► New Toyota Corolla review
► We test late hybrid prototype
► The car that replaces Auris
The outgoing Toyota Auris Hybrid has always been an achingly sensible car. Like fixing the interest rate on your mortgage or routinely swapping your gas and electricity supplier, driving it isn’t particularly exciting - but you get an innate satisfaction in the level-headed, wallet-friendly nature of it all.
Thing is, with diesel power officially less cool than loudly asking for an extra plastic straw at the bar, now is a great time for a petrol-hybrid hatchback, particularly one that drives like a conventional car and doesn’t shout about its eco-friendly nature to quite the same extent as the Toyota Prius.
With that brief in mind Toyota has given its five door hatchback and estate a substantial reworking – including a new 2.0-litre, performance-focused engine – so much so that it’s dug up the most popular badge in the world to affix to its bootlid. So farewell Toyota Auris – and hello (again) Toyota Corolla.
We live with a Toyota Prius hybrid
Toyota Corolla... That’s a familiar name!
Yes – one that dates back to 1966 and spans (including this one) 12 generations, with more examples sold worldwide than any other car. It's some lineage for our early pre-production prototype Toyota Corolla review.
Despite that slightly backward-facing nameplate, the new Corolla is packed with high tech, being based on the same TNGA underpinnings as the C-HR, which is a surprisingly fun car to drive.
Also while styling is largely subjective, doesn’t it look slick? Even in pre-production camouflage, those rounded bumpers and wheels pushed into the corners make it significantly more interesting to look at than the Auris, that’s for sure. This time round, it may even tempt some away from the default Golf-shaped purchase those on autopilot tend to make.
Tell me more about this new 2.0-litre hybrid engine
It joins a revised version of the 1.8-litre petrol-electric unit found in the Auris and Prius last time around, but offers much more verve both in terms of power and the way it’s delivered.
You get a combined output of 178bhp and 141lb ft of torque, figures aimed at taking a swipe at the 2.0-litre VW Golf TDI, which, by the way, will take nearly half a second longer to get to 0-62mph than the Corolla.
The Toyota takes 7.9 seconds to crack the benchmark sprint and crucially is considerably quicker than the old Auris from 50-70mph, 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 end.
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.
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.
Best hybrid cars 2018: our full plug-in and hybrid guide
What is the Toyota Corolla like to drive?
For a start the body is 60% stiffer, which means the suspension can work better in terms of handling as well as neutralising high frequency bumps, such as those that grew to an annoying rumble on a long motorway drive in the Auris. 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.
Adaptive suspension is available and a sophisticated rear double wishbone set up is standard on all models – unlike the traditional driver’s choice Ford Focus and more expensive cars like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which make do without on base-spec cars.
We’ve only been in the new 2.0-litre hybrid and found it pleasingly easy to use. The old Auris was very quiet and relaxing (and economical) so long as you drove it pathologically carefully – this new 2.0-litre version is much more forgiving and provides a larger punch in the mid-range for confident performance.
Because it uses a CVT gearbox, the Corolla still moos a bit if you step on the throttle but it’s much less intrusive than before, plus the revs actually rise as the car accelerates, rather than sitting at max chat for 10 seconds while you wait for motorway speeds to be achieved. This is A Good Thing.
Find some corners and the new 2019 Toyota Corolla far from disgraces itself, displaying a decent amount of front-end grip with predictable (although light) steering. The brake pedal feels a bit more faithful than before but it’s still a fly-by-wire thing so offers little to no feel, and is a bit tricky to modulate if you’re used to driving a conventional car.
The larger engine comes with gearshift paddles on the steering wheel as standard, which means you can keep the revs up when you’re pushing 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.
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 two 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 2019 Corolla feels much plusher.
It’s also much more modern thanks to a clever digital dashboard display offering a range of different informative pages plus the noticeable absence of the anachronistic LCD clock – overall think C-HR, but a bit less futuristic.
Is the new Corolla well equipped?
Hard to say until specs are confirmed but one thing’s for sure: you’ll get a lot of safety tech. Toyota reckons it 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 cyclist detection thanks to a new wider angle and higher-resolution camera.
Things like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistant are standard thanks to the fact that all Corollas have an automatic gearbox, while the optional head-up display is the largest in the segment.
We'll be updating our Toyota Corolla review once we've driven the final production-spec cars this winter. But this early drive has already given us a good steer in the new hatchback.
The Toyota Auris was a car for drivers who wanted a hybrid but didn’t want to tell the world all about it. The Corolla takes on that mantle and gives a nod to those who want a hybrid that drives like conventional car too.
It’s not a hot hatch by any means but the 2.0-litre Corolla closes the gap between itself and a diesel-powered car to a wafer-thin distance, resulting in a car that is significantly easier to recommend than its uninspiring predecessor.
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