When the Toyota Auris replaced the Corolla in the UK ten years ago, many thought that this was the end of the line for the world’s best selling car in name only. However, when Toyota launched their new family hatchback, they sensibly went back to the Corolla name, binning the Auris to history. Toyota’s latest family hatch is big improvement over the departing Auris & should appeal to fleet customers who want a petrol car that actually does offer true 50mpg motoring. Thanks to the hybrid technology, the latest Corolla’s biggest plus is that it will save you money & in this day & age, you can’t say fairer than that.
The Corolla is actually being offered with a choice of three powertrains, including a non-hybrid, 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol version of the car that’s available with some trim levels. There are three body styles, with the five-door hatch we tested, joined by an estate & a hybrid-only saloon. The likely best seller power wise, is the 1.8 litre 120bhp hybrid fitted to our Excel hatch. Above this sits the more powerful 2.0 litre 177bhp & at the bottom the aforementioned 1.2 petrol non-hybrid.
UK customers can choose from four trim levels. Entry level Icon, comes with 16″ alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated front seats, 8″ infotainment screen, reversing camera & on the hybrid only, dual-zone air conditioning. Next up is the Icon Tech, which adds SatNav, voice control & parking sensors. Design comes next & offers 17″ alloys, auto folding power-adjustable side mirrors, rear privacy glass & LED front fog lights. We were testing the range topping Excel, which takes things up a notch with front sports seats, part-leather upholstery, 18″ alloys & Simple Intelligent Park Assist.
The 1.8 litre hybrid Icon cost’s from £23,750, with our Excel setting buyers back £27,350.
The new Corolla has been built on the same platform as the Prius & CH-R, which is a good thing, because it handles particularly well. It’s been designed in a similar vein too, with lot’s of angles both at the back & front. The front feature’s slim wrap-around headlights, which merge into the Toyota logo at the centre of the bonnet. The rear hatch is a bulbous affair, with two axe shaped rear light clusters making the Corolla really stand out.
The cabin is a big improvement in quality over the old Auri. All the knobs & buttons feel well made & of better quality than you’d find in Toyota’s of old. The plastic surfaces, even on the door pockets, front of glove box & centre binnacle by your feet, have been finished to a very high standard & are a real match for the Ford Focus. The red stitched leather upholstered finish to the dash is a nice touch as well. The 8″ infotainment screen is logically located in the centre of the dash & underneath this, sit the climate controls.The automatic gear lever is in the usual spot between the front seats, in front of which are the driving options buttons, where you van choose from, Sport, Normal or Eco. Alongside this is the EV mode button. Excel also features an electronic handbrake with hill hold assist. Directly in front of the driver sits the 4.2″ TFT multi-informaton display, with the rev counter on the left & speedo to the right. In-between these, are the fuel & engine temperature gauge’s & trip info. The steering wheel buttons allow hands free access to the phone, media, volume & voice control function’s, with the cars adaptive cruise control & lane departure buttons located to the right.
For practical purposes, there’s a single USB & 12v socket’s inside the centre sliding armrest. Underneath this is a storage box. There’s a small cubby large enough for your mobile in front of the gear lever & in comparison with many competitor’s, an impressive glove box .The centre binnacle features two drinks holders.
Toyota’s designers have designed the dashboard & doors to float towards the driver which looks good. However this style over substance, means that the two front door pockets are hard to reach. Similarly, in the rear, there is only a single bottle holder in each rear door, with no storage space at all. The rear also features a fold down armrest with two drinks holders. So you get storage for four drinks & nothing else, which is strange ?
Front seat passengers get decent head & legroom. Those in the rear will suffer slightly from the Corolla’s sloping roof, which does reduce headroom, although legroom is fine. The centre rear seat is raised slightly, so as with pretty much all C Sector car’s, there’s even less room when you sit there. The driver will also find that the steering wheel adjustments not as good as in many other cars & that the Corolla seat adjustment is fiddly.
The 1.8 hybrid engine, has been designed to be both frugal & easy to drive & this is what it does well. In town or in traffic, the CVT auto box works well & the cabin is nice & quiet as toy drive around. It’s a different story on the open road though, where the CVT gearbox does what it always does, suck any fun out of the drive. However hard you push the throttle, the CVT box takes an age to respond & this is despite the revs shooting up. Driving on B roads can be frustrating. Conversely, at motorway speed’s it cruises perfectly happily in almost total silence. Top speed is 112mph & 0-62mph takes 10.9 seconds.
Our test driving week took us on a myriad of roads around North Cheshire & South Manchester & we found that in the main, the Corolla really is a relaxing car to drive. Better still, if you’re looking to save money on fuel, the combined WLTP economy is an impressive 55-66 mpg, with CO2’s of just 76-90g/km, which are both much better for company car driver’s, than the 1.0 litre petrol engine found in both the VW Golf or Ford Focus. When we’ve tested both of these, we’ve struggled to better 38mpg, whilst our 300+ miles in the Corolla, saw us average 49.8mpg so the figures back this up.
I had to travel to a press launch, which meant an overnight stop in a hotel The boot comfortably coped with my small suitcase & suit holder. In reality, the boot capacity isn’t all that impressive, with 361 litres available in the 1.8. It’s also worth pointing out that if you select the 2.0 Corolla, this version only offers 313 litres of boot space, because its 12V battery has to go under the boot floor.
On some winding country roads, the Toyota New Global Architecture-based (TNGA) chassis, is actually pretty good fun & coupled with the Corolla’s low centre of gravity, makes for happy progress. From a comfort perspective, the ride in the Corolla, sits right between the harder Golf set-up & softer Focus. Despite the presence of the CVT gear box, in the small Corolla, it actually performs better than in some of the larger, heavier Lexus models that also offer a CVT box. If this sounds like damming with faint raise, you’d be wrong. If your car is used for the daily commute, the auto box makes driving very easy & I can’t think of a better family hatch to commute in.
Whilst Toyota has improved the on board tech that features in the Corolla, the infotainment system feels dated. The interface is slow to respond & the button selection for functions, compared to what the competition offers, come straight out of the noughtie’s. Yes there’s DAB radio & connecting your phone via Bluetooth is both quick & easy, but criminally, you don’t get Android Auto or Apple Car Play integration on any Corolla, although Toyota claims it’s coming in 2020. We had to make do with Toyota’s in house SatNav, which isn’t as good as Google Maps, which is a real shame.
In conclusion, the Corolla hybrid makes an awful lot of sense for company car drivers. Compared to the 1.0 litre petrol engines offered by Ford & VW, the 1.8 in the Corolla will both save you money at the pumps & has a low BIK of 22%. It’s also very well built, comes packed with safety features & stands out from the crowd. It’s only let down by the lack of connected apps, dated interface & some questionable storage option’s & flexiblity in the cab. Whilst the sector leading Golf & Focus are better to drive, don’t write the Corolla off. If you want a hybrid family car, then at the moment, it’s as good as it get’s
A Jack Nicholson 3.5/5