By Wayne Gorrett, Reviews Editor

 

With a strong, 50-year heritage and worldwide sales approaching 50 million units, the Corolla nameplate makes a welcome return to the UK after a 15-year hiatus.

The Corolla Hatchback and Touring Sports estate will replace the previous Auris range and, for the first time in over two decades, a four-door Corolla Saloon will join the model line-up, intended to partly replace the Avensis.

Designed and engineered specifically for the European market, the new Corolla is underpinned by the ‘Toyota New Global Architecture’ (TNGA) GA-C platform, which also supports the latest generations of the Prius saloon and C-HR crossover. Already finely honed on those two models, it gifts the new Corolla range with enhanced driving dynamics and facilitates higher levels of safety technology.

The Corolla Hatchback and Touring Sports are manufactured at Toyota’s Burnaston facility in Derbyshire, while the Saloon is produced in Toyota’s Arifiye plant in Turkey, which was strategically chosen due to its location to certain European markets where its take-up will be greater.

Orders for the full range of the 12th generation Toyota Corolla opened last month and first deliveries are expected late March.

Last week, I joined Toyota UK near the coastal town of Canyamel, northwest Mallorca, to drive all three Corolla body styles and assess the range of UK-bound drivetrains. As you might expect of a triple-model launch event, there were rather a lot of pictures taken and notes made…

 

Design - Corolla Hatchback
Larger than the Auris hatchback it replaces, the car is now 40mm longer and rides 25mm lower. Front and rear overhangs have been reduced by 20mm each, affording a longer wheelbase.

The lower edge of the windscreen has been reduced by a significant 47mm, allowing a sleeker shape, a lower bonnet line and better forward visibility.


The rear houses new, all-LED light clusters and has a more rounded design than the outgoing Auris. The tailgate is made from a resin material to reduce overall curb weight.

There are nine exterior paint colours, plus a range of four bi-tone paint options which combine the chosen body colour with a metallic black roof, front and rear pillars and door mirrors.

Design - Corolla Touring Sports
Available only in Europe, the new Touring Sports shares frontal styling with the Hatchback, but every panel rear of the B-pillar is exclusive to the estate model.


At 2,700mm, the wheelbase is 100mm longer than the previous Auris TS and both front and rear overhangs have been reduced. Overall, the Touring Sports is 58mm longer than the previous Auris estate.

Design - Corolla Saloon
Wishing to present the Saloon as a more prestigious model than the Hatchback and Touring Sports, Toyota gave the front of the saloon a more mature and contemporary design and no panels are shared with its two other Corolla siblings.


The inside story

Towards the end of its UK run, the interior of the Auris was looking rather tired and lagging behind its European competitors. The new Corolla now has one of the plushest interiors in its class and, understandably, as you walk up the range, the better it gets.

Top-end spec models get a smart leather-wrapped dashboard, but even on the range-entry model, the interior design and use of quality materials is a welcome first impression.

Depending on trim level, a seven-inch digital dashboard display is available, as are eight-inch and 10-inch infotainment displays, with head-up display and wireless phone charging also on offer. Touchscreens offers clear, crisp graphics and responds quickly inputs.

 

Trim grades and equipment

The Hatchback and Touring Sports are available in four trim grades: Icon, Icon Tech, Design and Excel, whereas the Saloon is offered in the first three and drops the Excel trim grade. It’s a little at odds with the ‘prestige’ label placed by Toyota on the Saloon as buyers might expect the top Excel trim to be available and not the range-entry Icon grade, thus positioning the Saloon a little more up-market.

Standard equipment is good and includes automatic LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, eight-inch Toyota Touch2 infotainment unit, DAB radio, a 4.2-inch colour multi-info display, e-Call system, heated front seats with lumbar support, reversing camera and Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver aids.

