What Car? says...
The Toyota Corolla could be the answer for family car buyers who don’t want a diesel, find petrol cars too inefficient and are not ready to go electric.
You see, the Corolla is described by its maker as a "self-charging" hybrid. That means it doesn't need to be charged overnight to get the best from it – you simply treat it like a regular petrol car.
A small battery is topped up automatically when you use the brakes and this powers an electric motor, helping improve efficiency and performance. If you're really gentle, the Toyota Corolla can even drive itself along on pure battery power for very short distances.
When it comes to CO2 emissions and, officially at least, fuel economy, this halfway-house between a petrol and pure electric car certainly delivers some impressive numbers. And thanks to tax advantages, the Corolla is much cheaper to run as a company car than the majority of its rivals.
So, how does the Toyota Corolla square up against the best family cars including the hybrid Honda Civic as well as conventionally powered alternatives, such as the Ford Focus, the Peugeot 308 and the Seat Leon? And is the Corolla as efficient in the real world as the official numbers suggest? Read on to find out…
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Updates to the Toyota Corolla's hybrid system mean the latest version of the entry-level 1.8-litre engine has 138bhp at its disposal, and can match the 0-62mph time of the 128bhp 1.5-litre VW Golf at 9.2 seconds. It’s around half a second slower than the more powerful 1.0 Ecoboost 155 Ford Focus, but that’s not really a problem.
Why? Well, the 1.8 has more than enough performance for everyday driving and gets up to motorway speeds without you needing to mash the accelerator into the carpet. Indeed, the only time you might wish for a little more oomph is when you need to overtake a dawdling motorist and you’ve got a car packed to the rafters with people and luggage.
For those situations, the brawnier 193bhp 2.0-litre has you covered, dropping the 0-62mph sprint time to just 7.4 seconds – faster than any Honda Civic except the Type R. The thing is, even when your foot isn’t flat to the floor, the increased power from the Corolla’s electric motor makes it satisfyingly snappier to your demands in normal driving.
Suspension and ride comfort
Fancy a bit of pampering? Well, forget the spa and buy yourself a Corolla instead – it's one of the most comfortable models in the family car class.
Even against the Focus (another very comfortable family car), the Corolla’s softer suspension means that it smoothes off the rough edges of road ridges better and fidgets less on patchy sections of motorway.
True, the trade-off is that its body moves around a little more along undulating roads, but it's still better tied down than the Peugeot 308 and other rivals. We would recommend avoiding the bigger 18in alloy wheels fitted to GR Sport and Excel trims though. They don't completely ruin the ride, but you’ll notice the difference over sharp road imperfections.
When you’re driving normally, you’ll find that the Corolla is a fine-handling car. The steering is precise and its weight builds in a progressive manner, starting light for city driving and ending up with a heft that’s reassuring. There's even a reasonable amount of feedback streaming to your fingertips.
There’s also a decent feeling of composure at faster speeds. However, the Corolla isn't as keen to tuck its nose into bends as the Focus, the Civic or the Seat Leon and runs out of front-end grip sooner. If driving thrills are your thing, you’d be even better served elsewhere.
The GR Sport trim isn't any more thrilling, despite name-dropping the Toyota performance brand. It really is just a trim level, adding styling tweaks and additional equipment but nothing that improves the Corolla’s dynamism.
Noise and vibration
One benefit of hybrid cars is that they're usually hushed when you're pootling around town because the electric motor can manage on its own in stop-start traffic. The Corolla is no exception, making virtually silent progress and, even when the petrol engine cuts in to assist, it doesn’t spoil the peace too much.
On faster roads, especially going uphill, the petrol engine begins to roar because the CVT automatic gearbox causes engine revs to soar during moderate to hard acceleration until you reach cruising speed.
That was more of an issue with earlier examples of Corolla, and both engines now come with more powerful electric motors and a larger battery pack so they don't need to rev as highly to get up to speed. The hybrid system in the Civic is even more resistant to rev flares, especially at motorway speeds.
