The Corolla Hybrid two litre hybrid in Excel trim. This will be my first review of a hybrid and as such there’s quite a lot more technology to learn. I will admit that what drew me to reviewing this car was that it had 180bhp. That in itself gave me some hope that Toyota are now looking to combine hybrid technology with at least some degree of performance.
This version is fully loaded and has every option included which puts it at a price of £31,530. This is a lot of money for what is a family hatch back. It does though have a huge amount of features that demonstrate how far things have moved on with car design and features since my now fairly old GT86 was conceived a decade ago.
Starting with how it looks seems to be a matter of divided opinion. I think this is because it’s very much of the moment with it’s sharp angles and multi-faceted surfaces. Personally I like it and I think that all it takes is a bit of getting used to. The current Prius was the same when it came out and you can easily see the common styling cues with this car.
Upon getting into this car you are met with what is a very nice interior. The seats are good, though not quite as supportive as they may look, but this isn’t a sports car. It does though have sporting pretensions. The dash is a nice layout with a huge screen for settings and sat nav, the regeneration system and internet and Wifi connectivity. What is striking is how far things have moved on from my now six year old GT86 looking very much last decade when it comes to features and infotainment. So, this is a new era with every bell and whistle you could imagine but first I’d rather cover stuff that I’m familiar with, i.e., how does it drive and how does it handle on the road.
I should firstly point out that this car has three drive modes. Eco, which relaxes throttle input and steering weight, then there is ‘Normal’ which is really the default mode. I did try driving this car in Eco mode briefly, but it was just a bit slack and wooly in terms of response, normal felt more natural. Then there is Sport mode which makes the dash go a racy red. Sport mode really sharpens up the throttle and also seems to tighten the steering, but maybe it just adds a bit more weight. Weight doesn’t mean feel of course, but to a point you feel more connected.
This car has a constantly variable transmission (CVT). Now CVT’s are generally not popular amongst car enthusiasts as they constantly vary the gear ratio, which can mean, when you floor it the revs soar and it feels like the car has a slipping clutch. Toyota have been smart with this one though and given it steps, so that it feels like gears. This may seem like an automotive backwards step, but it simply highlights that drivers do not like CVT’s and making it work more like a conventional automatic is what people prefer. In reality it’s like the smoothest auto you’ve ever driven as it fakes going up a gear. It works well in practice though. Also and I did wonder if this was something of a gimmick, it has flappy paddles so you can go into manual mode. On a CVT? Yep! In practice this is a bit of a gimmick when accelerating as it becomes a bit meaningless every time you get on the throttle. However when pressing on and when you want to hold a gear as you lift off the throttle it’s actually useful, simply for the control aspect. On the downhill on the Cat and Fiddle road, this is where is was really useful to me. In drive mode as soon as you lift off the throttle the engine disengages which does not inspire confidence when pushing on.
Now when I talk about driving this car with some vigour, I really did, but this is not a sports car, but it does have a good turn of pace. It’s a bit weird the first time you pull away silently on electric power and there is no doubt the electric motor does a great job of filling in the torque curve when you put your foot down. I would say it feels a bit like a petrol turbo, or perhaps a turbo diesel in terms of characteristics. The main punch of the engine is the mid-range, not the top end. Once you know this, you can use it to good effect. The other thing to mention is the brakes. Due to the regeneration system, the brake does feel a bit digital in application in that it does feel a bit on/off. It maybe that the servo is a bit too keen, but it did take me a little time to get smooth with the brakes.
Let’s talk about handling. When I drove this car without knowing it’s weight, I guessed it would be around 1500kgs or perhaps more. I guess that’s an assumption of it must be heavy due to the batteries and all the hybrid stuff. However it does actually weigh in a mere 100kg heavier than my GT86 at 1370kg. What surprised me on the road, was that it actually felt heavier. I wonder if this is due to more of the weight being in the nose of the car? Turn in to corners however is actually not bad at all. The car will wash into understeer if you continue to push. There is an element of learning to trust that the car will follow its nose, which is due in part to a lack of feel, so once you know the car will do it, you build trust that way. The chassis itself is not particularly reactive, but quite benign. I would say it’s a step in the right direction for Toyota, but there is still some way to go to make it an engaging car to drive. It’s the kind of car you can hustle, it is capable, but you are unlikely to get up at 6am on a sunny Sunday morning for the hell of it. Handling is safe and predictable, the car is stable and responds relatively well to direction changes. Perhaps a Gazoo Racing version or maybe even a GRMN version could really up the game?
