Cheap to run, comfy and cosseting to drive, looks pretty cool
Hybrids are coarse when worked hard, not much fun (yet), should be roomier
What is it?
Oh, it’s only the best-selling badge in the whole car industry. The Corolla is closing in on 50 million sales over its 12 generations, but the more astute among you will note you’ve not been able to buy one in Britain since 2006, when it was replaced by the Auris. After two generations of absence it would appear Corolla is more trusted, and the badge is back.
Attached to arguably the best-looking iteration of the car in its 53-year life, too. It’s based on a brand-new platform, during the development of which Toyota prioritised good looks and decent handling. At one glance, the former appears to have been nailed, though it’s worth noting the fancy two-tone colour scheme is only optional on top-spec versions.
Its platform is shared with the C-HR crossover, which is about as handy to drive as such crossovers get, but the Corolla aims to take it a step further with quicker steering, more advanced rear suspension and a lower centre-of-gravity. Indeed, the car’s chief engineer is well aware some people think ‘Corolla’ is just a synonym for ‘boring’, but reckons the new looks and handling can turn that on its head.
In keeping with the current climate, there are no diesels. Instead there’s a 114bhp 1.2-litre petrol turbo acting as the entry-level engine, with two hybrids above it, Toyota’s new philosophy being to offer both eco- and performance-biased versions.
Thus there’s a 120bhp 1.8-litre and 178bhp 2.0-litre, both described as ‘self-charging hybrids’. AKA you can’t plug them in. Toyota does reckon you’ll be able to do a good chunk of your commute electric-only, though.
The 1.8 version combines a 10.9sec 0-62mph time with 100g/km of CO2 emissions and 66mpg on the new, stricter WLTP tests. The 2.0 claims 0-62mph in 7.9secs alongside 106g/km and 60mpg sensible figures. It also offers paddleshifted gearchanges via steering wheel paddles, but given both cars use a CVT transmission, these are effectively simulated gears.
There are three body styles to choose from; the hatchback is 40mm longer than the Auris it replaces, every millimetre contained in the wheelbase to make it roomier. You can also have an estate – clunkily named the Touring Sports – and a saloon, which is only offered with the 1.8 hybrid powertrain. Like all hatchback-derived four-doors, it looks a bit odd and will probably be a niche choice in Britain.
Not least because it isn’t manufactured here, whereas both the hatch and estate are made in Burnaston, Derbyshire. If you want to give the British car industry a bit of a shove in the right direction then, like the similarly Jap/Brit fusion Honda Civic and Nissan Qashqai, you can feed your patriotism buying one of these. But should you?
What's the verdict?
The Corolla looks more striking than ever, and proves Toyota is really on a roll with making its cars less boring (by its own admission). The looks alone may tempt some people away from competitors, as might its British-built status.
What they’ll find is a car heavily biased towards hybrid powertrains – less than a quarter sold will be 1.2 petrols – and thus angled away from keen drivers, no matter how sporty its pitch. Instead, the Corolla is about as quiet and calming as hatchbacks get, so long as you don’t work its coarse CVT transmission too hard.
That – and its cost saving for business users – is the area it stands out from its many, many talented rivals. Because in terms of tech, practicality and simple enjoyment, it falls short of the class best.