All-new Golf rival arrives with big promises on dynamic ability and a twist on the hybrid formula so effectively pioneered by its maker
Jim Holder
7 November 2018

What is it?

Farewell, then, Toyota Auris, welcome back Toyota Corolla. Goodbye countless marketing millions spent establishing a new name and fresh reputation, hello old friend. Out with the old and in with the older, although it is surely not just me pondering why the passing 13 years have replaced recollections of the dull but worthy family hatch with a nostalgic fondness, lightly sizzled by memories of victorious Castrol-sponsored world rally cars?

If ever there was a right time to change the name, it’s now, as this ground-up, all-new car launches with all the incumbent R&D investment and expectation you might expect for a vehicle that has been benchmarked to beat the class best. So while you might reasonably argue that it would have been more straightforward if the naming U-turn hadn’t been made several months after the car was unveiled as an Auris at this year’s Geneva motor show, the truth is that when Corollas start running down the line in Burnaston, Derbyshire in a few months time, surely only Google will recall it.

Most significantly, today’s Corolla arrives sat atop the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), a complex name for underpinnings that, in this form, have already demonstrated considerable promise in cars such as the high-selling CH-R SUV, hybrid Prius and soon-to-be-on-sale Lexus UX.

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Of note, too, is the fact that there is a choice of just two petrol hybrid engines, a decision Toyota says is down to there being no significant customer demand for either a straight petrol or diesel.  There’s the 121bhp 1.8-litre motor currently used in the C-HR and Prius, plus a new 2.0-litre version with 178bhp, each attached to different hybrid systems. These will be offered with the hatch and Touring Sports (estate), which will be sold in the UK.

In line with its stated goal of setting class standards “for best in class comfort and driving engagement”, the Corolla is 4370mm long, 1790mm wide and 1435mm high, with a wheelbase of 2640mm. That makes it 40mm longer and 30mm wider than the outgoing Auris, and 25mm lower. The obvious rivals are the Ford Focus (8mm longer, 35mm wider, 19mm higher and with a 60mm greater wheelbase) and the VW Golf (115mm shorter, as wide, 17mm higher and 3mm smaller in wheelbase.

What's it like?

If the CH-R and Prius hinted at the dynamic leap that Toyota has taken with these new underpinnings, then the Corolla, with all the inherent advantages that come with being lighter, lower and more compact, confirms them, even in this late prototype form.

For while it inevitably doesn’t turn back the clock and serve up the giggle-a-minute thrills of hatches of yesteryear, unencumbered by safety or emissions regulations as they were, the Corolla is a genuinely enjoyable car to drive, gripping the road and controlling its body movements very well, and giving the driver the feedback to know what the front wheels are doing . It is both reassuring and genuinely engaging.

Often, the downside to those positives would be an overly-hard ride, but the MacPherson front and double wishbone rear suspension has been tuned to largely cope with what comes its way. There is a firmness that can translate to bumps and surface breaks unsettling the car, but on these Spanish roads at least, even on larger-than-standard 18-inch wheels, they were decently controlled. While it’s no guarantee of success, the development team tested extensively in the UK. There is also an option to fit a five-way adaptive system that includes damping alterations, opening up everything from eco and comfort modes to increasingly sporty ones to be considered - although you'd need to be dedicated to use them all.

The only powertrain available to test was the new, higher-powered 2.0-litre hybrid, designed to offer eco-conscious buyers who like a bit more performance an alternative to the resolutely fuel- and CO2-focused 1.8-litre. Mated to a six-speed auto, there are two standout features: chiefly, that the link between the accelerator position, revs and actual performance are better matched than ever before, with the CVT-esque disconnect between them now greatly - if not entirely - reduced, and secondly that, so long as you are happy to let the gearbox run as an auto, rather than play with the mostly superfluous wheel-mounted paddleshifters and try to act out your inner F1 driver fantasy, there is strong, smooth performance on offer.

As always, in terms of refinement, petrol or diesel drivers need to recalibrate their minds, not least because the near silence (bar wind noise) below 2000rpm stands in contrast to the engine noise that intrudes thereafter. At a cruise the peace is notable, while if you push on the arrival of engine noise is a momentary surprise rather than a permanent irritation. A sub-8.0sec 0-62mph time underlines that this is a reasonably pacy hatch too.

