While other brands have scrambled to devise and introduce novel hybrid concepts to meet emissions targets, Toyota has been sitting comfortably. It has gradually refined its hybrid system – which is still fundamentally a development of the planetary CVT concept introduced on the original Toyota Prius in 1997 – and made it suitable for more and more models.
The latest refinement benefits the Toyota Corolla, particularly the 1.8 Hybrid. With 120bhp and an 11.1sec 0-62mph time in Touring Sports estate form, its performance has always been on the leisurely side of adequate. So for 2023, it’s getting a 24bhp boost to 138bhp, for a 0-62mph sprint of 9.2sec.
The point of the exercise is not so much to make the entry-level Corolla (the previous entry-level 1.2-litre petrol was offered for only a short time) a fast car, but more to improve drivability. In other words, reduce the typical CVT behaviour of indirect throttle response and soaring revs.
The Corolla 2.0-litre hybrid model has had a few tweaks, too. It has gained 6bhp, cutting its 0-62mph time to 7.5sec and reducing its CO2 output by 3g/km to 107g/km. It also swaps its older-style nickel-metal-hydride drive battery for a lithium ion one, like the 1.8.
Toyota let us drive the current version and a late prototype of the updated 1.8 hybrid back to back. There was no opportunity to try the 2.0-litre, but then important changes are to the 1.8 anyway.
Initial impressions of the revised 1.8 are that the drivetrain doesn’t feel markedly different. However, Toyota has also recalibrated the drive modes. Where Eco mode used to feel quite sluggish, in the updated car it makes better use of the increased potency of the electric motor and waits for longer before it has the engine working hard. That makes the car feel more relaxed without noticeably compromising performance.
When you ask for more performance, it’s unmistakably still a CVT, but a pretty good one. At anything less than full throttle, the gearbox will build in some shift points and avoid holding maximum revs wherever possible. It helps that the 1.8 engine is a refined one, so when it pipes up, it’s not grating. Economy remains impressive: at the end of our test route, the car was indicating 57.7mpg.