Looks are, as ever, subjective, but if the Auris was blandly handsome then in the metal the Corolla is just handsome. Its bottom might jut out in the manner of the old Renault Mégane, but sitting 40mm longer, 30mm wider but 25mm shorter than its forebear – and with smaller overhangs – the proportions are there. A Focus has a considerably longer wheelbase and a Golf more head room, but if you can forgive the Toyota its false exhaust tips, it’s the more distinctive car.
At launch, Toyota will offer a 112bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine along with two versions of its Atkinson-cycle hybrid powertrains, which Toyota expects to account for almost nine in every 10 sales. The 1.8-litre VVTi is identical to what you’ll find in the Prius, in fact, and with a combined WLTP economy of up to 65.9mpg but only 120bhp from electric motor and petrol engine combined, its priorities are clear. The 2.0-litre powertrain driven here blurs the lines a bit. With 178bhp and a 0-62mph time of 7.9sec, it’s quicker than either the equivalent Honda Civic or Ford Focus, but remains an economy-focused device, with CO2 emissions of just 89g/km and a spec-sheet claim of more than 60mpg.
What is the new Corolla like inside the cabin?
Predictably, our car is in Excel guise – the top of four trim levels, and in this case augmented with an optional panoramic roof and a two-tone paint finish (though the upper portion seems more like a wrap). Lesser models get smaller wheels than these 18in two-tone items and go without privacy glass and electric door mirrors, though all come with LED headlights and body-coloured bumpers. Certainly, sat side by side, the difference won’t be night and day.
It’s a similar story inside. Though we’re yet to get a sniff of the Corolla in its most basic Icon form, apart from swapping the 7in display in the instrument binnacle for one of 4.2in, the interior is unlikely to differ dramatically from what you see here, which is a very good thing. The transmission tunnel is higher and wider than before but everything else is neater and simpler, with a sculpted dash and consistent use of piano-black plastic and chrome-plated plastics. The stitched false leather won’t fool anyone but it doesn’t feel at all cheap, and all the touchpoints are reassuringly plush.
Toyota has also slimmed the A-pillars, dropped the scuttle and moved the side mirrors onto the doors to allow for quarter-light windows and for better visibility. Boot space is limited, mind. At 316 litres with the rear seat-backs in place (the 1.2 petrol and 1.8 hybrid have 361 litres) it’s at the smaller end of the class, and would struggle to take more than a few decent-sized duffle bags.
So the Corolla’s cabin doesn’t scream opulence but it betters a Focus for both character and quality, and is far from being shown up by more premium rivals. At the behest of owners, the Auris’s stubby gearshift has also been replaced by something more substantial. Pull it into D and the Corolla steps off the mark in almost total silence, the electric motor mounted within its transaxle taking the strain.
How does the Corolla perform on the road?
In the 2.0-litre model, both that motor and the car’s solitary gear are larger, allowing for electric-only cruising at speeds of up to 70mph, and the car’s regenerative braking potential is also greater. This first drive in rural Majorca is more a chance for us to explore the car’s dynamics, however. And straight away, the most surprising element is how naturally the Corolla steers, the low nose changing course with unexpected precision, and genuine feel through the thin, leather-clad rim.