“No more boring cars”. So decreed Aiko Toyoda, ultimate boss of Toyota, last year.
That might, in part, explain why the brand’s family hatchback has ditched the Auris name – a byword for dull – and gone back to Corolla for its new model.
The Corolla name has been around for more than 50 years and comes with the weight of heritage and familiarity attached. It’s the world’s best selling car and down the years has built up a strong reputation as a solid, reliable family car.
This Corolla, though, is a new chapter, say Toyota. It’s based on the flexible TNGA global architecture and brings new hybrid technology and a more exciting feel, with different variants for different demographics.
Toyota Corolla hybrid Icon Tech hatchback
Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol with 53kW electric motor
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Economy: 55.4mpg (WLTP)
CO2 emissions: 83g/km (WLTP)
To that end, Corolla comes in three bodystyles.
Expected to be the main seller is the five-door hatchback. According to Toyota’s team this is the most dynamic of the three, aimed at youthful, urban couples. It’s certainly the most striking looking and its sharply slashed lights, body creases and deep front grille make for a far more interesting looking car than the bland Auris.
The Sports Touring (estate to you and me), with its 598-litre boot is aimed at families who need a commuter car that can swallow the trappings of an active lifetsyle.
The Sedan reintroduces a saloon shape to Toyota’s C-segment line-up. It’s expected to be a tiny proportion of sales, targeted at older drivers who want “elegant style and premium comfort”. It uses the same longer wheelbase as the estate, meaning it has better legroom than the hatch, a more relaxed ride and, thanks to the fixed rear seats better refinement than the other two.
Refinement is one of the main things that strikes you about all three versions. The saloon is clearly the quietest of them all and the tourer is noticeably noisier but all three models make a good fist of offering the quiet, soothing drive that you’d expect in a class above it.
Head engineer Yasushi Yueda says that part of the brief for Corolla was to make it fun to drive. That’s obviously within the parameters of making something to suit a broad range of buyers so don’t go expecting GT86 levels of involvement.
Compared with the latest Ford Focus the Corolla is behind in the handling stakes but it’s perfectly reassuring on difficult roads while being easy to thread around town, and the hatchback does have a distinctly livelier feel compared with the other versions.
Toyota has been a market leader in the hybrid world for years and the vast majority of Corollas are expected to be hybrids. There is a 1.2-litre petrol version but that’s only expected to represent 10 per cent of sales.
In a first for Toyota, the Corolla is offered with a choice of hybrid setups. 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engines are paired with a 53W electric motor to produce 120bhp and 180bhp respectively. While the 1.8 offers combined economy of up to 65.9mpg and emission of 83g/km, the more powerful version manages 60.6mpg and 89g/km while being three seconds quicker to 62mph (7.9 seconds).
The 2.0-litre version has more vim than the smaller, less powerful setup. Even with the electric motor’s instant torque it takes a while to wind up but once it does there’s enough pull for most driving.
The 1.8 is more staid and economy-focused choice but for many drivers, especially those who spend most of their time in an urban setting, it will be perfectly adequate.
Whichever engine is fitted, there’s very little noise intrusion into the cabin and the intelligent drive system slips seamlessly between pure EV, hybrid and all-petrol modes as required.
The interior is the most impressive in a Toyota since the radical CH-R. The Corolla’s isn’t out-there like the CH-R but it has been well thought out without being fussy. The materials are a significant step up and the use of chrome trim lines that flow between elements works well, as does the blend of dashboard materials. Only the media screen, which sticks out above the line of the dash spoils things slightly, looking like a poorly placed slab of glossy plastic.
That eight-inch screen is standard on all except the entry level Icon trim while all Corollas get full LED headlights; alloy wheels; heated seats; dual zone climate control; a reversing camera and Toyota Safety Sense, which includes adaptive cruise contol, lane keep assist and pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Sat nav, parking assist, bigger wheels, keyless entry and sports seats are among the upgrades in higher trim, with a panoramic sunrooof, JBL stereo and the hatchback’s striking two-tone paint among the options.
Prices start at £21,300 for the sole 1.2 petrol option, with a 1.8 hybrid in Icon trim coming in at £23,750. A top-of-the-range 2.0-litre touring sports in Excel trim will cost £30,340, with Toyota insisting monthly payment deals will be relatively cheap thanks to strong residual values.
Mr Toyoda’s mantra was clearly influenced by criticism of the Corolla’s predecessor – among other models. The Corolla still won’t set the world alight but it is a significantly more interesting, better looking, better driving car than the Auris. But, then, so are the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and VW Golf, although none of those offer the tax-friendly hybrid options of the Corolla.