MOTORS REVIEW: Toyota Corolla

BRITISH-built cars look set to become a rare thing with the prospect of Honda closing its Swindon plant and Nissan shifting its X-Trail production plans to Japan.

But the arrival of Toyota’s latest hatchback from its Derbyshire manufacturing plant managed to trigger a mix of national pride and nostalgia as it also heralded the return of the Corolla nameplate.

Replacing the Auris hatchback, the Corolla has been launched in both hatchback and Touring Sports (estate) guise and delivers something no previous Corolla could deliver — a part-electric hybrid drivetrain.

That the brand is now exploring a new split strategy with the aim of delivering low running costs and improved dynamics delivered by way of two hybrid drivetrain options, the 1.8-litre combustion enginebased 122PS version tested here and a more powerful twolitre 180PS system.

Add to that a centre of gravity that’s been lowered by 10mm, multilink rear suspension and a 60 per cent more rigid body and the new Corolla looks like the start of something quite appealing as the brand simultaneously underlines its sporty credentials with the launch of a new Supra sports car.

Tested here is the range-topping Excel trim Corolla, which comes in at £27,350, and it was immediately more striking in the metal than any Toyota hatchback of recent times.

I’m not sure I subscribe to the designers’ view that the front grille echoes “a catamaran hull shape”, but sculptural elements are exemplified by a boot made from a composite material which allowed the creation of swoops and curves.

Excel trim features LED headlights offering automatic high beam and fog lights to the standard cars LED daytime running lights and there is a sizeable set of 18-inch alloys too.

Toyota has long been the maker of my most comfortable non-premium seats, and the Corolla’s heated front seats offer excellent support.

Neatly-stitched part-Alcantara trim and matching stitching on the tactile leather-rimmed dashboard look and feel a little more Lexus than Toyota.

While the Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system once felt cutting edge, though — and it does incorporate a reversing camera — its graphics look a little old-school and the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring compounds the problem.

Another grumble in my test car was the a fault which rendered the standard-fit adaptive cruise control system inactive.

A lack of rear legroom compared to key rivals and a 337-litre boot also lost the Corolla a few points.

As well as the features already mentioned, however, Excel trim includes keyless entry and push button starting, and a host of safety kit which delivers five stars on the Euro NCAP safety tests.

Where the Corolla excels is in its fuel consumption and emissions levels, with diesel-rivalling 55.4 to 65.9mpg and 83g/km CO2 emissions claims.

On the road the 122PS hybrid drivetrain can feel light on power at part throttle.

Toyota claims a 10.9 second acceleration to 62mph and a 112mph top speed.

As ever, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic gearbox fitted, faster progress is accompanied by the coarse revs of a workmanlike petrol engine.

True to Toyota’s claims, though, the Corolla’s predictable helm is complimented by a chassis that displays a degree of adjustability which allows the drive to trim a line or turn-in quickly on a trailing throttle.

It’s more fun than I’d anticipated.

All-in-all the Corolla impressed with its new styling, more dynamic and high quality feel.

More compact than some key rivals, though, it might be that families look towards the larger Touring Sports version for ultimate satisfaction in their search for a new, British-built steer.