Toyota’s Brit-built crack at the Golf class is also a new-groove performance hybrid

The world’s best-selling passenger car, the Toyota Corolla, is officially back in Britain. Having been away since 2006, when its maker rebranded its mid-sized family hatchback the Auris for European buyers, the Corolla is now a global power again. And what a power it has been: around for five decades and counting, and very likely to reach its 50 millionth global registration with this 12th model generation.

If the Corolla has taught us anything, it’s that excitement and driver appeal are of secondary importance when it comes to selling mid-sized hatchbacks and saloons in world-beating volumes. The Corolla’s story so far has been about what Toyota handily initialises as ‘QDR’: quality, durability and reliability.

If you see exhausts poking through a Corolla’s rear bumper at all, you’re looking at the 2.0-litre hybrid. (Both the 1.8 and 1.2 hide their pipes behind the rear valance.) It’s just about the only way you’ll be able to spot the derivative.

With this version, however, fourth and fifth pillars of appeal are being added to the car’s make-up: dynamic styling and driving pleasure. Now very aware of how crucial this car is to the casting of its global reputation, Toyota aims to banish the boring from the character of this car and to make it as appealing to drive as any family five-door in its class.

Using the same platform as the critically acclaimed C-HR crossover, the current Prius and the Lexus UX, the Corolla is in receipt of a chassis with new suspension technologies and geometries, honed on European roads. It is also the first Toyota model to spring from the firm’s new ‘dual hybrid’ model strategy – and so, as part of a broadening of the thinking that has already led to a surprisingly widespread adoption of petrol-electric powertrains, the Corolla will be available with a high-output ‘performance hybrid’ engine as well as a more familiarly economical one.

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No surprises for guessing what’s under the bonnet of this week’s road test subject, then. Time to find out what the Corolla’s chassis, plus that different approach to powertrain tuning, can do for the driver appeal of a Toyota hybrid.

Price £28,820 Power 178bhp Torque Unspecified 0-60mph 8.5sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 44.3mpg CO2 emissions 89g/km 70-0mph 47.9m

The Toyota Corolla range at a glance

A warmer GR version of the Corolla is expected, and an outright hot hatch wearing the GRMN badge sorely hoped for, but the most powerful engine for now is the 2.0-litre VVT-i petrol-electric hybrid tested here, with 178bhp.

Although lesser variants are available in Icon trim, the 2.0-litre begins with Design specification, which adds privacy glass and rain-sensing wipers to the parking sensors and sat-nav fitted with Icon Tech. The top two trim levels are Excel and the catchily named Excel with Panoramic Roof.

Note also that the 2.0-litre and 1.8-litre models emit far less CO2 than the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol Corolla.

First drives