Review: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

What makes this the world’s best-selling car?

By the time you’ve read this review, Toyota will have sold two more Corollas somewhere in the world. The Japanese company sold a million of these last year and it is certifiably the best-selling car in the world. Some people might find this strange, while others, like myself, can easily comprehend and appreciate the depth of quality and continuity inherent in the Corolla.

It’s been around since 1966, is currently in its 12th generation and there have been well over 45 million examples built and sold across the world. The car tested is the 2019 Corolla, in hatchback and hybrid guise. It is also available as a saloon variant and estate version (known for some reason as the Touring Sports). In the UK along with a large proportion of the Toyota model line-up, it’s now only available as a hybrid. At launch it was offered with a 1.2-litre petrol non-hybrid option, but now it’s only available as either a 1.8 or 2.0 hybrid putting out 120bhp and 184bhp respectively.

The actual car tested was the 1.8 hybrid which drives the front wheels through a CVT automatic gearbox. It’s capable of reaching 112mph and accelerating from 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds – which doesn’t sound like much but belies the lively initial acceleration available. There may be a case for starting to measure cars by the 0-30mph yardstick in future especially as a) it’s more relevant to real-world city driving and b) that’s where hybrid and electric cars are strongest.

It’s also very fuel efficient with 55-66mpg quoted – my driving easily saw over 51mpg – and emissions are just 83g/km. Trim levels include basic, Design, Sport and Excel with prices starting from £24k. This car is the range-topping Excel at just over £27k.

This is the best-looking Corolla ever – aside from the Levin or Sprinter Trueno also known as the iconic original 86, and then there’s the square-box fourth generation 1979 ‘E70’ version, which was Toyota’s BMW E30 3 Series moment. Strong and robust, it’s still a popular car in many parts of the subcontinent and even the Arab world. Okay, so perhaps the latest car isn’t the ‘best-looking’ after all, but it’s certainly the sleekest and smoothest, with great surfacing and contours particularly in hatchback guise.

Low-slung and sporty it may be, but it remains as practical as ever with a decent sized boot including underfloor compartments and a handy tyre compressor and repair kit instead of a spare tyre. There are 60/40 split-folding rear seats too. Talking of which, it proved a little tighter than I’d anticipated for my 6ft 2in frame when trying to squeeze in behind the driver’s seat also set for my height. It’s just about manageable and should be fine for regular-sized adults front and back, but if your family is on the taller side, you should just test it out with everyone in it before buying.

There are no issues with headroom though and it offers delightful seat trim, handy extra cupholders and additional rear a/c vents all making it a nice place to be. Of course, there are child seat ISOFIX anchor points in the back too. Despite its styling, it retains sufficient glass area to not feel at all claustrophobic in the rear.

Up front there are two digital screens with the instrument panel also serving up information about the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, your own driving score based on your smooth use of throttle and brake – which becomes something of a driving challenge (I got up to 95/100) – and a display of the hybrid system in action.

That is also available on the main touchscreen which provides all the usual infotainment UI, but strangely did not appear to offer Apple Carplay and Android Auto – surprising as even the Toyota Aygo did. On the centre console is an EV mode to force the car to go full electric at low speeds and in traffic, but this will only last as long as the battery is juiced. You’ll only ever use this mode once and then just let the hybrid system do its thing.

Similarly, the Eco mode seems equally redundant as Normal works just as well, but you may have rare occasion to go into Sports if you find yourself on nice roads out of town. Here the car performed remarkably well, verging on ‘sporty’ as the digital dials even turn red, and livening up the response and eagerness of the car.

But it’s not really a hot hatch in any way, and whilst the car’s composure, grip and ability to deal with mid-corner bumps is impressive, the brakes could do with more response and bite if you are pressing on, and what the Corolla really wants to do is make your life as effortless as possible, and cosset you on the way to wherever you choose to go. This generation Corolla majors on ride and refinement, with a smoothness to proceedings and a quiet, soft manner.

What really stands out is the tight construction of the cabin, the quality fit and finish, and the generally mature and reassuring ambiance of a car built by a thoughtful, diligent and well-established outfit that really does know how to make the world’s best-selling car.

There is no question then, that this is a worthy and duly appropriate title holder. Even if it’s not the car that everyone would want, it’s the car that certainly would suit everyone, and long may its reign continue.

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