Toyota's Corolla returns the brand to prominence in the family hatchback segment. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Toyota returns the Corolla name to the family hatchback segment with a more class-competitive hybrid-focused model line-up of hatches, saloons and estates. If you'd previously dismissed the Japanese brand as an also-ran in the Focus class, it might be time to think again.
Why would you change the name of the world's best selling automotive model line? The reasons are difficult to understand, yet that's exactly what Toyota did back in 2007, changing the badging from its volume family hatchback model from 'Corolla' to 'Auris'. Now though, the 'Corolla' name in back. Indeed for Toyota, it's like it's never been away. The brand describes this as the '12th generation' model.
Away from naming semantics, there's much of interest here, not least the fact that the primary engines offered are petrol/electric hybrids. There are three body styles this time round too, a saloon variant joining the usual five-door hatch and 'Touring Sports' estate. All are built on the 'TNGA' 'Toyota New Global Architecture' platform and constructed at the brand's British factory in Burnaston, Derbyshire.
We're looking forward to the chance to try this latest Corolla. For this car, there's an important advance in the development of Toyota's self-charging hybrid technology, this being the first of the brand's models in Europe to offer customers a choice of two hybrid powertrains - a revised 120bhp 1.8-litre system and a fresh 178bhp 2.0-litre unit that's engineered for more power on demand and more effortless acceleration, without compromising overall fuel and emissions efficiency. As full hybrids, both powertrains have the advantage of offering an all-electric drive capability, with zero emissions and fuel consumption. Both, as you would expect, are also matched to a seamless belt-driven CVT automatic transmission with six speeds. There are wheel-mounted paddleshifters supplied as part of this transmission package, but it's unlikely that typical buyers will make much use of them. For the record though, the 2.0-litre hybrid variant should get from rest to 62mph in around 8 seconds, which is reasonably rapid by class standards. Expect refinement to be excellent; certainly far better than it would be in a rival rumbly diesel.
Toyota hasn't carried over much from the previous Auris model but an exception to that rule is the installation of that older model's conventional 115bhp 1.2T direct injection turbocharged engine in entry-level Corolla variants. This comes only with a manual gearbox.
Design and Build
It's not only the styling that's more purposeful than that of the outgoing Auris model. Toyota has made much more of an effort with interior space too, helped by the extra flexibility of this 12th generation Corolla model's new 'TNGA' 'Toyota New Global Architecture' platform. In hatch form, it's 40mm longer, 30mm wider and 25mm lower than the old Auris. That makes it only slightly shorter than a Ford Focus and quite a bit longer than a Golf.
Inside, the cabin should feel considerably more up-market than the interior of an Auris ever was, with better-quality materials used and an 8-inch 'Toyota Touch 2' centre-dash infotainment screen as standard, complete with a DAB tuner and a reversing camera. On most variants, it will feature navigation too. The extra space freed up by the more generous exterior dimensions should be particularly obvious in the rear, though some reports suggest that the optional panoramic glass sunroof does eat into headroom. Apparently, it reduces it by 22mm. Family folk are probably going to be directed towards the 'Touring Sports' estate body style. This station wagon derivative, like the alternative Saloon body style, sits upon a lengthened 2,700mm wheelbase version of the TNGA platform.
Market and Model
Toyota isn't bothering here to try and provide a sub-£20,000 entry-level model but nevertheless, the pricing you do get looks pretty competitive against rival diesel contenders in the family hatchback segment. The figures sit in the £21,000 to £30,000 bracket, with hybrid models starting from around £24,000. There's a premium of around £1,200 to go from the five-door hatch body shape to the 'Touring Sports' estate.
There are four trim levels - 'Icon', 'Icon Tech', 'Design' and 'Excel'. All of these spec levels deliver plenty of kit. Even 'Icon' variants deliver 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats with lumbar support, automatic LED headlights, a reversing camera and in hybrid models, dual-zone air conditioning. There's also an 8-inch centre-dash 'Toyota Touch 2' touchscreen, your access point to a DAB tuner and a reversing camera. As the name suggests, the 'Icon Tech' grade adds further useful technology features, including satellite navigation and voice control, plus parking sensors and Intelligent Park Assist' set-up that will steer you into spaces. All Corollas get as standard the full package of 'Toyota Safety Sense' camera-driven safety features. These include autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, Lane Trace Assist, Road Sign Assist and Automatic High beam.
Cost of Ownership
Toyota thinks that the vast majority of Corolla buyers are going to want a Hybrid engine - and a look at the efficiency stats reveals why. Even on the more stringent WLTP cycle, the stats are still pretty eye-catching, a typical 1.8-litre Hybrid Corolla Saloon managing 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 98g/km of CO2. That's further helped, Toyota expects, by the fact that for typical customers, up to 50% of typical commuting journeys will be accomplished in all-electric drive.