You hear a bit more tyre roar on the motorway than in a Focus, but the Corolla is a quieter cruiser than the Leon. The 2.0-litre hybrid is better than the 1.8 at isolating you from the outside world, thanks to its 'acoustic' side glass.
Strengths Comfortable ride; decent performance; quiet around town
Weaknesses Rivals are more dynamic; CVT gearbox can be noisy at times
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver's seat in the Toyota Corolla places you higher than the Seat Leon’s, but offers a decent amount of support and a reasonably generous range of movement – including height and powered lumbar adjustment on all trims. You shouldn't have any problems getting comfy.
It's not perfect, though. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height, but its extension in and out isn’t as extensive as in some rivals, including the Ford Focus. What’s more, while most family cars have a wheel that allows you to fine-tune the angle of the backrest, the Corolla has a lever that offers a limited number of angles.
Regardless of trim level, you’ll find a 12.3in digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. It’s similar to the screen in the VW Golf but requires a lot more button pressing to switch between the various trip, media and hybrid system displays, so it's not as easy to use while you're driving. Unlike in the Golf, you do at least get proper, easy-to-use physical buttons and dials for the air-con system.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Corolla’s skinny windscreen pillars mean you have a good view of the road ahead and out of the side windows at junctions.
The view out of the back is more restricted by chunky rear pillars (you get a better view out of the rear of a Skoda Scala for example), but every Corolla has a reversing camera, along with front and rear parking sensors, helping to negate any issues.
Powerful LED headlights are fitted as standard. In some rivals, you have to pay extra or upgrade to a posh trim level to get these.
Sat nav and infotainment
Let’s start with the positives: the Corolla's 10.5in touchscreen is positioned high on the dashboard, making it easy to see and reach. It also responds relatively quickly when you tap around the menus.
The screen resolution isn't hugely impressive, though, and the graphics for the standard navigation system are rather basic. The operating system is far more intuitive than the Golf's but still some way behind the best in this car class, including the BMW 1 Series set-up.
Thankfully, all Corollas come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, so you can essentially bypass the Toyota software for a better experience. You also get a DAB radio and Bluetooth, while the standard six-speaker stereo is clear and punchy.
Jump behind the wheel of the Corolla and you might initially feel a little underwhelmed. The design is restrained, conventional and (dare we say it) even slightly old-fashioned.
When you start touching things, though, you soon realise Toyota has used high-quality materials that are screwed together in a way that puts rivals, including the Peugeot 308 (and most other cars in the class, for that matter) to shame. Okay, it's no 1 Series, but that's a premium model with one of the nicest interiors in the class.
Strengths Well-built interior; comfortable driving position; good visibility
Weaknesses So-so infotainment; digital instrument cluster is not as good as rivals'
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The important thing is you won’t struggle to fit in the front of the Toyota Corolla, even if you’re really tall.
The front seats slide back a long way on their runners and, although some rivals have a tad more head room, you’re unlikely to feel hemmed in. The Corolla is also broad enough inside to keep some space between you and your passenger.
What about storage? Well, the door pockets are on the small side, but you’ll find plenty of room elsewhere, thanks to a generous glovebox and enough trays and cubbies dotted about. You get twin cupholders in the centre console too.
"Disappointing" is probably the best way to describe rear space in the Corolla. While the Ford Focus and Seat Leon are remarkably roomy in the back, the Corolla feels cramped for anyone approaching six feet tall – especially if they're sitting behind someone similarly tall.
You wouldn’t call head or leg room impressive, while the sloping ceiling adds a bit of a claustrophobic feel compared to rivals. If you plan to often have a full complement of passengers, have a look at the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports estate car variant – it's much more accommodating in the back.
Rear storage isn’t particularly impressive. Rear-seat passengers don’t get door bins, but you’ll find a cupholder in each door and a further pair of cupholders fitted to the armrest that folds down between the two rear seats.
Seat folding and flexibility
The rear seats don’t recline or do anything else particularly clever, but neither do the ones in the Corolla’s main rivals.
