Toyota has been making hybrid cars since last century. It is the world leader. So, you might think it has got the hang of the technology by now. The trendsetter was the Prius. Taxi drivers like them.
The latest is the Corolla, one of the industry’s best-selling nameplates. We lost the Corolla per se yonks ago, when it became known as Auris. That was 2007, with production from Toyota’s factory near Derby.
In 2010, with the Auris hybrid, that factory became the first mass producer of hybrids in Europe. The same factory will build a version for Suzuki.
The Corolla name was still in use in some markets, using the Auris as a base. It dates from 1966. It is made all over the world, sometimes carrying General Motors branding. In 2013 Corolla sales passed the 40 million mark, overtaking the Volkswagen Beetle as the highest-selling model in the world, albeit with many variations. Total sales exceed 45 million.
Now the 12th generation is here, sold as a hatchback and a longer bodied saloon and Touring Sports estate car and replacing the Auris. Features out of sight include a much stiffer chassis, a lower centre of gravity and independent rear suspension. It is measurably better.
You can have the estate and hatch with a 1.2 petrol turbo engine giving 114bhp, but nine in ten buyers are expected to choose the 120bhp 1.8 or 178bhp 2-litre petrol hybrid units and automatic gears. The saloon is 1.8 hybrid only. These hybrids have the familiar petrol/electric-set up in which the operation of the car, braking or accelerating, charges the battery which sends power to an electric motor which boosts the petrol engine.
The 1.8 hybrid is rated at 55 to 65mpg and the 2.0 litre at 50 to 60mpg, depending on specifications. The CO2 ratings are as low as 76g. These figures knock the 1.2 model into the long grass.
It has an almost silent start on the battery and is only noisy when you hammer it. There are similar controls in the new RAV4, including the central screen with handy push buttons either side. The economy ranged from high 50s to low 60s. Eco scores, if you want them, are listed amongst the various information such as how the hybrid system is operating – viz, recuperating power to the battery or providing it to the wheels from the battery. The speedo (hard to read said one driver) has the current legal limit displayed, going red if you exceed it.
This Corolla runs smoothly and its handling is up with its peers. Sporty if you want that. I did. I enjoyed its grip and poise and still got a 72 eco score and a “good” rating, so maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Other stuff? The front door pockets are tight for a plump bottle. There is a useful large space under the load deck where you could store a spare tyre. I would: a puncture deflates more than the tyre if your journey is important. That said, how many of us want to tackle changing a wheel – once a common occurrence?
The car’s Achilles Heel was tyre noise. It was on the rarer Falken brand, ZIEX model, made in Turkey and rated for fuel efficiency. The saloon is made in Turkey, too. Burnaston makes the hatch and estate. All use the same Turkish tyres. Maybe they aren’t the cause of the noise. Maybe they are. Maybe the only way to be sure is by fitting some different tyres, perhaps Goodyear, Continental, Pirelli, Michelin, Dunlop or Firestone. There are lots of tyre brands out there wanting business with the car makers as original equipment at the factory. There’s also a chance the car buyer will stick with the brand for a while.
It is some years since I have driven an Auris but it’s likely it has been getting better. It had an awkward start, marking the name change from Corolla and facing the SUV-like Nissan Qashqai, which was also coming to the market from an English factory. Relations who bought an early Auris kept it for years but preferred the Corolla which preceded it for 15 years. Yes, they last. They currently run a 17-year-old Yaris and one a mere six months old. My son and my daughter both have a RAV4, one petrol, one diesel, both more than 10 years old, with a similar history of reliability at MOT time.
Verdict: The new Corolla hybrid surprised me. I hadn’t expected to like it so much.