Why have a chuntering box for a van if you can have a smart hybrid estate instead?

Why we’re running it:  To see if this hybrid can strike the sweet spot between a car and a van

Month 1 - Month 2 - Month 3 - Month 4Specs

Toyota corolla commercial offroad

Toyota's cruise control is great - 24 April

I don’t know how people who are not motoring journalists feel about this, but I love conventional cruise control and in most circumstances dislike adaptive cruise control. I basically use it as a hand throttle, changing lanes and overtaking as necessary. Most cars with adaptive control don’t let you switch to standard mode, but the current generation of Toyotas do. Excellent.

Mileage: 19,356

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 8

Dishonest trip meter exposed, while B mode gets a fair hearing - 10 April

A few weeks ago I mentioned my intention to be a bit more scientific about calculating the Corolla's fuel consumption.

Annoyingly, the thing is just too darn fuel efficient, and I still only have a sample size of a handful of fill-ups. Still, it's enough data to conclude that, actually, it's a bit of a liar and tends to over-read by a couple of miles per gallon.

Hardly verdict-altering stuff: high 50s instead of low 60s is still pretty good, and I still think the car is generally excellent. I find the misreading computer quite odd; surely it's not beyond Toyota's engineers to make it accurate, and I can't imagine they're doing it to catch out lazy journalists.

Anyway, economy has recently improved further, but I'm not sure whether that's thanks to rising temperatures or because I got round to setting the tyre pressures. Probably a bit of both, given that the Corolla has a battery to condition and does a pretty good job of keeping the cabin warm even when the engine isn't running.

While we're on the subject of fuel economy, I thought it was worth a closer look at the Corolla's hybrid system, and I'll start with a clarification: a few weeks ago I mentioned the B mode on the gear selector as a loathe it', which prompted a letter from a reader.

First off, loathe is a hyperbolic way to describe my feelings, but years ago someone thought it was a catchy heading, and it's remained part of the template for these reports ever since. More accurate would be that I find it less useful than it could be, but that's not quite as punchy.


Read our review

Car review

Toyota’s Brit-built crack at the Golf class is also a new-groove performance hybrid

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As a reminder, while the B mode in most EVs and hybrids ramps up the regenerative braking, in hybrid Toyotas, it works to keep the engine on when decelerating and the revs up for more engine braking.

As a result, if you were to drive in B mode all the time, you would get significantly worse economy. To be clear, that's not what I'm doing. My point is that I never have cause to use it, and it would be more useful if it acted like the B mode in most EVs.

The brake pedal in the Corolla is nicely progressive and the gauge cluster shows neatly the point where you're moving from regen to the friction brakes, but it would still be useful to quickly max out the regen with a B mode.

As it is, B mode does make the engine more responsive, so you might use it as a kind of sport mode, but I prefer to leave it in Eco because the effect is still superficial. That aside, Toyota hybrids seem to be the only cars whose Eco mode makes them nicer to drive.

Rather than render the powertrain apparently gutless, it seems to dull the initial part of the throttle pedal in order to keep you within the electric motor's capability.

Because electric motors have instant response, this feels adequate for a lot of town and suburban driving; once the engine fires up, the software seems to use as much electric power as possible to keep the engine revs down.

That's good for both fuel economy and dulling the CVT effect. In this latest generation of Toyota hybrids, the typical CVT 'mooing' has been significantly reduced anyway. You wouldn't want this system in a sporty car, but for the Corolla it's perfect.

It remains fairly quiet even when you floor it, and the lack of gearchanges means it's always smooth. As a stress-free and economical way of getting around, the Corolla still takes some beating.

Hot stuff

Even the lowliest Corollas come with heated seats – and a pair of massive rocker switches with which to operate them.

Display displeasure

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I’m not asking for a bigger screen, but the small screen in the big bezel is ugly and doesn’t help forward visibility

Mileage: 19,111

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It seems to run out of wiper fluid pretty fast... - 4 April

I was a bit miffed when I got back into the Corolla after some colleagues had been in it, as I pulled the wiper stalk and the washers pathetically spit some fluid before dying entirely. Either someone has been drinking it or the van lacks a warning for low washer fluid. Hardly a deal-breaker but suboptimal nonetheless.