There are notable advances in interior quality and function, most significantly with the dash getting a complete overhaul that includes better materials, layout and an eight-inch screen operated by buttons and touch as standard. It’s both smart and reasonably intuitive, albeit slightly short of some of the slickness of VW’s various systems. As is common in the class, Toyota has expertly put the best materials where you are most likely to see and touch them, with hard, basic plastics mostly hidden in corners of the car.

While room up front is generous, and boosted by a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, rear knee and head space is tight. Toyota openly admits it has designed the car predominantly around the needs of a two-person family unit, reasoning that anyone with kids would buy the estate. Exaggerating that outlook, our test car was fitted with an optional sunroof that ate 22mm of headroom.

Should I buy one?

It’s impossible to know whether to recommend the new Corolla yet, because no prices or specs have been revealed, although the argument in favour of the latter looks certain to be bolstered by a greater than average amount of standard equipment. In particular, the active safety roster, which includes the ability to apply the brakes if a potential accident is detected at high and low speeds, is far longer than most.

What we can say for now is that the new Corolla has taken a giant step forward, and that in terms of cabin quality and refinement, comfort and dynamic capability it is up there fighting among the very best. Likewise, you would hope, Toyota’s famed reputations for both reliability and customer service should continue to add credence for buying one.

This new hybrid powertrain is more of a success than any that has gone before it at Toyota, thereby widening the options for buyers, and its warm performance will make it an interesting choice. However, with similar gains promised on the 1.8-litre drivetrain, and the incumbent money-saving gains it has, it remains to be seen which will be the pick of the range. 

It’s also worth noting that some of the quibbles, such as wind noise and the slightly fidgety ride, are still being worked on. What appears to be a good car could yet get even better.

Watch this space, then: this is a super-competitive class that already offers something appealing for every taste. However, the Corolla is both very good and, thanks to its hybrid powertrain and dynamic leaning, different. At the right price and in the right spec, if it meets your priorities it could be exceptional.

Toyota Corolla 2.0 hybrid prototype specifications

Where Madrid, Spain Price from £28,000 (est) On sale Feb 2019 Engine 4 cyls, 1987cc, petrol plus electric motors Power 178bhp @6000rpm Torque 140lb ft @ 6000rpm Kerb weight 1410kg (est) Top speed tbc 0-62mph 7.9sec (est) Economy 74.3mpg (est) CO2 86g/km (NEDC est) Rivals VW Golf, Ford Focus

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Comments
31

7 November 2018

 This is the first Toyota Car I actually like the shape of!

Peter Cavellini.

7 November 2018

From the Auris to this, haven't Toyota learnt anything. It's just a slightly bigger and slightlly less DULL than the car it replaces.

If the estimate turns from £28k to £30k then, in Europe at least, expect 'DULL' sales.

Anyone say 'taxi'?

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

7 November 2018

It’s a Prius for private buyers. It’s got one of the best drivetrains and most sophisticated chassis in the class, looks ok inside and out, no doubt usual exemplary quality and reliability.

You say dull, I say perfectly judged for the day to day. This plus a sports car for the weekend would be a very nice combo.

7 November 2018
xxxx wrote:

Anyone say 'taxi'?

If as the report says. there's little rear leg room and is being marketed for a 2 person family, then the answer is no.

7 November 2018

Wow sounds like a pretty good Toyota, might even tempt me next year to have a look.

Think that powertrain combo could be expensive though.

 

7 November 2018

Certainly not as dull as a Golf. The estate, sorry Sports Tourer, with more rear space might even tempt me.

7 November 2018

So it's the usual forgettable Toyota - but still hugely preferable to the godawful Prius which is a truly horrendous looking vehicle 

7 November 2018

Is anyone else bored of these manufacturer-supplied "scoop" shots of vehicles with a bit of swirly wrap stuck to them?

I have to say in this case it's probably a necessity to get anyone to look at the photos, so humdrum is the subject matter

 

7 November 2018

Auris now Corolla. Avensis now Camry.

Wonder how long it'll be before Toyota marketing changes Aygo to Starlet, the Yaris to Tercel, GT-86 a Celica and CR-H a Space Cruiser?

7 November 2018
Better name than Auris too.
But not 'that' much better.

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