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First Drive: Toyota Corolla

Quality, durability and reliability – but has Toyota added emotion to the Corolla? Martyn Collins finds out.

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The Corolla badge has to be one of Toyota’s most iconic names, but it disappeared from its C-segment models 13 years ago in favour of the Auris. Well now it’s back, but from a company that has vowed never to make boring cars again. So, can it cut it against keen opposition?

The new Corolla will be offered in five-door hatch, five-door estate and four-door saloon flavours all with their own distinctive looks.

The hatch is expected to be the most popular body and looks the most interesting in my opinion. At the front, it has a narrow upper and larger trapezoidal chrome-edged lower grille, distinctive slashed LED headlights, plus the wider and lower stance. Move to the side and the 25mm lower roof height gives this hatch a sportier look, plus the choice of up to 18-inch wheels to fill the flared arches. The back is quite rounded, with a standard rear spoiler above the rear window, plus high-set rear lights pushed right to the edge.

The Touring Sports estate shares the front styling, lower roof height and choice of alloy wheels, as with the hatch but every panel from the central pillar is unique.

Last of the new Corolla versions is the saloon. Saloons don’t sell well in the UK, but Toyota sees an opportunity with the death of the Avensis last year, plus the fact that the Corolla offers hybrid power. It certainly looks significantly different and less aggressive with its simpler headlights and a less-fussy front bumper. The short overhangs that are part of Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which underpins all the latest cars, seem most obvious in the saloon’s stubby rear. At the back, there are unique rear lights linked by central chrome detailing.

Inside, all four trim levels have the same angular, high-set dashboard, which is mostly finished in pleasingly European soft-touch and leather-look finishes. The driving position and seats are comfortable and supportive and all-round vision is generally excellent. But despite 40mm more wheelbase, rear space is no better than rivals. Need boot space? The Touring Sports is the model you’re after, with its 598-litre loadspace and clever features such as the reversible load floor.  

All Corollas are well-equipped and feature Toyota’s upgraded Safety Sense, which includes a Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control.

The Corolla will be offered with three engines, one petrol and two petrol hybrids that we got to try on the launch. The first is a 120bhp 1.8, expected be most popular with fleets, with up to 65mpg (WLTP) and as little as 76g/km CO2 emissions (NEDC Correlated). There’s also a bigger 2.0-litre with 178bhp, with up to 60mpg and emissions as low as 89g/km. Acceptable best describes the performance of the 1.8-litre; smooth and refined most of the time but sadly, like Toyota hybrids before, if you press on, the CVT gearbox becomes an issue, as the engine then feels harsh and unrefined. The 2.0-litre felt faster and with the steering wheel-mounted paddles on the range-topping Excel hatch I tried, the CVT gearbox felt more controllable.

CVT gearbox issues aside, the biggest surprise is how well all these Corollas drive. The lower centre of gravity, another result of the new architecture, plus the set-up with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link configuration at the rear, equal precise steering, good body control and a generally comfortable, composed ride.

We’ll have to see how the new Corolla works in the UK, but it looks like Toyota is back in the C-segment game.

 THE VERDICT

Whether you choose the hatch, Touring Sports Estate or saloon, the new Corolla offers an appealing mix of refinement, plus a tidy and comfortable drive.

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.