The twelth generation Corolla hatch and Touring Sports estate models have gained many friends for Toyota amongst family hatch customers wanting full-Hybrid power. Now that engine's been significantly improved in both its forms, as has the interior of this 'E210'-series design. If you'd previously dismissed the Japanese brand as an also-ran in the Focus class, it might be time to think again.
Toyota was aiming to enter fresh territory with this 12th generation Corolla back in 2018 at its original launch. For one thing, it needed to make Hybrids more universally acceptable in this segment - that's why there are two of them with this current model, a 1.8 and a 2.0-litre unit, both of the 'self-charging' non-plug-in variety. This Corolla also aimed to change customer perceptions of Toyota in this sector, which tend to centre around expectations of drab interior quality, forgettable looks and boring drive dynamics. This 'E210'-series model turned out to be a huge step forward from its Auris predecessor in all these areas. But that wasn't quite enough to at last make this Japanese maker competitive at the sharp end of this class amongst Focuses and Golfs. The brand is getting closer though, particularly with the revised Corolla range we look at here, which continues to use the 'TNGA' 'Toyota New Global Architecture' platform and builds on world record sales of more than 50 million Corollas over twelve generations since 1966. There's now a Corolla SUV body style too, but our focus here is on the volume hatch and 'Touring Sports' estate body shapes, now usefully improved with a fifth generation hybrid system and a significant upgrade in interior quality and media tech. Let's take a look.
This revised Corolla gets the fifth generation of Toyota's full-Hybrid self-charging powerplant and, as before, it's available in both 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol forms. The big differences come with the smaller capacity 1.8-litre unit, with power output up from 120 to 138bhp, bringing a 1.7s reduction in the 0-62mph sprint time to 9.2s. A lot of that's down to weight-saving (the hybrid system's more powerful lithium-ion battery is 18kgs lighter), plus driveability's been improved too, thanks to a redesign for the power control unit and the transaxle motor. In addition, the hybrid control has been recalibrated to provide acceleration feel closer to throttle pedal use, with less of the previous 'rubber band' effect. As before, it all works via CVT auto gearbox with six speeds. Whichever powerplant you prefer, you should find this Toyota dynamically able - far more so than some of its segment predecessors. Throw the car into a corner and you'll find that though this Corolla is no Focus, it far from disgraces itself, with a decent level of front end grip and steering that's predictable and accurate, though rather light. The 2.0-litre variant's obviously the one to choose if you want a little extra performance, this version (now with power raised from 180 to 193bhp) making rest to 62mph in 7.5s (around a second faster than a VW Golf 2.0 TDI), but more relevant is the huge improvement in response in the 30-50mph overtaking increment that makes the car feel so much more flexible and spontaneously powerful on faster roads. Don't misunderstand us: a 2.0-litre Hybrid Corolla is still way down on the level of pulling power a black pump-fuelled engine would produce, with a 190Nm figure that's almost 50% less than a comparable 2.0-litre diesel. But you notice the shortfall much less than you do with the 1.8-litre Hybrid.
Subtle updates mark out this revised version of the 12th generation Corolla. These include changes to the front grille mesh pattern, fog light bezels and alloy wheel designs. Higher grades of the hatchback and Touring Sports estate models gain smarter bi-LED headlights with an Adaptive High-beam System. In addition to these two core body styles, there's also a completely separate Corolla Cross SUV model, though that's not our focus here. Size-wise, the standard Corolla hatch that most customers choose is pitched plumb in the centre of its segment, slightly shorter than a Ford Focus and quite a bit longer than a Golf. Inside, the changes are farer-reaching, the key one being a much-needed upgrade to the central infotainment screen, which grows in size to 10.5-inches and gains the facility for over-the-air updates. Plus from mid-range trim levels upwards, the driver's instrument display gains a 12.3-inch combimeter that can be customised to preference across four different modes - 'Casual', 'Smart', 'Sport' and 'Tough'. The driver can also make use of a new on-board voice agent that recognises natural, conversational requests to operate the multimedia, or vehicle functions such as opening or closing windows. The cabin's now of higher quality too, with new graphics, trims and embossed patterns that add three-dimensional depth and tactile appeal to the upholsteries, surfaces and finishes. The trim and seat upholstery combinations follow smarter Dark and Light Harmony themes with co-ordinated colours and finishes to give the interior a contemporary, elegant feel. Otherwise, it's much as you were. Rear seat space isn't hugely generous, but two adults will fit OK. Boot space for the 1.8-litre models is rated at 361-litres or the hatch and 598-litres for the Touring Sports estate. Bear in mind that these figures are slightly reduced if you choose the 2.0-litre version.
Toyota isn't bothering here to try and provide an affordable entry-level model, prices across the all-Hybrid, all-automatic range starting from around £27,000. There's a premium of around £1,300 to go from the five-door hatch body shape to the 'Touring Sports' estate. Though you can no longer have a Saloon, there is now a separate Cross Cross SUV model. For the hatch and the Touring Sports estate, there are five main trim levels - 'Icon', 'Icon Tech', 'Design', 'GR Sport' and 'Excel', plus the Touring Sports estate also gets an extra SUV-inspired 'TREK' variant. All of these spec levels deliver even more kit for the latest model year, with fresh colours that include a vibrant 'Juniper Blue'. The dynamic-looking 'GR Sport' version's been upgraded too. This improved Corolla is equipped with Toyota T-Mate, which combines the latest generation Toyota Safety Sense package with other active driving and parking assistance features. Improvements in the operation and functionality of the systems include Acceleration Suppression, which reacts to sudden use of the accelerator when travelling at low speed; collision avoidance support when making a turn at an intersection; Emergency Steering Assist that can now react to oncoming vehicles; lateral collision avoidance and curve speed reduction. There's also now a 'Safe Exit Assist' system, which stops doors being opened in the face on oncoming vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians. And a 'Rear Seat Reminder' has been added, which alerts the driver to look at the rear seats as they leave the car.
Toyota has decided that all Corolla buyers should have a Hybrid engine - and a look at the efficiency stats reveals why. The stats are still pretty eye-catching, a typical 1.8-litre Hybrid Corolla Hatch with 'Icon' trim managing up to 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and up to 102g/km of CO2. That's further helped, Toyota expects, by the fact that for typical customers, up to 50% of typical commuting journeys will be accomplished in all-electric drive. For the 2.0-litre Hybrid hatch, the best stats are up to 57.7mpg and up to 107g/km. The Japanese maker describes the Corolla's Hybrid technology as being of the 'self-charging' variety, which means that it isn't of the currently popular Plug-in variety. The brand of course has PHEV technology (it's available on top versions of its Prius model) but currently feels it isn't necessary for the Corolla line-up. What else? Well, the five year 100,000 mile warranty is extremely good and even after that runs out, you'll find that you can extend it for nothing up to a maximum of ten years, providing you have the car regularly serviced at a Toyota dealer. There's also three years warranty against rust and 12 years of anti-corrosion protection.
So what do we have here? A name from the past which packages up technology from the future. Very soon, all family hatchback-class models will feature model line-ups that are primarily electrified. But Toyota has brought us that right now. In a car its volume brand competitors will have to take very seriously indeed, particularly in this updated form. If you're going the Hybrid route with a car in this sector, it makes sense to buy into the brand that has most experience in producing this kind of powertrain - and that's unquestionably Toyota. But this model also has other things to recommend it, with levels of safety and media connectivity that rivals struggle to better. Overall, if you're looking for a car in this segment, a Corolla may not currently be on your shopping list. We think it ought to be.