Absent for more than a decade in the UK, the Corolla name makes a boldly-styled return to the lower medium hatchback company car heartland
On the road
On the road
The Corolla is back with a bang, returning to replace the Auris nameplate in the UK and in doing so swapping one of the most bland-looking cars in the UK for a more modern and striking hatchback.
As is Toyota’s way, there’s no diesel in the company’s lower medium offering, which comes in five-door hatch, Touring Sports estate and four-door saloon guises. But there are, for the first time on a mainstream Toyota, two petrol-electric hybrid powertrain options, as well as a 116hp 1.2-litre petrol engine at the entry price point of the range.
The hybrids consist of a 122hp 1.8-litre engine or a more potent 180hp 2.0-litre offering emissions figures from 76g/km or 83g/km. The bigger engine’s higher emissions are partly because it’s not available in the lower trim levels that come with a smaller and more efficient wheel size.
It’s long been the case that hybrid powertrains make plenty of sense on paper because of their excellent CO2 efficiency figures. However, the driving experience can leave users a little underwhelmed, because of a lack of performance or refinement under acceleration, in particular from the petrol engine mated to a CVT gearbox. There tends to be more noise than acceleration.
Although that hasn’t been completely eradicated, the latest so-called ‘self-charging’ Toyota hybrids are a big step forward. By self-charging, the Japanese manufacturer means the battery is recharged either by energy recovered under deceleration, or by the engine topping up the battery. It’s a differentiator to ensure the tech isn’t confused with the more recent arrival of plug-in hybrids that offer much lower emissions figures and a longer run on EV only power, but need to be plugged in to recharge.
Self-charging hybrids such as the Corolla can run for short periods of around a mile on the battery alone, as long as it’s at a low speed and
on light throttle, which adds a relaxing air to urban driving. It also introduces an element of challenge to the driver to keep throttle inputs at a level where the car doesn’t need to kick the engine back into life to deliver the required performance.
Although there’s still some obvious coarseness under hard acceleration, overall the Corolla is a more pleasant driving experience. It’s not exactly engrossing from behind the wheel, but there’s nothing to complain about. From take-off, the battery helps the Corolla to a swift initial getaway, but the petrol engine can’t match the best diesel rivals for punch after that.
The ride quality is reasonable, but it has a tendency to thump a little over the bigger bumps. Refinement levels are good at speed, though. The steering is nice and light for parking, but doesn’t provide the level of feedback that more engaging rivals manage at higher speeds.
The level of regeneration or resistance when the driver comes off the accelerator can be increased by dropping the gear lever into ‘B’ mode rather than regular Drive, which is a useful touch and reduces the need to use the brake pedal because the car slows more dramatically when coasting.
On the inside, the top-spec Excel we sampled gets a part-leather black interior with neat red stitching across the dashboard that raises the cabin appearance significantly. Everything feels pleasant enough, given that this is the range-topping model, although it’s not a cabin strewn with handy storage areas; the front door bins are on the small side, as is the central storage area, and the rear doors don’t even get storage, just a cupholder.
The central dashboard screen housing the navigation and infotainment is a decent size, but suffers from being a little clunky to use, sometimes requiring more taps than necessary to get to the required setting, such as inputting a navigation postcode. Toyota also well and truly missed the boat with smartphone connectivity, and is still unable to offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, although it is supposed to be on the way.
Heading to the back of the car highlights another hybrid shortcoming; those CO2-cutting batteries sit beneath the boot floor, which impacts on space. The boot is still larger than that of the Ford Focus though – a car with a notorious load-lugging weakness. The 1.8-litre hybrid’s 361 litres of space is close to a Vauxhall Astra’s, but well over 100 litres behind the Honda Civic or Peugeot 308, two of the most practical cars in the sector. It’s also worth noting that you lose 48 litres of boot space if you opt for the top 2.0-litre hybrid Corolla.
There are four trim levels and, not alone in the car industry, Toyota has plumped for very few optional extras. Paint and alloy wheels upgrades apart, there’s only a panoramic sunroof on the two higher trim levels, an upgraded sound system on the 2.0-litre hybrid and, on the entry trim, parking sensors or navigation. Any other preferences come via selecting the Icon, Icon Tech, Design and Excel trims.
Commendably, the Toyota Safety Sense package is fitted to all cars. It comprises autonomous emergency braking, high beam assist, lane departure alert, road sign assist, lane trace assist to help keep the car in its lane and driver drowsiness alert, as well as adaptive cruise control.
Entry level Icon trim comes with a reversing camera, auto headlights, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and 16-inch wheels. Stepping up to Icon Tech adds a 7.0-inch colour TFT driver display rather than the regular 4.2-inch version, as well as the 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, park assist and front and rear parking sensors. All of which are handy for the extra £1050 where comparable.