Mileage: 18,997 

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 7

Everyone in the office seems to like you when you’ve got a van - 13 March

The rule when you run a van as a long-termer on a car magazine is that, before you know it, people will come out of the woodwork asking to borrow it because they need to move house.

Indeed, I'd been the custodian of the Corolla for less than a month when in came an email from Damon Cogman, art editor on our sibling title Classic & Sports Car.

Because I'm keen to give the Corolla the chance to fulfil its destiny as a van, I duly handed over the keys. I thought he might complain about how small it was, but it turns out the Corolla was ideally suited to the task. Damon said the cargo area easily swallowed a chest of drawers, as well as countless odds and ends.

It had a few other surprising trump cards. Vans tend to have very firmly sprung rear axles to cope with lots of payload, but the Corolla Commercial just retains the estate's suspension. It might limit how much weight you can ultimately carry, but the compliant suspension also means that any precious cargo isn't jostled or shaken about. The hybrid system's smooth power take-up does the same when accelerating and braking.

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This also seems like a good time to talk about what actually constitutes a van. As far as I'm concerned, this Corolla is just a standard estate with ride-improving 15in wheels. The one thing that regularly reminds me it's not, however, is the blindspots.

As part of the Corolla estate's transformation into a van, the rear electric windows are disabled and a blackout film is applied to all of the rear side windows (but not the rear windscreen).

That creates quite a blindspot, and without the benefit of either electronic blindspot monitoring (available on the top trim of the normal Corolla but not on the Commercial) or the huge side mirrors you get in a more typical van, it's one you're very aware of.

It's especially the case when I'm leaving my usual parking space, as it involves backing out of a hedge-lined lane and trusting that the traffic on the main road is attentive enough not to T-bone me. So my first thought was: why don't I just peel the blackout film off the windows? With a bit of help from a hairdryer, it can't be hard, surely?

The reason why not is the law. Well, it's the murky waters of tax and guidance thereon, mainly. The Corolla Commercial is termed as a 'car-derived van' or CDV. They're defined as vans that are based on the same design as a car and can't weigh more than two tonnes fully loaded (so don't expect to see many electric CDVs).

They can't have any rear seats, rear seatbelts or mountings, and if rear side windows are present, they must be made opaque and fixed. In other words, peeling off those stickers would get you in hot water with the tax man, given they are a condition of the Corolla Commercial's low, £700 yearly company van tax rate. I have been wondering why someone would pick a Corolla Commercial over a more conventional van, and while it's a niche pink, I'm starting to see it.

If you don't have a huge amount to carry, the additional refinement, driving dynamics when empty and fuel economy might well swing it. The Corolla's CDV status gets it another benefit over normal vans: you don't have to stay under 60mph on dual carriageways.

Love it

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Big gearlever

Sure, it could be replaced by a toggle and a cubby, but I like the mechanical interaction. And unlike a toggle, it never disobeys you.

Loathe it 


I wish the B-mode on the gear selector just ramped up the regen. Instead, it also fires up the engine for maximum engine braking.

Mileage: 18,666

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Accurate economy is another bonus - 20 February

Since I took over the Corolla van, I’ve been trying to do brim-to-brim measurements for its consumption. This is actually quite tricky, because after the fuel nozzle first clicks off, it will take another three litres or so. On a total capacity of 43 litres, that means quite a big margin of error. A couple more fill-ups are needed, but it does seem to be pretty true to the readout, at around 57mpg

Mileage: 18,319

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The spec of our Commercial could have been tailor-made for its new custodian - 7 February

I was supposed to run the Mazda MX-30 you may have seen in last week's issue, but over Christmas I swapped cars with Jack Harrison, the Corolla's previous custodian, and I rather fell for the wheel-trimmed wonder.

He needed four seats. I didn't. So a deal was struck. What particularly charmed me was the spec, which is as basic as a modern Corolla gets and such a nice breather from all the superfluous tinsel that most modern cars have.