The new Corolla is actually a pretty good car. As a daily proposition it makes a lot of sense. Good performance, strong economy as well as a whole range of safety features. It has impact protection where it will do an emergency stop if you blindly drive at a stationary car or wall, though I was asked not to test this! The most interesting feature though is the lane trace assist coupled with radar cruise control. Let me explain. We are all aware what radar cruise control is and this is a great feature if you want to give your feet a rest in traffic. Also though with the lane trace assist on, the car will track the lanes ahead and actually steer for you. As well having the car for an hour for the blast over the Cat and Fiddle, I also had it for 24 hours and took it to work for a day. There was on the M60 in the morning and set the cruise control and lane trace assist on and the car is now driving itself autonomously. It feels like a leap of faith the first time you try it, though you still need to lightly hold the wheel or the car gets irritable with you flashing warnings up on the dashboard! It really is amazing technology and it really will steer you round a tight slip road if you try it. I particularly liked the radar cruise control as it means the car will deal with traffic all by itself, really taking the effort out of it. The trick I found was to set the cruise to the maximum speed for the road and let the electronics do the rest.
What I would say about all this tech is that it can be a bit harsh braking for you and accelerating and it does tend to operate on the conservative side. I have been told though that you can adjust the sensitivity of the radar cruise. It does tend to make you look like a less experienced driver as for example driving a car myself, my anticipation and use of controls is far more refined and where I would simply lift for a few seconds the Corolla will brake. It is smooth though, but I feel this technology needs a bit more refinement which doubtless will come in time.
Here's an example how it works:
I am a purist at heart, driving a manual rear wheel drive sports coupe. But I found it really interesting to try what is the technology of the present and will lead the way in the future. I liked the Corolla, it has a great combination of comfort, ease of use and also a good turn of speed which I’m sure surprised a few drivers. Importantly for me it didn’t feel slow. Now I’ve tried the 1.8 Hybrid in the Toyota CH-R which has 120bhp. The two litre engine with 180bhp makes a big difference and will undoubtedly make this car far more appealing to those like me who like to have a reasonable amount of power to give you more options when you need it.
The car I tested had every option including a polycarbonate full length sun roof and the upgraded JBL audio system which did sound really good. Still no Apple Car Play though which seems to be the thing everyone wants. The display itself is excellent. Sat nav is usual Toyota fair, there is the option of using the infotainment as a Wifi router which may be a good idea, but would need a subscription of some sort to enable this.
The other crazy option and this did make me chuckle is the parking assist. This means the car will reverse parallel park for you when you pass an identified space. Again this is akin to a leap of faith the first time you try it. The dash will tell you to go forward and then stop. You select reverse and guide the car in modulating the speed on the brake. The car then steers for you swiftly putting you in the space. Incredibly impressive and Richard and I looked at each other in disbelief the first time I tried it!
Here's how it works:
The new Corolla is a car that is designed to have a broad appeal to drivers who want good economy safety and also some sense of style with excellent reliability. It does the job very well. Yes it’s more geared to the practicalities of driving rather than the passion of it, but it is a step in the right direction. I’d love to see a practical car that is exciting to drive, but maybe I’m a little hardcore in my approach and fully understand I’m a long way from ever being your average motorist. Whilst I may see this as a good thing, I can absolutely see how this car would appeal to those in need of a more practical and comfortable car than I. There will be a GR version with sharper handling which is great. I’m really hoping there will be a GRMN version but we shall have to wait and see.
Pic of underboot floor. On the two litre the battery is in the boot.
The sensors for collision warning system and lane trace assist.
Polycarbonate sunroof. It has a blind too.
My Eco score after a blast down the Cat & Fiddle! Still achieved 46/7mpg though!