Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: 11th Gen Corolla, JDM Spec, And A Discussion With Its Chief Engineer

Two weeks ago, I covered the arrival of the 11th generation Corolla in Japan. In Japan, the sedan is called Corolla Axio, the station wagon variant is called the Corolla Fielder. My report caused consternation amongst some readers who do not expect the arrival of the new Corolla before 2014. Instead of simply accepting that TTAC is ahead of its times, some readers ordered me to do better research. Your wish being my command (this time,) I went back to the scene of the alleged research crime to sit down with the car's creator, Toyota Chief Engineer Hiroya Fujita. I asked him to explain to the Best and Brightest the birds and the bees of the new Corolla.

I also drove the car around the block a few times.

Fujita is a friendly man. When his eyes sparkle behind his rimless glasses, a laughter is quick to follow. This is the second Corolla in his career. He also led the development of the previous generation, "in its Japanese and South American version." (Hint, hint.)

"Customers are different in each region," says Fujita, and the Corolla will be adapted to these different tastes and requirements.

Asked how many Corollas exist in parallel in this world, Fujita says that there are "many Corollas, but the differences are small."

Fujita confirms that this is the new generation Corolla which will eventually appear in the rest of the world once he and his colleagues are done with the adaptions.

One of the most obvious engineering requirements for the JDM variant was issued by the Japanese government. To qualify as a (lower taxed) compact car, vehicles must measure less than 4.7 m (15.4 ft) in length and 1.7 m (5.6 ft) in width. The new Axio complies with this requirement, while providing more space on the inside.

"U.S. customers think bigger is better," says Fujita. Stateside, there won't be a "honey, I shrunk the Corolla." Fujita indicates that the increase in length will most likely translate into more trunk space, the cabin will be "almost the same."

Fujita is a tease. He says that he cannot talk about the U.S. model because it still is in development, under a different Chief Engineer. Then he adds that the different Chief Engineer sits in the office next to him and that they are in constant communication. Occasionally announcing that the U.S. model is top secret, Fujita keeps talking

The U.S. customer will not get the rounded windshield that provides the feeling of even more interior space in the new JDM Corolla. Forget about a wagon version in the U.S.

"I love technology" says Fujita, as he treats the new Corolla to a list of features that hitherto were only available in higher end Toyota and Lexus models. Will the new features survive the journey across the Pacific?

Fujita says that he can't disclose details, and that the new ventilated driver's seat may come to the U.S., or may not, depending on the colleague next door and the U.S. supplier. The chances of the automatic high beams coming to the U.S. currently are low. That feature is better suited to the "winding roads in Japan," says Fujita. The U.S. engine will be a 1.8 liter, the CVT will stay at home in Japan. The new idle stop system also won't make it across the Pacific, it is mated to the CVT.

What will never ever make it into a Corolla, at least as long as Fujita is in charge, is an instrument cluster in the middle.

"I don't like it," says Fujita, "and Corolla customers the world over don't like it either."

The ergonomics people tried to convince Fujita that sideway glances of the eyes are quicker and less distracting than up and down movements of the eyeballs, but the Corolla's Chief Engineer is not buying it.

The new Corolla will not appeal to would-be car racers and horse power worshipers. The car is a crowd pleaser, more than a million change hands each year. Ever since I was on the launch team of the Golf in 1973, I developed great respect for mass market cars and their creators. Designing a supercar is easy, which explains the high numbers of people who dabble in it. The development of a mass-market car that is consistently successful over many generations is a demanding discipline that is mastered only by a chosen few.

With that thought in my head, I drive Fujita's creation until I get lost on the way to Tokyo's new Dinosaur bridge. I make a U-turn and head back. The turn is easy, the car's learning curve is flat. To avoid complaints about different Corollas, I will leave the true driving impressions to Messrs. Dykes, Karesh, or even Baruth when the U.S. version will reach the U.S. shores two years from now. Or thereabouts.

Toyota provided the car and the engineer.

from The Truth About Cars

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