First Drive: Toyota Corolla

No, don’t click away, this one’s actually quite interesting…

There wasn’t much wrong with the Auris. It went forwards and backwards, turned corners, and carried passengers, and did it all competently. In a world where there’s an entertaining Ford Focus, a stylish Mazda 3 and a pragmatic Kia Ceed, that’s not really enough.

Its replacement, the new Corolla, revives a nameplate that’s been missing from the UK for ten years or so, in a bid to wipe out memories of the capable but forgettable Auris. The new car has been lengthened, widened, but also made a little lower, giving it a more athletic stance. It’s a surprisingly attractive car.

There’s a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine available, and a brace of hybrid units. The 1.8-litre option is the same as you’ll find in the Prius, the original poster child for green motoring, but Toyota has supplied us with the more punchier 2.0-litre option. Taking the power output up from 120hp to a more useful 178hp, it almost qualifies as a hot hatch. Almost.

It is actually surprisingly quick, accelerating to 62mph in 7.9 seconds, but the entire system is tuned for fuel saving rather than performance. Impressively, that means official CO2 emissions of just 89g/km, and economy of just over 60mpg. The small battery pack and electric motor doesn’t offer more than a bare minimum of pure electric driving, but leave the car to work things out itself, switching between petrol power, electric power, or both, and you’ll find that roughly half your journey is completed without the engine firing. The complicated system offers diesel levels of economy, but with the improved emissions and greater refinement of a petrol engine.

Refinement is a strong point. Yes, the car was supplied in Excel spec, the top level of four, which will always help perception, but a lot of buyers will go for it – despite the list price of almost £30,000, the monthly difference is only £25 or so more than a mid-spec model.

For that you get LED headlights, electric folding mirrors, some jazzy wheels and part-leather seats. Every model gets a reversing camera, automatic lights, heated seats, a DAB radio and an eight-inch infotainment centre, with navigation added on all but the entry-level Icon model. You’re certainly not shortchanged and, pleasingly, all the safety kit such as lane departure warning, road sign display, hill start assist and automatic emergency braking, is standard across the range.

An airy cabin also allows for good visibility, although the solid c-pillar at the back makes over-the-shoulder glances a ytad tricky. Also at the back, the boot is fine, if not impressive – the 316-litres it’ll take is around 15% less than a Focus or Golf would accommodate. Elsewhere the cabin big enough, while never feeling huge. The design is more interesting than you’ll find in some rivals, and the quality is a match for anything the Germans can produce.

It all matches the refined nature of the engine. Despite those reasonable performance figures, it’s still no hot shot. Acceleration is brisk and linear,but the engine never encourages you to press on. It switches off entirely when the car decides it’s not needed, even at motorway speeds, helping economy but also discouraging more enthusiastic driving. That’s a shame, as the Corolla actually handles the curves well. Body roll is well contained, and the suspension copes with mid-corner surface changes well. There’s even a little bit of feel through the wheel, making it easier to judge what’s happening under the tyres. It’s even possible to force a bit of movement in the car, something no Auris driver would ever have wished to do.

While this is very definitely not a hot hatch then, it bodes well for the forthcoming GR model, a Corolla fettled by the guys at Gazoo Racing. It’s only slightly disappointing that there’s no halfway house, like Ford’s ST Line, but hopefully that’s just a matter of time.

Until then, the Corolla is a capable car that goes, stops and turns. But, unlike the Auris it replaces, it’s actually fun to drive and pleasing to own.

Model Tested: Toyota Corolla Excel 2.0 Hybrid CVT
Price: £29,070
Range: £21,300 – £30,340
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62 mph: 7.9 seconds
Power: 178 PS (176 bhp)
Torque: N/A
Monthly PCP*: £397
Official fuel economy: 60.6 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 89 g/km
Car Tax: £135
Insurance group: 21E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.