THE new Toyota Corolla is a double-edged sword, sweeping aside the memory of its former incarnation and at the same time chopping down the Auris, the car it has replaced.

The result is probably the best small family hybrid car I have driven, delivering on all fronts and proving that you can still look sharp even if underneath you are really a sensible option.

Riding on Toyota’s new global platform, it comes in hatchback, touring sports and saloon forms and marks the debut of Toyota’s new dual hybrid strategy. The hatchback and touring sports versions are the first models to offer customers a choice of two self-charging hybrid powertrains: the improved 1.8-litre with 120bhp and a new 2.0-litre system developing 178bhp. In addition, the saloon is available with hybrid power for the first time, adopting the 1.8-litre hybrid powertrain.

This all seems such a far cry from 1966, when England won the World Cup and the first Corolla rolled off the production line. More examples have been sold worldwide than any other car.

The 1.8-litre engine will meet the requirements of most customers. The mid-sized 1.8-litre engine tested here is a revised version of the petrol-electric unit found in the previous Auris and the Prius, and is therefore pretty much tried and tested.

With a heritage of more than 50 years, Toyota has remained true to the original concept that the Corolla should offer strong levels of quality, durability and reliability and a smooth driving experience.

But that does not mean it had to be boring. No, not a bit of it, even if Toyota would admit that past incarnations garnered a reputation for being lacklustre if very reliable. The new Corolla’s styling has the dynamism that was so lacking in the Auris and is both a pleasure and fun to drive.

Now it is a city slicker abetted by sharp-looking headlights, eye-catching wheels and rounded bumpers.

The lower stance obviously helps, there’s more feel to the steering response and the rear suspension has been tweaked.

Toyota also took the opportunity to thin the A-pillars for and lower the dashboard for better all-round visibility.

The hatchback has a more dynamic character with a more direct response and more agile feeling, whereas the saloon and touring sports are both designed to make use of the extended wheelbase to combine good handling with more ride comfort.

The platform guarantees a more rewarding driving experience, thanks to a centre of gravity that’s lowered by 10mm, multilink rear suspension as standard across the range and a 60 per cent more rigid body shell, achieved through the use of high-strength steel reinforcement in key areas.

The new Corolla builds on the inherent quietness of Toyota’s self-charging hybrid technology with numerous measures to minimise noise and vibration entering the cabin. Toyota has even injected foam material into various locations around the body frame to reduce wind and road noise levels in the cabin.

This attention to detail pays handsomely, because the Corolla hybrid provides for a hushed driving experience, whether or not the electric mode is being used.

Capable of covering up to 50 per cent a daily commuting drive under electric power alone, the self-charging hybrid powertrain can easily achieve 60mpg as well as providing a relaxing drive.

The fourth generation 1.8-litre self-charging hybrid system develops 120bhp, with the added power of a 53kW electric motor. With no need for plug-in recharging and with low CO2 emissions, it should prove attractive to those looking for a greener, stylish car that can handle most tasks.

A closer look at the exterior design reveals a more sporting and dynamic look with striking frontal styling. The narrow upper grille, set beneath the curved front edge of a flatter, clamshell bonnet, incorporates new all-LED headlight units with integrated daytime running lights.

The hatchback’s overall length has been increased by 40mm when compared with the previous Auris hatchback, yet the height is down by 25mm, creating a sleeker shape and a lower bonnet line that is both more attractive and gives the driver a clearer view of the road ahead.

Inside, you will find several examples of an obsessive attention to detail. There are new textures, colours and trims, and an instrument panel that is 24mm slimmer. The centre console has been made 42mm wider and 22mm higher, there’s a new steering wheel design with a seven-inch multi-information display, a central eight-inch multimedia display and new sports front seats on Excel models.

There’s a whole host of safety features, too, including a pre-collision system, intelligent adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beam and road sign assist.

The Corolla 1.8 hatchback is available in four trim levels: Icon, Tech, Design and Excel.


Toyota Corolla Excel 1.8

Price: £27,350 (Corolla hybrid range from £21,305)

Engine: Four-cylinder 1.8-litre petrol and electric hybrid producing 120bhp

Transmission: Electric CVT driving front wheels

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 10.9 seconds; top speed 112mph

Economy: 55.42 to 65.94mpg

CO2 emissions: 83g/km


Performance: ****

Economy: ****

Ride/Handling: ****

Space/Practicality: ****

Equipment: ****

Security/Safety: ****

Value For Money: ****