Toyota Corolla Review
If you want low running costs but also want to avoid a diesel, the Toyota Corolla is a stylish, comfortable and good-to-drive hybrid. However, it can’t match alternatives for space.
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What's not so good
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It would be so easy to see the Toyota Corolla as one of those old bands coming back for another tour, despite no one asking them to. But that’d be a mistake, because while the Corolla badge disappeared in 2007 before reappearing in the UK in early 2019, it is stuck on a hybrid car that is entirely in tune with the modern world.
Nevertheless, the Corolla does have a tough gig, lining up against established cars such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia.
The Toyota Corolla stands out for other reasons, too, because it looks fantastic on the outside, while it also has one of the plushest interiors. Of course, the higher up the model range you go the better it gets, but the overall design of the cabin even in basic models is much more interesting than in a Ford Focus.
It’s hard to miss that standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system high on the dashboard, too, but it’s a shame sat-nav isn’t included as standard. It is a bright and logical system, but its response times let it down compared with the system in a Golf.
The Corolla’s front seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustment and if you go for Excel trim you get sports seats, upholstered in leather, that are supportive and look superb with their polished metal inserts. Sadly, space in the back is considerably tighter, as two six-foot adults will fit but won’t enjoy the sloping rear roofline, while the narrow door opening makes manoeuvring a child seat inside tricky.
The Corolla finally looks exciting which, paired with its comfy interior and the promise of legendary reliability, makes it a good buy
And, compared with alternatives, the Corolla’s boot is shallow and doesn’t have as many practical features such as hooks and nets. Like those as you’d find in a Skoda Octavia’s boot, for example.
You have the choice of two hybrid engines: either a 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol. Both engines have low emissions making them cheap to run, although the cheaper-to-buy 1.8 is the go-to choice. Each gets an automatic gearbox that’s smooth when pootling in town, but the way it holds the revs high when accelerating is annoying.
Whichever engine you go for you’ll enjoy driving the Toyota Corolla. It steers precisely, doesn’t lean too far in corners and remains comfortable over bumps at all speeds. Its hybrid engines run silently on electricity in town, but are great companions on the motorway, too, because wind and road noise are kept outside. Toyota also includes a system that will accelerate, brake and keep you in your lane automatically on every Corolla.
All-in-all, then, the Toyota Corolla makes a very strong case for itself. It isn’t the most spacious family hatchback around and there are better infotainment systems, but it looks great, is comfortable yet fun to drive and comes with lots of kit for a keen price.
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It’s easy to get comfortable in the Corolla but alternatives are better for rear-seat passengers.
As soon as you get inside the Corolla you immediately notice two things: the low seating position and the good view of the road ahead. Those two should be mutually exclusive, but the Corolla’s bonnet and instrument cluster are specifically designed to be as low as possible to give you a good view out.
As for the seats – new construction allows them to be mounted lower down than before which, paired with the taller-than-before centre console, makes you feel cosy and cocooned.
The Toyota Corolla’s seats hold you in place well and are soft enough so that you won’t feel discomfort after several hours of driving. They are also heated as standard and the driver’s seat is height-adjustable on all models so it’s very easy to find a comfortable driving position. Adjustable back support for the driver’s seat is also standard.
Things aren’t so great in the back. The rear doors in the Corolla don’t open particularly wide and you have to twist your body in and out which is a bit uncomfortable.
Manoeuvring a baby seat into position is an impressive feat of trigonometry, but at least the Isofix anchor points are easy to access behind removable plastic covers. The Toyota Corolla’s sloping roofline means you’ll have to stoop down low to strap in a child and there isn’t enough room between two child seats for an extra passenger.
Fear not, however, because both the saloon and estate versions of the Corolla are a lot better for rear passengers thanks to increased space between the front and the rear wheels compared to the hatchback.
There is a good amount of storage areas and there’s a place for all of your belongings – keys and wallet can go into the deep but narrow storage area under the armrest and you phone can go in a specially designated cubby under the centre console. If your phone supports it, it can be wirelessly charged from there as well. Even if it doesn’t it still hides your phone from prying eyes should you decide to leave it there.
The front door pockets are large enough for a litre bottle of water but rear-seat passengers only get two cupholders in the doors and no door pockets.
The Toyota Corolla’s 361-litre boot isn’t quite as big as the load bays you get in the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra, but it’s a bit roomier than that in the Ford Focus. There’s enough space for a set of golf clubs, or you can carry for one large and one small suitcase, along with a baby buggy tucked under the parcel shelf.
Unfortunately, models with a 2.0-litre engine have a smaller boot, because it also houses the car’s battery since there’s no space for it under the bonnet. On the upside, the back seats are easy to flip down using levers beside the headrests and they fold flat to the floor which makes it easy to slide in bulky luggage.
With the back seats folded there’s space for a bike with both its wheels attached – whichever model you pick. You can carry two large boxes across the folded back seats and there’s enough space left over for eight small boxes and a couple of soft bags.
The Toyota Corolla not only gives you a choice of two cheap-to-run hybrids but will also put a smile on your face down a twisty road.
The Toyota Corolla is available with a choice of two hybrid petrol engines.
The cheaper is the 122hp 1.8-litre hybrid. It’s more or less the same engine used in the Toyota Prius so you get the same low running costs but you no longer have to live with the Prius’ looks – a win-win. What’s not so good is that the 1.8 is fitted with a noisy automatic gearbox which dulls performance.
The more expensive engine is the 184hp 2.0-litre hybrid and its aim is to give you extra performance while still keeping running costs lower than an equivalent alternative with a diesel engine. It has worked, sort of. The engine is more than powerful enough to propel you past slow-moving traffic with ease and it can be very economical if you’re very careful with the accelerator.
However, the 2.0-litre is fitted with the same automatic gearbox/transmission so it never feels as fast as the 7.9-second 0-62mph time suggests. On the upside, thanks to the electric engine boost, at motorway speeds the Corolla is barely ticking over resulting in great fuel economy and a quiet cabin.
The Toyota Corolla is a family car so the focus is on carrying passengers in comfort, but you’ll be surprised how well it drives.
Starting with comfort, the Corolla runs very close to the best in class without you having to resort to optional adaptive dampers. The reason the Corolla irons out bumps so well is that it gets a sophisticated suspension setup as standard which is reserved only for the high-power engines in alternatives.
It’s not only good at comfort, which is the slightly surprising part. Show the Corolla some corners and you’ll be impressed by the direct steering that gives you confidence when placing the car on the road – a VW Golf can only dream of such great steering.
On the motorway, the Corolla settles into a cruise with ease and you hear very little wind noise thanks to small spoilers to the sides of the car that help smooth the airflow. As standard, you also get a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist that really take the strain out of a long motorway trip.
Around town, you’ll like the good forward visibility you get thanks to the lowered bonnet but reversing into a parking space is near impossible without resorting to the reversing camera which is standard on Icon Tech models and above.
The Toyota Corolla’s interior looks exciting and is easy to use, but the infotainment system is a tad clunky to use.