The Japanese maker describes the Corolla's Hybrid technology as being of the 'self-charging' variety, which means that it isn't of the currently popular Plug-in variety. The brand of course has this technology (it's available on top versions of its Prius model) but currently feels it isn't necessary for the Corolla line-up. What else? Well, the five year 100,000 mile warranty is extremely good and even after that runs out, you'll find that most spares are relatively inexpensive. There's also three years warranty against rust and 12 years of anti-corrosion protection.
So what do we have here? A name from the past which packages up technology from the future. Very soon, all family hatchback-class models will feature model line-ups that are primarily electrified. But Toyota has brought us that right now. In a car its volume brand competitors will have to take very seriously indeed.
If you're going the hybrid route with a car in this sector, it makes sense to buy into the brand that has most experience in producing this kind of powertrain - and that's unquestionably Toyota. But this model also has other things to recommend it, with levels of safety and media connectivity that rivals struggle to better. If you're looking for a car in this segment, a Corolla probably isn't currently on your shopping list. We think it ought to be.
.the more it stays the same? Toyota's Corolla has taken a big step forward. June Neary checks it out
Will It Suit Me?
More than any model before it, Toyota's latest Corolla is on a mission to be all things to all people; well most things to a lot of people would be more accurate. It's still the world's most successful automotive model nameplate, dating back to 1966, since when 46 million cars have been produced. In 2007, Toyota unaccountably ditched the Corolla name and brought us instead two generations of their Auris model. But now the Corolla's back with a far stronger proposition than the Auris ever offered. I thought I'd try it in the hybrid form most buyers will choose.
Toyota's family hatchbacks have always been eminently practical propositions. Older Corolla models probably represented the greatest exposition of the car as an example of white goods: unexciting, utterly reliable and representing the classic 'low involvement' buying decision. Basically, it was a vehicle bought by people who had no interest or affection for cars. A glance at the appealing lines of this modern Corolla though, shows that it's cut from a different cloth. Three body styles are available, a Saloon, a 'Touring Sports' estate or the hatchback that I tried.
Inside, material quality is impressive, with copious use of piano black and metallic-style surfacing. It's not all about the tinsel either. The cabin's ergonomically sound too, thanks to a reduction in instrument panel height that enhances your forward view and a wider centre console area that gives the cockpit more of a wraparound feel. Plus you also get comfortable seats, good forward visibility and reasonable amounts cabin storage.
Further helping with the overall feeling of greater sophistication is the view you get through the much smarter three-spoke leather-stitched wheel - that of a new instrument binnacle that Toyota has chosen to present with a combination of digital and analogue design. Anything it can't tell you will probably be covered off by a 8-inch 'Toyota Touch 2' centre-dash screen that deals with the usual DAB audio, Bluetooth, navigation and online connectivity options. Back seat space isn't overly generous, but adequate by class standards. And there's a reasonable boot that in the 1.8-litre Hybrid model I tried is rated at 361-litres.
Behind the Wheel
The self-charging hybrid proposition with this Corolla is vastly improved over what was provided by its forgettable Auris predecessor. With the 1.8-litre variant I tried - the one most customers will choose - the response to throttle input is slightly more linear than with previous Toyota hybrid models, though the disconnect between the accelerator pedal and the CVT auto gearbox can still be frustrating. The brand has worked hard on this 122hp electrified unit, equipping hatch and estate Corollas that use it with a lithium-ion battery that's smaller, lighter and can deliver more power to assist the engine thanks to improved recuperation capabilities. That helps with fuel economy that on a 1.8 Hybrid hatch can be up to 66mpg on the WLTP-rated combined cycle. That's a fraction less than you'd get with a small rival diesel-powered competitor, but this Corolla's CO2 emissions showing - up to 76g/km for a 1.8 Hybrid hatch on 16-inch wheels - is far better than any comparable black pump-fuelled rival can manage, so your tax payments will be much reduced.
Significantly, Toyota has decided that this time round, its family hatch contender must offer a choice of hybrid options, slotting in a 2.0-litre 180hp electrified unit in at the top of the range. Here, the link between accelerator position, revs and actual performance is far better matched and you no longer have to spend so much time with the accelerator rammed against its bump stops when you're running late for wherever it is you've got to be. There is a third Corolla engine option - a conventional 1.2-litre petrol turbo unit with 116hp - but only around 10% of buyers are expected to want it. Whichever powerplant you prefer, my experience suggests that this Toyota is far more dynamically able than its segment predecessors this time round. Throw the car into a corner and you'll find that though this Corolla is no Focus, it far from disgraces itself, with a decent level of front end grip and steering that's predictable and accurate, though rather light.
Value For Money
With prices starting from around the £24,000 mark, the Corolla hybrid isn't cheap but it stacks up reasonably against its diesel competitors. Reliability is virtually assured, and there's always a ready market when it comes to resale time. As with any up-spec car, the plushest versions won't perform as well when it's time to sell on as a cheaper Corolla model, but you'd live with that for all the additional equipment it comes with.