Let's run through some of its spec. Alloy wheels? Nope. Steel wheels and wheel trims. They used to be the norm but are now a bit of a novelty.

And they deserve a comeback, not least because they're virtually impossible to kerb - and if you do, a fresh set of four will cost a few tenners. The 65-aspect ratio of the 15in tyres also improves the ride, which can be slightly crashy on Corollas with 18in wheels.

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Leather seats? No thanks. Leatherette seats? Please spare me. The cloth seats in the Corolla are warm in winter and breathable in summer. I don't get the luxury appeal of leather and I'm glad to be rid of it. They are heated, though.

That's controlled by a pair of huge rocker switches that you can easily stab without looking, or while wearing gloves. Best of all: no need to wait for a screen to boot up before you can turn them on.

Talking of manual control: wipers. I've not found any rain-sensing wipers that get it completely right, so I always end up fiddling with the stalk. I might as well control the intermittent setting myself, and the Corolla lets me.

The Corolla also lacks auto-dipping mirrors. You lose a lot of detail with the mirrors dipped, so I like to have control over it. One more: it has a manual tailgate.

Some big, heavy SUVs have big, heavy tailgates, so I do see the point of an electric tailgate in those, but in a compact estate car they just make opening the boot a lot slower.

It's a far cry from the poverty spec' cars you used to be able to buy, though. The seats are really comfortable, there's cruise control, Apple CarPlay lets me stream music and it has a super-smooth automatic gearbox.

It's just modern where it needs to be, without trying to reinvent the wheel. That said, the campaign for the rehabilitation of the wheel trim starts here.

Love it 

Steering wheel

It is round and has a thin rim. Not fashionable, perhaps, but better for actually feeling what the car is doing.

Loathe it

Maximum driver height

At 6ft 2in, my driving position is one click away from the seat rubbing against the bulkhead.

Mileage: 17,800

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 6

Our van rattles more than the standard Corolla - 24 January

I’ve been very spoiled by rattle-free new cars, so whenever I get into one that does make an annoying noise, it gets amplified in my head to an air-raid siren. The Corolla van’s load bay floor is just a large board of plywood that rests on some plastic pegs. Simple problems have simple solutions: some felt furniture pads later, peace was restored.

Mileage: 17,456

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It's frugal but it has a small tank... - 17 January

BONG! That’s the sound of the Corolla’s low fuel alert, something you’ll hear depressingly often. Sure, its tank is on the smaller side – it’s only 43 litres – but it seems to need a confidence kick. Time and again I’ve pulled in to fill up with 10 miles of indicated range left, only for there to be 10 litres left in the tank. Odd. 

Mileage: 17,045

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Toyota's famed reliability doesn't extent to the infotainment - 10 January

The Corolla van’s Apple CarPlay has suddenly started playing up – annoying, because it’s all I tend to use for audio and sat-nav. Sometimes it will connect first time just fine but other times it requires repeated attempts to pair the two, culminating in a lot of mashing the ‘connect’ button. More than once I’ve had to restart the whole system to make it work.

Mileage: 16,358

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 5

Turns out there’s no comfier, more relaxing mile-muncher than a van - 1 November

I think it's fair to say that I rack up the most long-termer miles at Autocar.

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This Corolla first graced the pages of this magazine only in June, yet I've already put a frankly ridiculous 11,000 miles on the clock.

It's rare for me to be taking any photos within two hours of home, and getting anywhere requires a trip down all sorts of A- and B-roads, with an obscene amount of motorway driving too. But you know what? I don't think there's anything on the fleet that I would rather do it in.

This van takes the best bits of a number of cars on our fleet. For example, the floaty ride is truly outstanding.

Sure, a lot of that is probably to do with the tiny wheels (the rims themselves are only 15in, with tyre sidewall taking up 65% of the whole wheel), which alone would soak up the lumps and bumps of Britain's poorly paved road network astoundingly well; but when paired with softly sprung suspension, it's an almost unbeatable package. 