Icon Tech adds navigation and voice controlled functions, a seven-inch colour info display, parking sensors with parking assist and intelligent clearance sonar. Leasing the Design trim adds 17-inch alloys, auto wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear privacy glass, electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors with automatic folding function, LED fog lamps and optional opening panoramic roof.

Top spec Excel gets 18-inch alloys (Hatchback only, TS stays with 17’s), bi-LED lights, smart keyless entry, part-leather sports seats and interior illumination.

A glaring omission is the absence of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay from either the standard or optional kit list. Apparently, Toyota is ‘looking into it’ and both should be available ‘within a year or so’. There is no guarantee that it’ll be available to existing customers as a retrofit option.

While other manufacturers drop the mic in this critical, youth-focussed arena - particularly on the hatchback, Toyota has dropped the ball.

 

Practicality and boot space

Practicality of the interior space is on a par with the Ford Focus and VW Golf. Four adults will enjoy a comfortable journey inside all three body styles, with those in the back of the Touring Sports benefitting from slightly more headroom.

From the driver's seat, the narrow A-pillars offer excellent visibility through the windscreen and in the mirrors, which are mounted to afford a greater field of view than was the case for the Auris.

As you'd expect, the biggest difference between the Hatchback, Touring Sports and Saloon is in boot capacity, which varies according to engine choice.

The Hatchback offers a paltry 313 litres to a reasonable 361 litres, while the Touring Sports presents 581 or 598 litres, which is good for the class. Saloon boot space is a healthy 471 litres with a 60:40 rear split adding to functionality.

Toyota has yet to publish figures for all three body styles, with the rear seats folded down.

 

Engines and transmissions

At launch, there are three powertrain options; a conventional non-hybrid 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine sending power via a six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels. It delivers an adequate 114bhp and 180Nm of torque and is available on the Hatchback and Touring Sports models only.

Two hybrid options are available, a 1.8-litre (120bhp / 142Nm) and 2.0-litre (178bhp / 190Nm). Both are paired with a CVT transmission and are available on the Hatchback and Touring Sports. The Saloon, meanwhile, is offered with only the 1.8-litre hybrid and CVT drivetrain.

 

First-drive impression

The new Corolla enjoys a MacPherson strut front suspension set-up and a multilink layout at the rear, supported by anti-roll bars. The overall arrangement allows exceptional ride quality, regardless of body style chosen.


The new TNGA platform offers an improved driving position, a lower centre of gravity and a 60 per cent increase in body rigidity – sound building blocks for polished road manners.


When under way, the Corolla’s sophisticated new character is evident as soon as it strikes a bump, the effect of which is negated with a comfortable pliancy worthy of a car several classes higher. The steering is accurate and keen drivers will be impressed that it handles with the kind of quietly capable enthusiasm that instils confidence for more enthusiastic cornering.


On the options list are adaptive dampers that can either stiffen the Corolla’s suspension to sharpen how the car feels or relax it, depending on your mood. However, even on standard suspension, the Corolla irons out bumps better than a lot of alternatives, making it a great and highly-refined long distance car.

 

Safety

All versions of new Corolla are equipped as standard with the latest version of Toyota Safety Sense, a suite of active safety technologies designed to help prevent or mitigate collisions across a wide range of driving scenarios.

It includes such technology as pre-collision warning and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

The new Corolla range has yet to undergo EuroNCAP safety testing, but when considering the myriad of active and passive safety kit on board – the critical areas of which are standard fit – there should be little reason for the car to not be awarded a full five stars.

 

SUMMARY

Highly recommended

From a launch range of 21 models, whichever Corolla you choose to match your work-life balance, the Corolla is an exceptional car with an appealing blend of good looks, urban refinement, a comfortable ride, precise handling and solid build quality.

While the CVT drivetrain won’t please the more enthusiastic driver, the Corolla has relatively few faults compared with the opposition. Leasing customers may look past these and instead be attracted by the benefits of low CO2 emissions and the resulting gains from every day running costs.

Browse our latest top leasing deals on the 2019 Toyota Corolla.