Some facets of the way in which this new-groove affordable performance hybrid from Toyota gets down the road are eerily – some would say even jarringly – familiar; and yet others are irrefutable evidence of how determinedly this Japanese car industry giant has stuck with its hybrid synergy drive concept, upgraded and updated it over the past 20 years and significantly overhauled the driving experience it creates.

Still never better than when gliding through becalmed pockets of space in busy town or motorway traffic on genteel throttle applications, the Corolla also brings every other Toyota hybrid to mind under maximum pedal load, when it apes the operating behaviour of a CVT by simply spinning to peak power and letting the planetary gearing take up the slack.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
There’s something about the duality of this powertrain that appeals more than any other Toyota hybrid. I’d enjoy zipping across country, regenerating plenty of energy, and then gliding around in town traffic in EV mode and on a full drive battery. Very 21st century

But this ‘performance hybrid’ differs from the established Toyota norms quite markedly in the operating space between those two extremes – most notably in how much outright accelerative urgency it can muster, and how responsive it feels, on part-throttle. In both senses, it’s not overselling the car to describe it as a pacy-feeling drive. This Corolla is keen to get going when you tip into the right-hand pedal, in Sport mode at least, and without needing to send the revs into the stratosphere.

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Despite a typically leisurely getaway from standing even under maximum power, the car needs only 8.5sec to hit 60mph from rest and 7.7sec to get from 30mph to 70mph: near-enough precise matches, both, for the 158bhp warm diesel Astra 1.6 CDTI Biturbo estate we tested in 2016. This is petrol-electric performance of a marginally lower order than you might currently be getting from a Volkswagen Golf GTE (7.7sec to 60mph) but it’s not adrift by much. And the biggest development to report is that the Corolla does feels brisk and energetic enough to make you contemplate the enthusiastic driving style you wouldn’t dream of in any other Toyota hybrid.

Just as you explore in greater depth the driving experience that the Corolla’s performance level has piqued your interest in, of course, you quickly find its limitations. The transmission does a poor impression of a real paddle-shift manual when you tug on a paddle, slurring and delaying its shifts under load and creating very little more meaningful relationship between engine speed and road speed than you get in ‘D’.

Avoid the manual mode, though, and you can certainly get a fleeting kick out of giving this car its head. It definitely bucks the performance stereotype of the Toyota hybrid car. It’s just a shame that simple hit of pace is at once the beginning and the end of the powertrain’s capacity for entertainment.

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