Toyota Corolla GR Sport review: now with fifth-gen hybrid technology Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

Toyota Corolla GR Sport review: now with fifth-gen hybrid technology

£32,990 when new
Published: 15 Mar 2023

Oh goody, is the GR Corolla finally coming to the UK?

Sadly not – that 300bhp motorsport-bred weapon remains a distant dream on these shores. The Corolla you see above is merely specced out in GR Sport trim, and despite the badge, there are no dynamic enhancements to speak of: you just get some GR-badged bits (starter button, seats, sills etc) for a sportier look.

But before you click away in disappointment, there’s been some other news on planet Corolla that might have passed you by. Specifically, the debut of Toyota’s fifth generation hybrid-electric technology, which has brought some extra performance.

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Go on, I’m listening…

Well, your powertrain options remain 1.8- and 2.0-litre hybrids, but they now offer both better performance and better efficiency courtesy of a redesigned power control unit and electric motor, plus a lithium-ion battery that’s 14 per cent more powerful yet 14 per cent (18kg) lighter than previously.

The 1.8-litre engine now outputs 138bhp (up 18bhp), bringing a 1.8-second reduction in the 0-62mph time to 9.1 seconds, while the 2.0-litre system outputs 193bhp (up 15bhp), with half a second having been shaved from the 0-62mph time, taking it down to 7.4 seconds.

The whole system is also now more efficient than ever before, with CO2 emissions from 100g/km for the 1.8-litre engine and 98g/km for the 2.0-litre, while fuel economy starts from 64.1mpg. Which all sounds very healthy indeed.

That’s all well and good on paper, but in the real world?

Let’s not beat around the bush: the old 1.8-litre Corolla was rather slow and uninspiring. Toyota says it’s recalibrated the previous linear accelerator to focus on driver input and power delivery, and while the new one is far from hot hatch quick, the improved zero to 60mph time is very welcome, particularly when joining motorways and overtaking. 

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But that’s not to say it’s any less vocal when you do floor it, largely due to its CVT gearbox, which remains far less refined compared to something like the new Honda Civic. Once up to speed it quietens down nicely, and there’s a surprising amount of silent running to be had around town in EV mode, with the dashboard handily (and rather addictively) telling you how much of your journey you just completed using the electric motor only. It’s just that middle ground that remains something of a bugbear.

So, light use of the throttle remains the Corolla’s happy ground, at which point you’ll find it a pretty companionable cruiser. Our test drive happened to coincide with a weekend wedding trip that required transporting four people and all their luggage from London to Nottingham and back again: against our GR Sport trim’s claimed 60.1mpg, we saw 49.8mpg, around a quarter of which, we spent in electric mode. And most of that while stuck in the capital, we should add.

That sounds a bit of a squeeze…

There’s perks to being the designated driver, don’t y’know – your comfort is priority. And in our GR Sport trim’s sportier standard fit bucket-like sports seats, I was perfectly happy, in spite of my six foot two frame. No complaints from my up top passenger, either.

But you’re not wrong in the rear, where even my companions under six foot found life a little cramped, not helped by those sports seats which eat into knee room. The threat of the train home was enough to make them pipe down, mind.

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We also managed to fit all our luggage in the surprisingly spacious boot, though worth nothing that where the 1.8-litre (as we had here) offers 361 litres, the 2.0-litre’s bigger engine means the battery is relocated under the boot floor, shrinking this to 313 litres.

Anything else I should know?

As part of the 2023 updates all models get a customisable 12.3-inch instrument display with numerous different modes to toggle through, along with Toyota’s latest ‘Smart Connect’ 10.5-inch infotainment display as standard, a much welcome upgrade.

While the OS itself isn’t the most visually appealing around, it’s pleasingly user friendly aside from the absence of any physical switchgear. Though you do at least get a handy column of shortcut buttons down the left-hand side. Plus, Toyota has used common sense and kept the climate control panel – complete with knobs and buttons – separate. Hurrah!

In any case Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wireless connectivity are finally standard throughout the line-up. As are LED headlights, heated front seats, aircon, wireless charging, a reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors, even on entry-level versions.

How much does it cost?

Prices for the 1.8-litre start at £30,210 or £31,955 for the 2.0-litre in entry-level Icon trim, with an uplift of £570 to Design trim, £1,210 again to GR Sport trim, and £410 to top spec Excel trim. On lease, you're looking at a starting price of £420 per month for the 1.8-litre or £490 per month over three years with an initial deposit of £3k.

There’s no doubt that this is the best-looking generation Corolla yet, with this GR Sport trim particularly eye-catching, but while the improved performance is much welcome it still can’t compete with the likes of the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Volkswagen Golf to drive.

Don’t ask too much of it, however, and it’s cost-effective, capable (small) family runaround – no bad thing at a time when many of us are feeling the pinch more than ever.

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