior and boot space and has more zest about its driving behaviour, especially when you get into the N-Line and N models.

Our recommendation? Inspect at the inventory on Cars24, crunch the numbers and then make your decision.