► Latest Toyota Corolla reviewed
► We test the latest hybrid hatch
► Still remember the Auris?
The Auris badge didn't stick around for long, did it? The Corolla badge has already made a return and continues to offer a hatchback, Touring Sports (Toyotaspeak for estate), plus a four-door saloon for those with more traditional tastes.
The outgoing Toyota Auris hybrid was always an achingly sensible car. Driving one isn’t particularly exciting – like fixing the interest rate on your mortgage, or routinely swapping your gas and electricity supplier – but there's an innate satisfaction in the level-headed, wallet-friendly nature of it all.
Best hybrid cars in 2020 UK
Thing is, diesel power is officially as cool as a single-use paper coffee cup, so now is a great time for a petrol-electric hybrid hatchback – particularly one that drives like a conventional car and doesn’t shout out its eco-friendly nature in the same way as the Toyota Prius does.
With that brief in mind, Toyota has given its mid-sized Corolla a substantial reworking, introducing sharper looks with a new 2.0-litre, performance-focused engine – you can even get a (slightly) bodykitted GR Sport model, although there's no performance boost to go with it.
We live with a Toyota Prius hybrid
Toyota Corolla... we've heard that before?
Yes – one that dates back to 1966 and spans 12 generations (including this one), with more examples sold worldwide than any other car.
Despite that slightly backward-facing nameplate, the new Corolla is packed with high levels of tech, being based on the same TNGA underpinnings as the Prius and C-HR - the latter being a surprisingly fun SUV to drive.
Also, when was the last time you saw a Corolla look this slick? With sharper lights, rounded bumpers and wheels pushed into the corners, this is a significantly more interesting hatch to look at than the Auris, even if there’s a slight hint of old Mazda 3 at the rear. This time, it may even tempt some away from the default Golf purchase.
Two petrol engines are available, both hybrid and auto 'box only
There was an entry-level 1.2-litre at launch, with 114bhp and 136lb ft of torque. This was the only Corolla to come with a turbocharger and a six-speed manual 'box, beating the next-biggest 1.8-litre to get to 62mph by 1.6 seconds. Unfortunately, despite this being the biggest contender for the 'most involving Corolla to drive' award, it was short-lived. But the majority of buyers eye-up the Hybrid badge anyway.
Speaking of which, the mid-sized 1.8-litre engine is a revised version of the petrol-electric unit found in the previous Auris and Prius, taking aim at smaller-capacity diesels with its 10.9 second 0-62mph time and official fuel economy figures that range 55-57mpg. Power and torque are rated at 120bhp and 104lb ft respectively.
If you’re crying out for a bit more verve, both in terms of power and the way it’s delivered, Toyota may have answered your call with its flagship 2.0-litre.
Tell me more about this new 2.0-litre hybrid engine
You get a combined output of 178bhp and 140lb ft of torque, figures aimed at taking a swipe at the 2.0-litre VW Golf GTD, which, by the way, will get to 0-62mph nearly half a second quicker than this.
The Toyota takes 7.9 seconds to crack the benchmark sprint and, crucially, is considerably quicker than the old Auris from 50 to 70mph, feeling suitably more flexible and spontaneously powerful on faster roads. In short, you’ll spend a lot less time with the accelerator rammed against the firewall to achieve the same result.
This larger engine also comes with gearshift paddles on the steering wheel as standard, which means you can bring the revs up when you need to push on – leave the Corolla to its own devices and the engine speed will drop right off, leaving you bogged down when trying to accelerate out of corners.
Let’s be clear, though – this hasn’t transformed the Corolla into a torquey hatch with electrifying performance from a standstill; it remains an engine that needs revving out. Below 3500rpm, it’s as docile as the 1.8-litre, but get the engine and CVT gearbox up to speed, and you’ll no longer suffer the long heart-in-mouth moments when you need to catch up with traffic.
It’s a clever engine too – with an increased valve angle for a better fuel and air mix, plus it can swap between intake and direct injection to prioritise economy or performance. You don't lose out on fuel economy by much, either, compared to the 1.8, dipping to 50-54mpg.
The new 216v NiCad battery is smaller and lighter plus it can deliver more power to assist the engine thanks to improved recuperation – and it’s this that contributes so heavily to the fact the Corolla doesn’t jump up to its redline every time you breathe on the throttle.