You can fold the rear seats down in a 60/40 split, which is pretty standard across the class, but not as versatile as the 40/20/40 split in the Audi A3. The Corolla doesn’t have a ski hatch for poking long items through into the rear seat area.
All versions come with a manually adjustable passenger seat, but it’s a shame that your passenger doesn’t get adjustable lumbar support, even as an option.
If you need a big boot, be careful which Corolla you buy: the luggage capacity depends on the engine. The 1.8 Hybrid can accommodate six carry-on suitcases in its 361-litre boot, with room to spare under its parcel shelf, which is a match for the Leon and one more than the VW Golf can manage.
However, the 2.0 Hybrid model has 313 litres of boot space – less than some small cars, including the Skoda Fabia and the VW Polo. That's because its larger engine means there’s not enough space for the car's 12V battery under the bonnet, so Toyota has put it under the boot floor instead.
If boot space is really important to you and you’re set on the Corolla, we’d suggest turning your attention to our Toyota Corolla Touring Sports review.
Strengths Plenty of front space
Weaknesses Small boot; cramped rear space
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Toyota Corolla makes plenty of sense as a private buy. It has a higher list price than some rivals, but it’s also predicted to have better resale values, and that helps make PCP finance payments surprisingly affordable. To make the most of the savings, be sure to check out our Toyota Corolla deals.
The Corolla makes lots of sense for company car drivers paying benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax too. The 1.8-litre emits as little as 100g/km of CO2 – that's less than any Ford Focus. For even cheaper company car tax bills, you'll want to look at a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or an electric car.
You can't argue with the 1.8 Corolla's fuel economy, either. Our Real MPG testing saw a combined figure of 50.5mpg, and our previous testing suggests that's easily achievable in the real world.
As is often the case for hybrids, efficiency is particularly impressive around town, so if that’s where you spend most of your time, you might get even more miles to the gallon.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level Icon is our recommended trim because it comes with everything you need, including power-folding and heated door mirrors, automatic LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and 16in alloy wheels, sat-nav and parking sensors all-round.
You’ll need to upgrade to Design trim if you want rain-sensing wipers, as well as 17in alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and privacy glass.
The range-topping Excel trim and the sportier-styled GR Sport add more goodies, but are too expensive for us to recommend.
Reliability is a real strong point for the Corolla, with the model itself finishing right near the top of the family car category in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey.
Toyota as a brand performed admirably too, claiming second place (beaten only by Lexus) out of 32 car makers in our overall rankings.
The Corolla is covered by a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty provided you have it serviced regularly at a Toyota dealership. That’s longer cover than you get from any other car maker – even Kia, which offers a generous seven-year warranty.
Safety and security
If you're unlucky enough to be involved in an accident, you'll be better off in a Corolla than you would in many other family cars. Euro NCAP awarded the model five stars out of five for safety, although it's important to note that the testing procedure is more stringent today than when it was appraised in 2019.
There are plenty of active safety aids to help you avoid a collision in the first place, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, traffic-sign recognition and automatic high-beam assistance for the headlights.
It’s a credit to Toyota that even the cheapest versions come with those safety systems as standard. The only notable aid that isn't available across the range is blind-spot monitoring, which is reserved for top-spec Excel.
As for security, all versions of the Corolla come with an alarm and immobiliser as standard.
Strengths Reliable; low CO2 emissions; really well equipped
Weaknesses Slightly more expensive than rivals to buy outright
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Our pick is the lower-powered 1.8-litre hybrid combined with entry-level Icon trim. The engine is relatively modestly powered but adequate for most situations and very economical – as shown by our True MPG testing.
The cheapest version is the entry-level Icon trim twinned with the 1.8-litre engine. That’s also our favourite combination because it has all the Corolla’s best qualities while keeping costs down.
|RRP price range
|£30,495 - £36,935
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|60.1 - 64.2
|Available doors options
|5 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,454 / £1,762
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£2,907 / £3,524