You would have to search far and wide to find something else that's this smooth for similar money in my view. Isolation is another thing worth mentioning. The ride is obviously a part of it, but its quiet enough to hear a penny drop when you're inside; wind noise is barely audible and tyre roar is muted. Stick some Fleetwood Mac on - easily done, thanks to the fast infotainment system, and worth doing, due to the unexpectedly decent sound system - and I've got myself one hell of a long-distance cruiser.

With the active cruise control in full swing and my arm on the perfectly designed central armrest, I can swan up and down motorways all day.

If anything, the Corolla's biggest drawback for me is what will be its biggest strength to most people: its cavernous boot. I could use something with four seats myself, but if you were a self-employed plumber or something like that, I can see why you would love it.

You (and more importantly your partner) would surely be happier in here than in a 'proper' van. It's also absolutely no surprise, given this is a Toyota, that nothing has gone wrong with it. It really is our fleet's golden star.

Love it 

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Mr Inconspicuous 

Sleek enough for the city yet sober enough for everywhere else, it lets me glide about in total anonymity.

Loathe it 

The screen can be blindingly bright at night, but I can adjust it only by going into the settings menu. Can’t I just have little dial?

Mileage: 11,130

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 4

Who needs a Range Rover? - 25 October

Richard Lane’s long-term Range Rover can eat its heart out: as far as I’m concerned, the Corolla has one of the best armrests in the business. Wide enough for driver and passenger to share without awkward elbow rubbing, it’s at just the right height to be incredibly comfortable and is far enough forward that you can really cruise with it. 

Mileage: 10,200

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Corolla's sound system is top drawer - 11 October 

For a van, the Corolla has a weirdly wonderful sound system. It retains the speakers in the rear doors from the regular estate, allowing sound to bounce around the cavernous rear load bay. It’s like a mini opera house back there. The acoustics are better than some other cars I’ve tried with complex and expensive systems made up of 10 speakers or more.

Mileage: 8940

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 3

The Corolla's systems aren't exactly relaxing - 20 September

Our Corolla Commercial van really wants me to know what awaits down the road, which it does by treating me as if I’m in an airport. When I hear a friendly but firm voice call out ‘attention’ through the speakers, I have about five seconds to guess whether she will be warning me about slow traffic, queuing traffic or standstill traffic ahead.

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Mileage: 8256

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 2

Of course, practicality is the Commercial's strong point - 16 August

There are endless cubbyholes in the cabin to stop things rattling about or being left on display, with ample space for your phone, wallet and keys in the centre slot alone. The heated seat switches, just ahead of the gear selector on the centre console, are ideally sited to sneakily turn on your passenger’s one if you are feeling a bit mischievous, too.

Mileage: 5839

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Our electrified Corolla is a noisy machine - 2 August

My hybrid van’s electric motors make some very strange noises. They clunk and groan like nothing else I’ve ever been in, even ticking like a well-hidden time bomb every now and then. While I’m on this topic, the noise that emanates from the car at low speeds is actually louder than that from the four-cylinder petrol engine, due to pedestrian safety regulations.

Mileage: 5100

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Life with a Toyota Corolla Commercial: Month 1

Lights that alert you to potential danger can sometimes be literally a lifesaver - 26 July

One of my main gripes with modern cars – shared with my colleagues, my family and very nearly everyone I’ve ever talked to about them – is the overzealous warning system that can be an absolute pain in the proverbial to turn off.

In the Corolla, though, the vast majority of these systems just make sense. Included in the £29,440 base price is lane keeping assistance, active cruise control, emergency steering assistance and collision avoidance, all working thanks to a small radar system hidden away behind the front grille. The best part about it? Unlike a few other systems I’ve tried, they actually work and aren’t too overbearing.

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The active cruise control is simply sublime. Although it’s initially complicated to activate (you need to hit the buttons in the right order, or you’ll simply be given a pretty unhelpful message telling you to go and check the owner’s manual and come back once you know what you’re doing), it’s one of the best things you could ask for in slow-moving traffic. When active, it takes control of the accelerator and brakes and seriously firms up the steering, gently suggesting to you that you really ought to leave it alone as it knows what it’s doing.

