Is the updated Toyota Corolla the family hatchback of choice?

Across automotive history, there has never been a more popular car than the Toyota Corolla. More than 50 million have rolled out of factories across the globe since 1966 and today, a healthy proportion of those come from Toyota’s Burnaston factory in Derbyshire, UK, which produces around 100,000 Corolla hatchbacks and estate cars every year.

The family hatchback segment isn’t quite what it was, but Toyota is adamant about the Corolla’s relevance, and that’s why it’s back with a series of updates to the 12th-generation car, which has been around since 2018. But can the latest Corolla compete with the best in this competitive class?

Photos: PA Media

On looks alone, not that much appears to have changed with the Corolla. You’d need an old and new car parked side-by-side to notice the difference in truth, but more on that later.

Instead, it’s what’s under the surface that represents the main changes. Like before, the Corolla is only sold with hybrid powertrains, but they’ve been made lighter and tweaked to improve both performance and efficiency. There’s a new 12.3-inch digital dial display for the first time too, while the touchscreen is both larger and runs on new software.

The Corolla comes with a choice of two ‘self-charging’ petrol-hybrid powertrains – a 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre, which have both increased in power; the 1.8-litre going from 120bhp to 138bhp, while the 2.0-litre’s 193bhp output is up 12bhp.

Our focus here is the 1.8-litre setup, which delivers its power to the front wheels with a CVT automatic gearbox. Accelerating from 0-60mph takes 8.9 seconds – a significant 1.8 seconds less than its predecessor – with the Corolla able to go on to a top speed of 112mph.

Efficiency has improved too, with the Corolla able to return 61.4mpg in our Design-grade test car, with 104g/km CO2 emissions. We saw an easy 55mpg on our mixed test route.

Changes to the hybrid system are particularly welcome in the 1.8-litre. Previously this setup on the Corolla just felt a bit underpowered and strained if you wanted to make fast progress. Though it might not boast significantly more power on paper, it’s a lot brisker in real-world conditions, and we reckon there’s little need to upgrade to the 2.0-litre version. It can be quite noisy under hard acceleration, however, as the CVT grapples to deal with the power.

It’s impressive elsewhere on the Corolla too. There’s plenty of adjustability behind the wheel to get into the right position, while Toyota has managed a great balance of comfort and enjoyment behind the wheel. It’s perhaps not as engaging as a Honda Civic – the class-leader in the family hatchback class – but it’s close. The excellent array of driver assistance technology impresses too, and we particularly appreciate that the button to turn the lane keep assist off is handily placed on the steering wheel, rather than buried within a distracting sub-menu.

When the latest generation Corolla arrived in 2018, its design was particularly bold and stylish, especially in a class with some rather straight-laced choices like the Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf. We can’t blame Toyota too much for being very light with the updates, though a touch more adventure wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Some of the few changes include new multi-LED headlights with a new signature, along with a redesigned grille and the usual refreshed choice of colours and alloy wheels. A GR Sport model also exists for those wanting a sportier look.

This latest generation Corolla’s interior has just kept getting better with time, and the introduction of the new 10.5-inch touchscreen is most certainly welcome, being slicker and more intuitive to use than the old-feeling screen in the previous car. The new 12.3-inch digital dial display helps to modernise the cabin too.

In terms of space, the Corolla is well-placed as a family hatchback. The boot measures a useful 361 litres, though it’s noticeably smaller in the 2.0-litre model because of its larger battery beneath the boot floor. Rear space is quite average for the class, however, and taller passengers will struggle for legroom in the back. A Honda Civic and Seat Leon offer more room in this respect.

All Corolla models come with a long list of equipment, with the entry-level Icon coming with keyless entry, heated front seats, a reversing camera and the digital displays we’ve already mentioned. We reckon it gives all the equipment you really need, but the mid-spec Design model brings more eye-catching 17-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass, while the range-topping Excel features leather upholstery, blind spot monitoring and a head-up display.

The Toyota Corolla was already an excellent family hatchback choice with its impressive safety kit, efficiency and reliability record, but this update has only enhanced it further.

With its improved hybrid powertrains, it’s much brisker and more pleasant to drive than the previous car, while the plusher interior and greater in-car technology bring the Corolla right up to scratch, and put it among one of the best cars in this segment.

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