Compared to a muscular diesel, though, it's still no match for the boosty, torquey delivery you'd get at lower revs from something with compression ignition. The petrol-hybrid powertrain is far less grumbly and smoother in the process, but the hybrid powertrain would need to utilise the battery for performance purposes far more often to be a match on the open road.
Still, this Corolla makes more sense if you reside in towns and cities where the hybrid powertrain is in its element, nudging the car along with brief moments of electrical power. The newer Yaris with its quick responses from standstill is already proving how this tech is coming along in stop-start traffic.
Read our early drive review on the 2020 Toyota Yaris
What is the Toyota Corolla like to drive?
For a start the body is 60% stiffer than the Auris it replaced, which means the suspension can work better in terms of handling as well as neutralising high-frequency bumps. Plus, there’s more body sealing and noise-damping material in the dashboard and floor to further reduce road noise.
The centre of gravity is 10mm lower to help combat bodyroll and the driver sits 24mm closer to the ground to reduce the sensation of those movements, too. It's really quite different in every regard to the old Auris.
Find some corners and the new Toyota Corolla far from disgraces itself, displaying a decent amount of front-end grip with predictable (although light) steering. You will find the tyres giving up on you before the class best, but it at least is a hatch that feigns a bit of interest now should you up the pace.
Adaptive suspension is available and a sophisticated rear double wishbone set-up is standard on all models – unlike the Ford Focus and more expensive cars like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which make do with torsion beams on base-spec cars.
This also adds to the Corolla’s refinement at motorway cruising speeds, helping this hatch feel settled and free of intrusion from bumps and ridges. This may not sound like much, but it all adds up when you combine it with the quiet engine over long drives.
The old Auris was quiet and relaxing (and economical) provided you drove it pathologically carefully – this new 2.0-litre version is a dose more forgiving bestowed with some confidence when you ask for more performance.
The CVT gearbox means the Corolla still moos a bit if you step on the throttle, but it’s much less intrusive than before. The fly-by-wire brake pedal feels a bit more faithful but still offers little-to-no feel, meaning it’s a bit tricky to modulate if you’re used to driving a conventional car.
Is the interior still plasticky and dull?
No, it’s a vast improvement on the old car, frankly. In part, down to the fact that all of the air vents are the same shape now (the Auris had two rectangular and a pair of incongruously circular designs), but also because the surfaces are much softer both to look at and touch.
So while the Auris’s door cards were made of slabs of hard plastic, the new Corolla feels much plusher.
It’s also much more modern thanks to a clever 7.0-inch digital dashboard display on most models offering a range of different informative pages and the noticeable absence of the anachronistic LCD clock – overall think C-HR, but a bit less futuristic.
The dash buttons and touchscreen icons are hard to decipher, though, and you’ll no doubt end up pressing the wrong one sometimes when on the move, but luckily the fundamental stereo volume and temperature controls remain rotary for easy adjustment. It was only in 2020 when Apple CarPlay and Android Auto was made standard on all models, however.
There's plenty of space up front, but rear passengers will find it's a bit tight for legroom - plus the black headlining, small windows and broad-shouldered seats on Excel and GR Sport models will make it feel claustrophobic as well.
Is the new Corolla well equipped?
You certainly get a lot of safety tech. Toyota installs its driver assistance pack of sensors and cameras (called Safety Sense) in 92% of cars currently sold.
This time around you get night-time pedestrian and day-time cyclist detection thanks to a new wider angle and higher-resolution camera.
Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistant is standard on all hybrid Corollas thanks to the standard-fit automatic gearbox, while the optional head-up display is one of the largest in the segment.
The Toyota Auris was a car for drivers who wanted a hybrid but didn’t want to tell the world about it. The Corolla takes on that mantle and gives a nod to those who want a hybrid that drives a bit more like a conventional car, with a slug of style for good measure.
It’s never going to be a performance hatch, but the 2.0-litre Corolla closes the gap between itself and a diesel-powered equivalent to a more comfortable distance, resulting in a car that is significantly easier to recommend than its uninspiring predecessor.
If you want the most racy-looking model, the Corolla GR Sport introduced in 2020 will be best, with sports seats and minor styling tweaks. That GR Sport name might be linked to the GR Yaris or GR Supra, but this is no balls-out GR Corolla.
More Toyota reviews by CAR magazine