I thought I’d hate not being in total control of it, but it’s so good that I learned to trust it quite quickly. Feel like you’re a bit close to the car in front? Just adjust the distance, easily done from a button on the steering wheel. Want to set it up to go to a higher speed? Again, easily controlled from the wheel. Its only shortcoming is that it’s quite nervous when it comes to overtaking on the motorway. If you’re approaching a car, it will start braking before you reach it unless you pull out incredibly early. Because of this, as nice as adaptive cruise is, I tend to reach for the more traditional speed-set cruise control on fast-moving roads.

Toyota corolla dials

The radar also has other uses. It scans the road ahead for obstacles – pedestrians, parked cars, that sort of thing – and reacts accordingly. While it can be annoying at times (it really likes to go absolutely ballistic when you’re coming up to a parked car on a narrow street, thinking that you’re about to smash right into them), at others it’s a non-hyperbolic lifesaver.

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I was driving on an unlit dual carriageway on a pitch-black night, not wanting to use high beams due to the volume of traffic on the other side of the road. Suddenly, the car decided to flash the headlights twice in very quick succession, revealing a cyclist in all black with no lights cruising along the white line. The flash, caused when the radar picked up the hazard about 75m away, allowed me to take evasive action, leaving the all-but-invisible menace unharmed. I dread to think how it might have turned out if I’d been going by the candlelight-rivalling bulbs of my Fiat Coupé…

I’ve also found the auto-hold feature pretty useful. This activates at first when you press a button in the centre console, then in every case when you press the brake pedal all the way down while at a standstill. What’s not useful is how you’ve got to remember to turn it back on whenever you start the car. That gets incredibly annoying incredibly quickly.

What makes it even worse is that every other assist remains set to whatever you chose last time, but this one doesn’t. I’m hardly the most forgetful person, but it keeps catching me out – fine on an empty street, slightly alarming when you start rolling forward while waiting for a gap at a busy roundabout.

Love it

Infotainment set-up

The interior screen is pretty much the perfect size – large enough to see clearly without being overbearing – as well as fast and easy to navigate

Loathe it

Put your foot down!

Our Corolla Commercial’s CVT gearbox has very poor throttle response even with hybrid assistance, making it harder to go for gaps in traffic than it should be.

Mileage: 4867

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The Corolla van is spacious, but not all-encasing - 12 July 

I was slightly shocked to discover that, due to a high boot floor and narrow wheel arches, my dad’s drum kit and speakers wouldn’t quite fit in the back of the Corolla van, considering that it comfortably fits in his Skoda Octavia Estate. It has redeemed itself by swallowing the contents of a friend’s university flat and their bicycle, though. 

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Mileage: 4580 

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Welcoming the Corolla to the fleet - 28 June 2023

Us photographers are an annoying breed: we insist on journalists driving cars out to the middle of nowhere, will always ask for one more pass and will always have a frankly ridiculous amount of kit to hand, just in case.

You would think a van would be our perfect method of transport, then, right? Well, as much kit as we have, they are if anything probably a little too big for us. Plus, thieves have a habit of viewing vans as oversized lucky-dip boxes.

So what do you do if you need a reasonable but not ridiculously large amount of cargo space in an inconspicuous package? You go for a car-based van, such as my new Toyota Corolla Commercial.

From a distance, it looks like a standard Corolla Touring Sports estate. It’s only when you get close that you notice the rear windows are blocked off with a black film (designed to make its van identity as hard to realise as possible) and you realise all is not as it initially seems.

Toyota corolla commercial parked at a dock

It has the same ‘self-charging’ hybrid system as its rear-seated cousin, with a 1.8-litre four-pot petrol engine, an electric motor and a small battery. That means there’s a total of 138bhp on tap, delivered to the front wheels through an e-CVT.

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There’s a fair amount of goodies included for the £24,533 (excluding VAT) base price too, including a rear-view camera, heated seats and an infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Although they are mechanically identical and almost visually so too, the differences between the Corolla car and Corolla van are immediately obvious once you open the latter’s rear doors and find that the back seats are missing (something required by law in order for anything to qualify for commercial vehicle tax benefits).

