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 aren't 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 Toyota Corolla is much cheaper to run as a company car than the majority of its rivals.
Put simply, the Corolla offers many of the same advantages as the Toyota Prius (no longer sold in the UK), but with far more conventional looks.
So, how does the Corolla square up against the best family cars, including the hybrid Honda Civic but also conventionally powered alternatives, such as the Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia? And is the Corolla as efficient in the real world as the official numbers suggest?
Read on over the next few pages of this review and we'll tell you everything you need to know – from what we think of the Corolla's performance and ride comfort to which engine and trim combination makes the most sense.
By the way, if you're looking for more practicality, see our Toyota Corolla Touring Sports review for the estate car variant. Toyota has decided not to sell its family SUV version, the Corolla Cross in the UK.
When you're ready to buy your next new car, we could help you save thousands off the list price if you use our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It's a great place to find some tempting new family car deals.
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 that 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 9.2sec. In fact, it’s almost as quick as the 1.0 Ecoboost 155 Ford Focus.
The 1.8 has more than enough performance for everyday driving and getting up to motorway speeds without needing to mash the accelerator into the carpet. The only time you’ll really wish for a bit more oomph is when you need to overtake a dawdling motorist on a country road and you’ve got a car packed with five people and their luggage.
For those situations, the brawnier 193bhp 2.0-litre has you covered. That’s evident by the 7.4 sec 0-62mph time, but even when your foot isn’t flat to the floor, its more powerful electric motor compared with the 1.8 makes it satisfyingly snappier to your demands in normal driving. Those power numbers are very close to what you’ll find from the Honda Civic. The pricier VW Golf GTE – which is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) – is quicker, though.
Suspension and ride comfort
Fancy a bit of pampering? Well, forget the spa and buy yourself a Corolla instead because – along with the Golf – it's one of the most comfortable cars in the family car class. It has softer suspension than, say, the Focus, which means it smoothes off the rough edges of road ridges better and fidgets less on patchy sections of motorway.
The trade-off is a little more body bounce along undulating roads than you get in some rivals, but it's still better tied down than the Peugeot 308 and other rivals. We'd recommend avoiding the bigger 18in wheels fitted to the 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.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver's seat in the Toyota Corolla 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 many problems getting comfy.
There are annoyances, though. Most family cars have a wheel that allows you to fine-tune the angle of the backrest, whereas the Corolla has a lever that offers a limited number of angles. 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. You also sit fairly high in the car (the driver's seat in a Seat Leon goes much lower).
There are big, easy-to-use buttons and dials for the air-con system. Regardless of trim level, you’ll find a 12.3in digital instrument cluster behind the wheel, just like the Golf’s. The display is just as configurable as the Golf’s digital dashboard, 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.
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 restricted by chunky rear pillars – you get a better view out of the rear of a Skoda Scala for example – but every Corolla comes with a reversing camera, along with front and rear parking sensors.
Powerful LED headlights are also 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 a way behind the best cars in this class, including the BMW 1 Series.
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, you soon realise that 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.
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 the obligatory twin cupholders in the centre console, too.
Leg room is limited, head room isn't brilliant and, exacerbating the problem, the ceiling slopes down towards the edges of the car, creating a claustrophobic feel and making it a real squeeze for three across the rear bench. The footwells are tight, too, so it's a bit awkward for passengers to get in and out. The Toyota Corolla Touring Sports estate variant is much more accommodating in the back, and better suited to family life.
Rear storage isn’t particularly impressive. Rear seat passengers don’t even get door bins. Instead, 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.
What you can do is fold the seats down in a 60/40 split, which is pretty standard across the class, although the Audi A3 and other family cars offer a more versatile 40/20/40 split. The Corolla also 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, like on the A3.
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 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 less luggage space than some small cars, including the Skoda Fabia and 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 the Corolla Touring Sports estate version.
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.
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 102g/km of CO2 – that's less than any Ford Focus – and recent revisions to the hybrid system could reduce that figure further. For even cheaper company car tax bills, you'll want to look at a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or an electric car such as the Cupra Born.
You can't argue with the 1.8 Corolla's fuel economy. Our True MPG testing saw a combined figure of 50.5mpg, and our previous testing suggests that's easily achievable in the real world. Typically 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. Some diesels will prove more frugal on long motorway journeys, though.
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.
Toyota as a brand, meanwhile, did even better, claiming an impressive second position (only beaten by Lexus) out of 32 car makers in our overall rankings.
Like every other Toyota model, the Corolla comes with a ten-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard, providing that you keep up with your servicing at a Toyota dealership. That’s longer cover than you get with most family cars, including Kia which offer 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 it five stars out of five for safety, although it's important to note that the testing procedure is more stringent today than when the Corolla 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 these 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.
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The Corolla is only available as a hybrid, with a choice of 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines with electrical assistance. Toyota was a hybrid pioneer, launching the Prius in the Nineties, and that tried and tested technology sits at the heart of the Corolla. The Toyota bZ4X is the firm’s only fully electric car.
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 Corolla costs more money to buy, so it's unsurprisingly a better car than the smaller Toyota Yaris. You don't only get more space inside, though – the Corolla is faster, quieter, more comfortable and one of the best cars in its class. The Yaris is outperformed the Honda Jazz, Skoda Fabia and VW Polo too.
|RRP price range||£30,225 - £36,120|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||60.1 - 64.2|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,441 / £1,723|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,881 / £3,445|