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Fifth generation of Toyota’s hybrid powertrain for newly upgraded family hatchback

Ford may reckon it’s time to kill the family hatchback in Europe, but the UK-made Toyota Corolla now outsells the formerly market-leading Focus by nearly 20% and its maker therefore begs to differ.

The Japanese giant has just made a wide-ranging series of updates to the Corolla, which currently jousts with the Kia Ceed for second position behind the Volkswagen Golf in our C-segment hatchback market.

The aim, it says, is to keep UK sales steady at their recent annual 18,000-plus level for the next few years while selling the other 85% of the hatchbacks and estates made in the vast, 500-per-day Burnaston plant into 35 export markets, the bulk of them going to the EU.

Toyota corolla road test 2023 26 front cornering

Toyota’s experts are well aware of a decade-long decline in demand in this segment, noting that SUV sales in the same class exceeded hatchbacks for the first time during 2021, but they also say the class is stabilising and that for the next few years volume will stay within two per cent of SUVs.

The updates to the Corolla fall into four areas: cosmetic changes (new headlights, grilles, wheel designs and colour options); a fifth generation of the famous Prius-bred full hybrid system that powers every Corolla; a new suite of driver assistance and active safety systems; and major improvements to the cockpit systems, the clearest signs of which are bigger screens with improved functionality.

Inside, the new combination of a 10.5in central screen and a highly configurable 12.3in ‘combimeter’ moves the Corolla close to the top of the class, especially now there are knobs for most-used functions

There are also now four trim levels: Icon, Design, GR Sport and Excel, Trek having disappeared. Excel and GR share the top rung, the former being a luxury option and the latter sportier in look if not performance.

Toyota corolla road test 2023 28 dash

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Prices start at £30,210 for the 1.8-litre Icon and rise to £35,145 for the 2.0-litre Excel. The Touring Sports bodystyle adds around £1700. All models have a four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, an electric motor, a battery and a CVT.

Both engines have been upgraded. The 1.8-litre is up 14% to 138bhp, the 2.0-litre up 6% to 193bhp. These boosts are best demonstrated by the cars’ sharpened acceleration: the 1.8-litre model’s 0-62mph time improves by 1.8sec to 9.1sec, the 2.0-litre model’s by 0.5sec to 7.4sec.

Closer examination of the powertrain’s minutiae shows why Toyota labels the new Corolla’s set-up as a fifth generation: the control unit is new, there’s a smaller and more powerful battery, the transaxle motor is redesigned to save 16-18kg depending on version and the whole motor-transaxle unit is more compact. The claimed effect is better accelerator response and less of the ‘rubber-band effect’ as the car accelerates.

Our 1.8 Design test car has the familiar Corolla demeanour: a quiet power delivery and a supple suspension that’s quiet over bumps yet keeps a nice degree of body control just the same.

The steering is light and accurate, tightening pleasantly in the most sporting driving mode. Cornering grip is dependable and plentiful, with a neutral stance that tends towards understeer near the limit.

What’s different, as promised, is the accelerator response. The feeling of disconnection between the engine and the progress is much reduced, at least until you give the car its head, although it will still rev pretty high (but smoothly) when pressed hard. At that stage, performance feels impressively strong.

It’s easy to see why Toyota believes this 1.8-litre will be the bigger-selling engine. Toyota integrity is present in spades, but also the Corolla is more of a driver’s car than before. Now, as perhaps not before, it goes as well as it looks.

Toyota corolla road test 2023 37 static

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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highlandtourer 19 February 2023
Surprised that Toyota have still not tackled some of the more practical issues of the Corolla (and other models such as the Yaris) - namely limited rear space in the hatch, poorly designed rear doors (whether assisting kids into car seats or people with limited mobility get out, also a surprising issue with the Yaris) and a smallish and compromised boot (with the design of the exterior overriding interior packaging). For what is essentially a small family car, whilst it is undoubtedly good to modernise the infotainment system and make the previously underpowered 1.8 a bit more competitive, some fundamentals appear to have been forgotten in design over substance.
Tonrichard 14 February 2023

Now that Astra production has ended at Ellesmere Port I would like to see the Police and Fire Service buying British built Corolla Estates. The UK automotive sector needs support and Toyota must be considering whether it's Derby factory has a future with so much of the supply chain in the EU. 

Saucerer 13 February 2023

That the Corolla noew outsells the Focus just shows how the UK has fallen out of love with Ford's cars. Give it a few more years and Ford will just sell the Mustang and commercial vehicles over here.