They have been replaced by a cavernous 1326-litre cargo bay and a full-metal bulkhead grille for separation between the driver and the load being transported. I’m so used to seeing seats inside a car like this that it looks simply massive, but it’s not quite as spacious as even the smallest ‘proper’ vans.

For example, the smallest Toyota Proace City variant has a load bay of 3300 litres, despite being 247mm shorter overall. Still, I’m able to transport objects up to 1860mm long and 1430mm wide.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a normal rear screen. That’s great for driving because the blacked-out side windows create blind spots large enough to lose a medium-size container ship in, but it means that whatever I leave in the back is on full display to the world.

The payload is 435kg, which sounds like a lot until you compare it with the aforementioned Proace City’s 650kg load-lugging capability. Heck, even the standard Corolla estate can carry 100kg more than our new long-termer in certain specifications.

This decreased carrying capacity is offset by the driving characteristics, though. As you would expect, this ‘van’ just feels like a car. The control weights are light around town but the steering is firm and stable at high speeds, while I’ve also been impressed by the quietness, comfort and fuel economy – all things that you want in a vehicle prone to being driven for exceedingly long periods.

Toyota corolla commercial parked outside a house

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Although it glides smoothly over the appalling roads around my local town of Poole, the rear feels much more softly sprung than the front, giving the car a tendency to rock back and forth for a bit after hitting large bumps. It’s not unpleasant, but it does take a little bit of getting used to.

The radar-guided adaptive cruise control is a real stress-reducer in traffic, as the car does all the work for me, with the incredibly heavy steering and accurate lane keeping assistance seeming like they would be happiest with no human intervention in the slightest.

If that’s not your cup of tea, these two systems can be turned off via the controls on the steering wheel, while other safety equipment such as automatic collision avoidance can be disabled in the menus. Best of all, it remembers your preferences for next time – which isn’t always the case on other cars.

The powertrain is keen to stay in electric mode around town, only really using the combustion engine under acceleration and above speeds of around 30mph, and the power delivery feels incredibly smooth.

The claimed WLTP figure of 64mpg seems somewhat optimistic, but even with my feet of lead, I’ve managed to average 60mpg overall so far, and a recent hour-long motorway run with fairly heavy traffic yielded an incredibly impressive 72.6mpg figure.

So, it’s big, it’s comfy and it’s economical. On first impressions, I’m going to have to try quite hard to find things to moan about during my time with this Toyota, and I doubt that “my dog doesn’t like it” would be a valid criticism.

Second Opinion

Jack’s Corolla is up there with the best vans, mainly because it doesn’t look like one. It does all those vital tasks so easily that it should be a winner for his job. One area where it may come unstuck is passenger room. He and I aren’t blessed in the leg department, yet even for us the seat is just a few inches off the bulkhead.

Piers Ward

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Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT- i Commercial specification

Specs: Price New £29,440 Price as tested £29,956 Options Silver metallic paint, £525

Test Data: Engine 138bhp at 5200rpm Torque 104lb ft at 3600rpm Kerb weight 1410kg Top speed 112mph 0-62mph 11.1sec Fuel economy (claimed) 61mpg CO2 105g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
Commenter 14 January 2024
Toyota may be doing itself a disservice in not selling this as Caldina as the original avensis was in Japan, given the wheelbase, space and driving characteristics. This really is not a van, just an estate without rear seats.
LP in Brighton 20 July 2023

Nice pretty pictures of the "van", but not a single one showing the load bay? 

We all know what a Corolla Estate looks like from the outside, maybe the photographer wasn't briefed, or the interior shots weren't interesting or arty enough...

LP in Brighton 19 July 2023

We seem to have come a full circle with people buying vans half a century ago for tax benefit, then installing rear windows and seats to convert to a small estate. 

Presumably that's no longer possible in 2023 since any such modification would invalidate insurance and would be picked up during the MOT test? 

But well done Toyota (and others) for spotting a market opportunity and exploiting it!