Toyota Corolla review - hybrid hatchback has a point to prove
One of the oldest names in motoring is back, carrying with it heritage and expectation
The Corolla was a familiar name on British roads for a large part of the late 20th century but was ditched in 2006 when the Auris took over as Toyota’s family hatchback.
Jump forward another 14 years and the Auris has itself been abandoned and Toyota has revived the Corolla badge for its all-new family hatchback.
That may, in part, be down to Toyota boss Aiko Toyoda’s decree of “No more boring cars” from the brand, and the Auris’s reputation as steady but soul-crushingly dull.
The Corolla name has been around for more than 50 years and comes with the weight of heritage and familiarity attached. It’s the world’s best selling car and down the years has built up a strong reputation as a solid, reliable family vehicle.
This Corolla, though, is a new chapter, say Toyota. It’s based on the flexible global architecture and brings new hybrid technology and a more exciting feel, with different variants for different demographics.
To that end, Corolla comes in three different bodystyles.
Expected to be the main seller is the five-door hatchback. According to Toyota’s team this is the most dynamic of three, aimed at youthful, urban couples without kids. It’s certainly the most striking looking and its sharply slashed lights, body creases and deep front grille make for a far more interesting looking car than the bland Auris.
The Sports Touring (estate to you and me), with its 598-litre boot is aimed at families who need a commuter car that can swallow the trappings of an active lifestyle and the demands of a life with children.
The Sedan reintroduces a saloon shape to Toyota’s C-segment line-up. It’s expected to be a tiny proportion of sales, targeted at older drivers who want “elegant style and premium comfort”. It uses the same longer wheelbase as the estate, meaning it has better legroom than the hatch, a more relaxed ride and, thanks to the fixed rear seats, better refinement than the other two.
Refinement is one of the main things that strikes you about all three versions. The saloon is clearly the quietest of them all and the tourer is noticeably noisier but all three models make a good fist of offering the quiet, soothing drive that you’d expect in a class above it.
Head engineer Yasushi Yueda says that part of the brief for Corolla was to make it fun to drive. That’s obviously within the parameters of making something to suit a broad range of buyers so don’t go expecting GT86 levels of involvement.
Compared with the latest Ford Focus the Corolla is behind in the handling stakes but it’s perfectly reassuring on difficult roads while being easy to thread around town, and the hatchback does have a distinctly livelier feel compared with the other versions.
Toyota has been a market leader in the hybrid world for years and the vast majority of Corollas are expected to be hybrids.
In a first for Toyota, the Corolla is offered with a choice of different hybrid setups. A 1.8-litre and a 2.0-litre are both paired with a 53W electric motor to produce 120bhp and 180bhp respectively. While the 1.8 offers combined economy of up to 62.7mpg and emission of 116g/km, the more powerful version manages 57.6mpg and 127g/km while being three seconds quicker to 62mph (7.9 seconds).
The 2.0-litre version has noticeably more vim than the smaller setup. Even with the electric motor’s instant torque it takes a while to wind up but once it does there’s enough pull for most driving.
The 1.8 is pitched as, and feels like, the more staid, economy-focused choice but for many drivers, especially those who spend most of their time in an urban setting, it will be perfectly adequate.
Whichever engine is fitted, there’s very little noise intrusion into the cabin and the intelligent drive system slips seamlessly between pure EV, hybrid and all-petrol modes as required.
The interior is the most impressive in a Toyota since the radical CH-R. The Corolla’s isn’t out-there like the CH-R but it has been well thought out without being fussy. The materials are a significant step up and the use of chrome trim lines that flow between elements works well, as does the blend of dashboard materials. Only the media screen, which sticks out above the line of the dash spoils things slightly, looking like a poorly placed slab of glossy plastic.
That eight-inch screen is standard and all Corollas get full LED headlights; alloy wheels; heated seats; dual zone climate control; a reversing camera and Toyota Safety Sense, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Sat nav, parking assist, bigger wheels, keyless entry and sports seats are among the upgrades in higher trim, with a panoramic sunroof, JBL stereo and the hatchback’s striking two-tone paint among the options.
Prices start at £24,185 for the 1.8 hybrid in Icon trim. A top-of-the-range 2.0-litre touring sports in Excel trim will cost £32,335, with Toyota insisting monthly payment deals will be relatively cheap thanks to strong residual values.
Mr Toyoda’s mantra was clearly influenced by criticism of the Corolla’s predecessor - among other models. The Corolla still won’t set the world alight but it is a significantly more interesting, better looking, better driving car than the Auris. But, then, so are the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and VW Golf, although none of those offer the tax-friendly hybrid options of the Corolla.
Toyota Corolla hybrid Icon Tech hatchback
Price: £25,235 Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol with 53kW electric motor Power: 120bhp Torque: n/a Transmission: e-CVT Top speed: 112mph 0-62mph: 10.9 seconds Economy: 55.4mpg (WLTP) CO2 emissions: 83g/km (WLTP)