These days there are reasons to be cheerful if you want a family hatchback without paying a ‘made in Germany’ premium.
Look elsewhere on this website and you’ll learn Ford’s latest Focus has rediscovered the dynamic sparkle that made the original so special. Kia’s Ceed, built on a new platform and now with a fully independent rear axle, can’t match that level of dynamism but handles with a precision and honesty that will jolt anybody whose perception of the brand is more than a couple of years out of date. There is then the pebble-like form of Mazda’s new 3, which promises to drive almost as lithely as it looks.
Toyota would have you add the new Corolla to that list. Confused? Don’t be. That name hasn’t been seen in this country for more than 10 years, but the sharp-edged hatchback before you (along with its estate and saloon derivatives) is essentially a direct replacement for Toyota’s ultra-pragmatic but slow-selling Auris. And it is a model of monumental significance for the brand – a revival of the world’s top-selling nameplate, at least in Europe, where the competition is fiercer and the standards higher than anywhere else in the world.
Beyond the name, what else is new for the Corolla?
The rebrand reflects the fact that much has now changed, not least the underpinnings. Toyota’s New Global Architecture platform sits the powertrain 10mm lower for a commensurate drop in the car’s centre of gravity and improved handling. The structure of this 12th-generation Corolla (born in 1966, the saloon original predates the Golf by some eight years) is now 60% stiffer than the old one, and independent rear suspension is now standard. The geometry of the MacPherson struts at the front axle has also been realigned to deliver more communicative steering, all of which sounds promising.
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.