What Car? says...
So, you don’t want a diesel. The petrol cars you’ve looked at aren’t frugal enough and a pure electric car simply won’t cover the mileage you need. It’s a common conundrum for the modern car buyer, but before you tear your hair out, there could be an answer: a hybrid, like the Toyota Corolla.
Now, some hybrids need to be charged up overnight to get the best from them, but you don’t have to worry about any of that business with the Corolla; you simply treat it like a regular petrol car and let it sort out the electrical nitty gritty for itself. It has a small electric motor, to improve fuel economy or performance as necessary, and a little battery, which is charged by recovering energy from the brakes whenever you slow down.
Put simply, the Corolla offers many of the same advantages as Toyota’s own Prius, but with far more conventional looks. But how does it square up against rival hybrid family cars, such as the Hyundai Ioniq? And should you consider a Corolla over conventionally powered big-hitters, which include the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia?
Stay with us over the next few pages and we’ll tell you all you need to know. And don’t forget, if you want to buy a Toyota Corolla, or indeed any other new car, head over to New Car Buying pages to find out how much you could save without any awkward haggling.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The entry-level 1.8 Petrol Hybrid 122 has a modest 120bhp, which means a relatively leisurely 10.9sec from 0-62mph. That's noticeably slower than a Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost 125 petrol, but its acceleration is still perfectly adequate for everyday driving, including on motorways. The only time you’ll really wish for a bit more oomph is when you need to overtake dawdling motorists on country roads.
Fortunately, the 177bhp 2.0 Petrol Hybrid 184 is much punchier and responds far more eagerly when you squeeze its accelerator pedal. It’s far from a hot hatch, but definitely better suited to outside-lane motorway driving, making swift progress much less stressful.
Suspension and ride comfort
Fancy a bit of pampering? Well, forget the spa and buy yourself a Corolla instead because, along with the VW Golf, it's one of the most comfortable cars in the class. It has softer suspension than, say, the Ford Focus, so it smoothes off the rough edges of road ridges better and fidgets less on a patchy section of motorway.
The trade-off is a little more body bounce along undulating roads than you get in some rivals, but the majority of buyers will consider this a small price to pay for the Corolla's comfort advantages. The only thing we'd say is avoid the bigger 18in wheels fitted to the GR Sport and Excel trims; they don't ruin the ride, but certainly add some extra jingle-jangle.
When driven in a leisurely fashion, the Corolla handles well enough. The steering is pretty accurate and builds weight in a predictable, reassuring fashion. There’s a decent feeling of composure as well, provided you don't expect really quick changes of direction.
When you start to push harder, though, you notice that the Corolla is less keen to tuck its nose in to corners than a Focus or even a Golf, running out of front-end grip sooner. Put simply, if you want a car that’ll have you grinning on a challenging road, there are better options. Otherwise, you’ll have few complaints.
Don't expect any more thrills from the sporty-looking GR Sport trim. It really is just a trim level; there's no added tautness thrown in to improve the handling.
Noise and vibration
One great thing about hybrids is how hushed they are when you’re just pootling around town. Because the electric motor can manage on its own in stop-start traffic, progress is virtually silent and, when the petrol engine cuts in to assist, it doesn’t spoil the peace too much.
Yet on faster roads, particularly those with inclines, the petrol engine begins to whine away noticeably. The blame for this lies with the Corolla’s CVT automatic gearbox, which causes engine revs to soar abruptly during moderate to hard acceleration and stay high until you reach cruising speed. This issue is more pronounced in the 1.8 than the punchier 2.0-litre.
Tyre and wind noise in the 1.8-litre aren't as well suppressed as they might be – road noise is especially noticeable with bigger 18in alloys fitted – and a Focus is much more hushed at a steady 70mph. The 2.0-litre hybrid is better, benefiting from 'acoustic' side glass that seals out more noise. Meanwhile, regenerative brakes (all hybrids and electric cars have these) can make it tricky to slow your progress smoothly. Thankfully, the Corolla's brakes are less grabby than those of most hybrids, so generally you can draw to a halt gently without jolting your passengers.