Is the Toyota Corolla your favourite automotive icon? Read what we think and cast your vote
James Attwood, digital editor
21 March 2019

 

The Toyota Corolla is in the running to be this year’s Autocar Awards Readers’ Champion. Each day a different member of the Autocar team will champion one of the 17 cars, but only one can be the Icon of Icons and it’s up to you to decide - vote here.

We know what you’re thinking: what is the Toyota Corolla doing among a list of automotive icons? Safe, dependable, entirely unexciting family car, sure. But a motoring icon? 

Well, yes. Here’s why: the Corolla is the best-selling car in the world. Ever. Since it was launched in 1966, Toyota has sold around 45 million Corolla-badged cars. That is, you won’t need to be told, a lot. 

Of course, simply selling in record numbers does not an icon make. You could even count it against the Corolla, comparing it to a huge middle-of-the-road stadium-filling rock band. You know, the sort that dominates the charts by churning out pleasant, blandly inoffensive songs. The Toyota Coldplay, if you will. 

Our Verdict

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Undoubtedly, many Corolla sales are down to its affordability, practicality and reliability, rather than any dynamic greatness or cutting-edge design. It’s not the sort of car for which you’ll hear much in the way of effusive praise. 

But it’s also not the sort of car you hear much criticism of. It produces quiet contentment from owners, the sort that results from a well-made product that gets the job done. 

That’s a tough task: the family car market is ultra-competitive, and many firms struggle to produce a refined all-rounder. With the Corolla, Toyota has done so for more than 50 years, across 12 generations. 

That brings us to another point of contention: those 12 generations and 45 million sales span a range of vastly different cars united only by a nameplate. Since it first launched, the Corolla has been rear-, front- and four-wheel-drive, offered in hatch, saloon, estate and coupé form, grown and shrunk in size, and taken different forms in different countries. Some felt the Corolla shouldn’t make this shortlist as a result. 

Certainly, those 12 generations, with numerous variants, don’t have a development lineage in the style of, say, a Porsche 911. But what unites them is that they were all made to – and nailed – the same brief: to be an affordable, desirable people’s car. Each generation of Corolla has been a family car for the era in which it was made – and Toyota has never been afraid to change a winning formula to achieve that. Other car firms have been more conservative when it comes to updating long-running models – and paid the price. 

For example, Toyota spotted market trends by fitting downsized, more economical engines with the third generation in 1974, and by introducing front-wheel drive on the fifth generation in 1983. In 2000, Toyota shifted design of the ninth-generation model to Europe for the first time, determined to grow the Corolla’s appeal in that vital market. 

The latest example of this approach is the new Corolla, shortly to return to the UK after 13 years. It was originally unveiled as the next-generation Auris, but I reckon Toyota changed tack after realising a smartly styled hybrid-only hatchback perfectly fitted the Corolla’s brief of an affordable, desirable people’s car for this era. 

So then, the Toyota Corolla, motoring icon? Absolutely. But it isn’t great because Toyota has sold 45 million. Toyota has sold 45 million because it’s great at what it does. 

Click here for the Toyota Corolla to be named our 'icon of icons'

Read more

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Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid hatchback 2019 UK review​

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Comments
4

21 March 2019

There's no doubting the global success of the Corolla brand, but the product itself has evolved through so many inconsistent shapes that it really has no identity. I believe that an icon has to be instantly recognisable, so however competent, profitable and successful, I can't see that the Corolla merits inclusion. 

21 March 2019

I can understand a Golf, Mini, 911 etc because you see the heritage but the Corolla is just a name.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

21 March 2019

Only Corolla that ever appealed to me was the Mid 80s GT hatch with the high revving 1.6, but they were new when i first passed my test so no way i could afford one. By the time i could i didnt want a Corolla any more

21 March 2019

The article states that:

'.... Toyota changed tack after realising a smartly styled hybrid-only hatchback ....'

For information, the Corolla Hatchback and Touring Sports are available with a 1.2 petrol turbo (116 hp) on Icon, Icon Tech and Design models.  Just the top of the range Excel model is hybrid only, as are all versions of the saloon.

Note:  Although a Toyota owner, I have no other link with the brand.

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