Design trim brings auto wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 17-inch alloys, folding door mirrors and LED front fog lights, while Excel adds keyless entry, the nice part-leather interior, 18-inch alloys and bi-LED headlights, although the Corolla is starting to look a little expensive by the time you get up to the top trim level.
The new model is very impressive from a running costs perspective, though. As well as excellent emissions figures, Kee Resources predicts a very high residual value for such a volume segment car, which more than counters the higher list price compared with diesel rivals.
Only two things are stopping the Corolla hybrid from being the prime sensible choice for cost-conscious fleets: the comparatively poor official fuel economy figure, which implies that high-mileage users are still much better sticking with diesel as their fuel of choice; and the fact that there’s another very good hybrid already on the market that is cheaper to buy and has a lower overall cost-per-mile figure than the Corolla. This rival also has a bigger boot and better residual value. Hyundai’s Ioniq, which is also available as a plug-in hybrid or full electric car, as well as regular petrol-electric hybrid, takes most of the Corolla’s main strengths and does them at least as well.
The new Toyota scores very well for looks, emissions, residual value and equipment. It isn’t the compromise it once was on the road, but it’s still not as enjoyable to drive as a Focus or Civic and suffers from practicality flaws in the back and boot in particular, especially with the 2.0-litre hybrid.
But it’s competitive in a way that the Auris never truly managed during its entire life cycle, and it’s a very sensible eco-conscious choice for fleets looking for a sensible car.
Its a name that doesn't really need any introduction, because Toyota has sold nearly 43 million Corollas since 1966 - a stat that made it the best-selling nameplate in the history of the automobile when it overtook the Volkswagen Beetle in 1997. It still sits at the top, now just ahead of Ford's F-series pick-up and VW Golf.
This is the twelfth generation Corolla, dating back to 1966, although not all versions have been sold in the UK because Toyota switched to the Auris branding in Europe for the most recent two models from 2006.
The name is derived from the car being a smaller version of the Toyota Crown saloon in Japan, with Corolla meaning 'small crown' in Latin. The car has been front-wheel driver since the rear-drive layout was phased out with the fifth-generation car (pictured) in the mid-1980s.
The Corolla has enjoyed a number of body shapes, starting life as a fastback saloon, moving to a more traditional saloon in the 1970s with the second generation, where an estate and panel van were introduced, and the first hatchback/liftback arriving with the MK3 in 1974. The Corolla name also spawned the Corolla Versomini-MPV.
What they said
What They Said
"At a fundamental level, it’s Toyota’s self-charging hybrid technology that gives new Corolla a clear advantage when it comes to cleaner performance, reliability and running costs – the BIK rate is just 19%. But this new model goes further with its two different hybrid powertrains, with similarly efficient and cost-effective performance. Also factor in the dynamic handling and design benefits of our new TNGA platform and high equipment roster, and you have a strong performer – hatch, Touring Sports and saloon – on all fronts.”
Stuart Ferma, general manager, Toyota & Lexus Fleet
Need to know
Three things we like...
This is the sharpest-looking Toyota for a while, apart from the C-HR
The top-spec Excel gets some lovely but very kerbable alloys
The grooves in the armrest stop charging wires getting trapped
...And one we don't
The ‘B’ light for the extra regeneration mode is unnecessarily bright at night
There’s a nice initial take-off, thanks to the electric motor, but otherwise the Corolla is a little short on excitement from behind the wheel.
There is a clear CO2 gap from the hybrid to any diesel rival, although key competitors that emit 25g/km more than the Corolla have a better official fuel economy figure.
Rear headroom isn’t very good and legroom is around average. Boot space isn’t great either.
A very limited options list means choosing a higher trim level to get certain kit, but all levels are reasonable for the money.
A breath of fresh air from a traditionally conservative brand. The nose is a particularly sharp looker that actually turns heads.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
The ride quality is reasonable, although it tends to thump a little over larger bumps. Refinement is okay, and certainly better than previous Toyota hybrids.
Quality is decent, with comfortable seats, but the Corolla is a bit light on stowage areas front and back.
Not the Corolla’s finest area; the sat-nav is a bit clunky and doesn’t look particularly modern, while the connectivity is off the pace.
Whole life costs 8/10
Despite costing more than equivalent diesels, the CO2 emissions and RVs lift the Corolla. SMR is higher than diesels though.
CCT opinion 8/10
Makes buckets of sense on paper, and is far less compromised than previous hybrid alternatives.
The Corolla has a lot more going for it than its Auris hybrid predecessor, and does much more than just make a good theoretical buy. Although it does that, too.