► Estate version of new Corolla, replacing Auris
► Choice of two hybrids or entry-level 1.2 petrol
► Ford Focus, VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra et al rival
The now departed Auris estate was one of the least pleasing ‘or similar’ cars you’d be landed with if the car-hire company had run out of Golf or Focus estates. Some versions were much better than others, but none of them hit the spot.
The zillion-selling Corolla name has been reactivated for the replacement, the change of name suggesting that someone at Toyota agrees that the Auris wasn’t really much cop.
It’s available in saloon, hatch and estate forms. We’re here focused on the estate, or Touring Sports in Toyota-speak.
The Corolla estate is a Europe-only product, built alongside the hatchback on the Burnaston production line vacated by the Avensis. The 1.8 hybrid engine is built in Wales.
The boot is among the least roomy in its class, and the Corolla estate certainly isn’t trying to plug the gap left by the also-departed Avensis. But it’s usefully bigger than the new Corolla hatch – and that’s a car we like a lot.
Toyota Corolla Touring: what’s the line-up?
The Corolla Touring Sports is longer overall than either the hatchback or the saloon, it’s longer inside, and it has a longer and wider load space (at 598 litres with the rear seats up).
There are three engines: a 1.2-litre petrol making 114bhp, with a six-speed manual gearbox; our test car’s 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid making 120bhp; and a new 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybird offering a further 58bhp. Both the hybrids come with a CVT transmission.
It’s the first time Toyota has offered a choice of different hybrids on the same model at the same time. They’re both ‘self-charging’ hybrids, which is Toyota’s way of describing non-plug-in hybrids. The idea hasn’t changed much in 20 years, but the details have been tidied up, efficiency improved, hardware become more compact, and the switch between engine and electric motor and energy-recuperation more seamless. For many people, not having to worry about the fuss of plugging it in is a plus-point. You have plenty of options for getting the engine and recuperative braking to recharge the battery at a keener rate, or you can leave it to its own devices, and it always keeps at least a little charge in the battery for some silent running.
There are four spec levels: Icon, Icon Tech, Design and Excel. On-the-road prices start at £22,575 for a 1.2 in Icon trim and go up to £30,345 for a 2.0-litre Excel.
All get the Safety Sense package (which includes automatic high beam and lane departure alert), and all bar the most basic get a seven-inch info screen, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio, eight-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and front heated seats.
How’s it different from the Auris?
Best not to read too much into the change of name; this new Corolla was nearly an Auris, and viewed globally the distinction between Auris and Corolla is not clear-cut.
But the body is new – not just restyled, but longer and roomier than the Auris – and the hardware under the skin is new too. The cabin is both reshaped and better equipped.
Unlike the Auris, available tech includes a head-up display, JBL audio upgrade and wireless phone charging.
Like recent Kias and Hyundais, the Corolla has a level of technology – safety and infotainment alike – that isn’t even aiming to be cutting-edge. No self-driving, no voice-activation, no DVD screens, no choice of interior lighting colour – just a bunch of unobtrusive systems designed to make your driving life simpler and safer. It’s all simple to operate, effective and unlikely to win any awards.
Toyota Corolla Touring: what’s it like to drive?
This is not one of the Toyotas that’s benefitted from the magic touch of the GRMN high-performance team, and there’s nothing to align it with the Corolla that’s doing well in BTCC in the hands of Tom Ingram. So long as your expectations are suitably orientated, it drives well. It responds precisely to steering, braking and throttle inputs. Everything feels nicely balanced and co-ordinated. The suspension is above average at smoothing out the roads. And at least in the case of our test car, it returns impressive economy: we got 53mpg over the course of a motorway-heavy week.
This all supposes that you’re not in a blinding rush. If you start flooring the throttle you’ll soon fall victim to the law of diminishing returns, as the CVT gearbox does its impression of Mavis from Cornation Street, getting in a high-pitched flap that makes you want to hit ‘undo’. Best to just stick with a light right foot and Normal mode.
The low seating position emphasises that this is a car, not an MPV or SUV, with all the benefits of agility and low weight that brings.
It’s pleasingly roomy and uncluttered for occupants, and the easy-to-use tech feels like it’s there to help.
Toyota Corolla Touring: verdict
Considering the Focus-sized estate class isn’t a huge seller, you have a very big choice of cars. The Golf, Leon, 308 and the rest all make a lot of sense for a lot of people: compact and cheap enough to make light work of the urban hurly burly, but roomy enough to cope with the odd dog, holiday or unwieldy bit of furniture, and good to drive.
In that company the Corolla acquits itself well – so long as your furniture and your dog are on the compact side; that boot is really closer to hatchback-sized than full-on estate.
None of the changes between Auris and Corolla are that huge. But the point is that every change has been for the better.
Specs as Toyota Corolla Excel 1.8 Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid model