Toyota Corolla

TESTED 31.10.18, SPAIN ON SALE FEBRUARY 2019 PRICE £27,000 (EST)

Familiar name returns with unfamiliar abilities and new tech to battle the VW Golf

Cabin is roomy in the front and that screen is intuitive and slick to use

Farewell, then, Toyota Auris, and welcome back Toyota Corolla. Out with the old and in with the older, the past 13 years swept aside because its makers believe this all-new car, with all the incumbent R&D investment and anticipation of a vehicle that has been benchmarked to beat the class best, deserves a new beginning.

Most significantly, it arrives sat atop the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), a complex name for underpinnings that have already shown considerable promise in cars such as the CH-R SUV, hybrid Prius and soon-to-be-on-sale Lexus UX.

Of note, too, is the choice of just two petrol hybrid powertrains, a decision that, Toyota says, is down to there being no significant customer demand for 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 with 178bhp, each attached to different hybrid systems.

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. It is a genuinely enjoyable car to drive, controlling its body movements and giving the driver feedback to know what the front wheels are doing. It is both reassuring and engaging.

Often, the downside to those positives would be an overly harsh 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 unsettling the car but, on these Spanish roads at least, even on larger than standard 18in wheels, they were decently if not perfectly controlled.

The only powertrain available to test was the new 2.0-litre hybrid, designed to offer eco-conscious buyers who like a bit more performance an alternative to the resolutely fuel-focused 1.8-litre. Linked to a six-speed semi-auto ’box as standard, 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, so long as you are happy to let the gearbox run as an auto rather than play with the mostly superfluous wheel-mounted paddle shifters, there is strong, smooth and refined performance on offer. A sub-8.0sec 0-62mph time underlines that this is a reasonably pacy hatch.

There are notable advances in interior quality and function, too, most significantly with the dashboard getting a complete overhaul and a thoroughly modern and appealing refresh. An 8.0in screen is standard and it’s both smart and reasonably intuitive, albeit a touch short of some of the slickness of Volkswagen’s various systems.

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 admits it has designed the car primarily around the needs of a two-person family unit, reasoning that anyone with kids would buy the estate.

The car’s dynamic ability is equally appealing

So far, so positive, but it remains impossible to know whether to recommend the new Corolla, 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, especially around safety tech that can reduce the severity of – or avoid – accidents.

What we can say for now is that the new Corolla has taken a giant step forward. It is both a very good all-rounder and, thanks to its hybrid powertrain and dynamic leaning, different. At the right price, in the right specification, if its abilities meet your priorities, it could even be exceptional.

JIM HOLDER

 

TESTER’S NOTE

 

Thin A-pillars and door-mounted rear-view mirrors might not set pulses racing, but being better able to judge what’s around you is a significant upside. JH

 

TOYOTA COROLLA 2.0 HYBRID HATCHBACK PROTOTYPE
All-new VW Golf rival arrives with big promises of added dynamic ability and a twist on the hybrid formula

Price  £27,000 (est)
Engine  4 cyls, 1987cc, petrol, plus electric motors
Power  178bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 140lb ft at 6000rpm
Gearbox 6-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1410kg
0-62mph 7.9sec (est)
Top speed tbc
Economy tbc
CO2, tax band 86g/km (NEDC, est), 19%
Rivals Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf