For many people the Corolla remains the embodiment of Toyota’s ‘white goods’ image. This is a little unfair, given it’s a more stylish and sharper handling car these days than in previous generations and British buyers can take pride in the fact it’s built here in the UK to such seemingly high standards. The latest version is also faster and more efficient than before, thanks to significant upgrades to the signature hybrid system at the Corolla’s heart. This helps keep it relevant as more of its hatchback rivals like the Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 308 now offer full plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. The Toyota can’t travel as far on electric power alone, and doesn’t attract the same tax incentives, but its system is tried and tested, a lot cheaper upfront than PHEV equivalents and saves faff for those who don’t have the facility to charge at home. Improved onboard technology and driver assistance systems also help the Corolla stay competitive.
“The Corolla’s hybrid system puts it midway in cost terms between regular petrol and diesel hatchbacks and plug-in hybrids”
With varying levels of hybridisation available it can seem difficult to make an informed comparison between seemingly equivalent cars, given a lot also comes down to how you buy and use your car. In simple terms, though, the Corolla’s hybrid system puts it midway in cost terms between regular petrol and diesel hatchbacks and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) capable of going further on electric power alone thanks to their bigger batteries. Despite their higher purchase prices the latter work better for company drivers for their cheaper tax, but for private buyers and those not willing or able to plug in at home the Corolla is more affordable to buy or finance, while the real-world running costs and fuel consumption are probably closer to the diesel cars hybrids are now pretty much replacing. The increased power and efficiency of the system at the heart of this upgraded Corolla makes that case even stronger.
Expert rating: 4/5
Reliability of a Toyota Corolla
“It’s safe to say the hybrid system in the Corolla is very well-proven, and considered generally dependable and well-engineered”
Pioneered in the Prius decades back and since rolled out in various forms across the Toyota and Lexus ranges, it’s safe to say the hybrid system in the Corolla is very well-proven, and considered generally dependable and well-engineered. To back that up Toyota has changed its warranty from a fixed five-year term to a base three-year one with the option to extend to a whole 10 years if you keep the servicing within its dealer network. Thankfully you can opt back into this if you’re buying used and the previous owner chose not to, albeit subject to terms and conditions. Overall, though, it’s a very confidence inspiring offering.
Expert rating: 4/5
Safety for a Toyota Corolla
“At the heart of it are improved cameras and sensors that expand the range and effectiveness of the automatic emergency braking”
Under the Toyota Safety Sense branding the Corolla already had a formidable range of technology to keep you out of trouble but for this updated version it’s even more sophisticated. Better still it can now be updated ‘over the air’ as new features become available without even visiting a dealership. At the heart of it are improved cameras and sensors that expand the range and effectiveness of the automatic emergency braking, so it can now intervene if you haven’t spotted pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes or vehicle turning in front of you. The automated cruise control is also more sophisticated, and will now prevent ‘undertaking’ if your lane ends up going faster than the outside one. Two of our favourite safety features – blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts to help you back safely out of a space – are also standard across the range.
Expert rating: 5/5
How comfortable is the Toyota Corolla
“There are fancier looking vehicles out there but the Corolla has a pleasing sense of no-nonsense functionality about it”
The popularity of the Corolla with taxi operators, fleet drivers and others who spend long hours at the wheel tells you all you need to know about how comfortable it is, both as a vehicle to sit in and cover distances. There are fancier looking vehicles out there but the Corolla has a pleasing sense of no-nonsense functionality about it, while the refinement of the hybrid system and the emphasis on ride comfort rather than supposedly sporty handling helps keep you relaxed. Which isn’t to say it’s dull to drive, the steering actually very positive while the low-slung hatchback stance is more comfortable than many high-riding SUVs or crossovers. If we were to criticise we’d say the bigger 18-inch wheels on the two higher trim levels mean sharper bumps can intrude and there’s a bit more tyre noise on a cruise. So, if comfort is a priority you may be better off with one of the lower trims. In practicality terms the rear seat space is average, with a bit of a lump in the floor for the middle-seat passenger to negotiate. The boot is also a little on the tight side, with quite a big lip to heave your bags and other stuff over.
Expert rating: 4/5
Features of the Toyota Corolla
“The new Corolla also adds some welcome tech upgrades, including a fully digital instrument cluster”
Toyota has simplified the range for this update, stripping out the base model on the basis nobody actually bought it. True, this does increase the entry price but it seems most buyers prefer the extra kit. The new Corolla also adds some welcome tech upgrades, including a fully digital instrument cluster on all models in place of the small one that sat between the dials previously. This is paired with a much bigger central touch-screen as well, which comes with cloud-based navigation as standard as well as – thankfully – smartphone compatibility, wireless for Carplay on Apple devices but via a lead for Android Auto. While this is welcome the operating system for the new screen isn’t the fanciest or easiest to use and we’ll forever curse the removal of physical volume knobs and other basic controls for touch-operated replacements. In terms of style the GR Sport helps address the Corolla’s traditionally conservative image with a few well-chosen trim upgrades, including sportier seats, a different wheel design, splashes of colour inside with red contrast stitching and the option of a two-tone paint finish.
Expert rating: 4/5
Power for a Toyota Corolla
“Where previously we’d have said the 1.8 was a little on the underpowered side it now feels to have more get-up-and-go”
In typically humble style Toyota downplays the technical changes for this updated Corolla but, in fact, they’re quite significant and include the latest fifth-generation hybrid system with a new battery pack. As before this is paired with either a 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engine, both getting a significant boost in power. Where previously we’d have said the 1.8 was a little on the underpowered side it now feels to have more get-up-and-go, with a more obvious electrified boost on acceleration and seamless ability to switch between this and the petrol engine as required. It’s better enjoyed this way than by mashing the accelerator into the carpet, the latter generally delivering more noise from the petrol engine than meaningful increase in speed. The 196 horsepower of the 2.0-litre version offers more of the same, though perhaps not quite enough to live up to the looks of the GR Sport, the fact we don’t get the proper GR Corolla hot hatch version sold in America and other markets a frustration given the strength of Toyota’s other performance models like the GR Yaris and GR86.