TOYOTA has certainly come a long way over the past few years.

TOYOTA has certainly come a long way over the past few years.

Well-known for producing vehicles that are sound and reliable, the one ingredient that was often missing was that individual spark to set it apart from rivals.

Think again.

I recently pulled up at the robots and found myself behind a new Corolla 1,3 (identical to which I was driving) and a Mercedes-Benz 200, which I reckon was probably about three years old.

Comparing the design of the two, in my opinion, the Toyota won hands down.

With its bulging rear lights, colour-coded bumpers and stylish lines, the new Corolla definitely stands out.

When writing about the Corolla at its launch a few months back, I raved about its excellent petrol consumption (4,45litres per 100km driven) and after an extended period behind its wheel, nothing has changed.

With its 55-litre tank, expect to get around 1000km before refuelling. Impressive.

Having a 1,3-litre engine and a six-speed gearbox probably sounds like a bit of a contradiction and I would question the need for that extra sixth gear.

For around-town driving it simply isn't necessary and I can only imagine it might come in handy when travelling those long stretches through the Free State.

The interior is clutter-free and all instruments clearly marked and accessible. Power steering, air conditioning, electric windows and radio-CD player all come as standard features.

Toyota provides a complete package with regard to safety features: ABS brakes, side impact beams, front and side air-bags. A good thing about buying a Toyota is you know what you are getting. There are no hidden surprises - the brand speaks for itself.