Corolla hybrid i safe and efficient but also fun to drive
TOYOTA'S Corolla is Australia's and the world's favourite car, with about 45 million sold over 11 generations and 52 years.
So when a new Corolla comes along, you know exactly what you're going to get - a more highly evolved version of the same genetic sequence.
Why would Toyota deliver anything else?
Toyota tried to amp up Corolla's driver satisfaction factor with this 12th generation's predecessor, in line with global boss Akio Toyoda's 2011 edict that all of the company's cars should be fun to drive.
The new 2018 hatch expands upon that theme. The Zeitgeist may suit it, too.
Hybrids haven't really done the business here yet, for a variety of reasons, but the sales climate may be changing.
The latest spike in petrol prices, the imminent demise of diesel, the fact that a viable electric car recharging infrastructure is still many years away and the growing realisation that global warming is no longer a debate but a threat may prompt an increasing number of new car buyers to look at hybrid power.
That's why Toyota Australia has a hybrid option, at $1500, in each of the 2018 Corolla's three grades. Today, we're testing the most affordable: the Ascent Sport.
In the previous Corolla range, there was one hybrid and you needed $27,350 to get into it. The 2018 Ascent Sport hybrid is $25,870.
As in the Prius stablemate, it combines a 1.8-litre petrol engine, twin electric motors/generators and a nickel metal hydride battery. A continuously variable transmission drives the front wheels.
Toyota claims 4.2L/100km on regular unleaded. Our test car did 4.5L-4.8L around town, where a hybrid works with maximum efficiency.
Auto stop-start kills the engine at rest and, in Eco mode with a gentle right foot, driving at suburban street speeds, you'll often run on battery power alone for short distances.
In city traffic, expect the hybrid to use about half the fuel of the conventionally powered
2.0-litre Corolla with CVT.
On the highway, though, where the engine is running all the time, there's little difference. Our test car drank 5.5L at 100km/h in Eco mode, rising to 6.2L in Power mode when taken for a bit of a fang through the hills.
Its CO2 emissions of 97g/km are by far the lowest in its class. VW's Golf 110TSi DSG produces 128g and Hyundai's i30 auto 173g.
Toyota has extended the Corolla's service intervals to a market average 12 months/ 15,000km, and at $175 a time it's the cheapest servicing in the class.
However three years' warranty is stingy. Kia backs its cars for seven years; Hyundai, Honda, Holden, Mazda and Ford for five.
As the base model, the Ascent Sport gets a plastic steering wheel, tinny audio and just one USB and 12V socket. Dual-zone aircon, automatic LED headlights, keyless entry and starting and heated side mirrors are standard. The Corolla's infotainment features a high-mounted eight-inch touchscreen, voice control that works for all functions and seamless Bluetooth with email and SMS. Navigation with live traffic alerts adds $1000.
A supportive, well-bolstered driver's seat (with ample adjustment) and an exceptionally quiet, controlled, compliant ride make this Corolla the most comfortable to date. Tyre noise can intrude on coarse bitumen, though.
Despite the larger new body, adults in the rear still suffer restricted legroom and tight access. Minimal storage and no vents or device connectors make the back stalls a grim space, too, while the boot is tiny for a car of this size.
Decent safety specification, long overdue in the Corolla, is now up with the class leaders at this pricepoint. Autonomous emergency braking works across the full speed range and includes pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Adaptive cruise features effective lane keeping, including Mercedes-style lane centring - it can be hit-and-miss, depending on ambient light and the clarity of road markings. Speed sign monitoring and automatic high-beams are also standard.
Toyota has been doing mainstream hybrids for longer than any other brand and it shows in Corolla's beautifully refined, efficient, seamless operation.
The CVT now hooks up quickly and decisively from rest and, at any speed, pins the engine's revs immediately and exactly where your right foot says they should be, accompanied by a strong, smooth turbo-style shove as high-voltage torque kicks in. Overtaking is quick and effortless.
In this class, everybody strives to emulate the Golf's sublime ride-handling compromise. The Corolla hybrid now comes pretty close.
Independent rear suspension is standard across the range. It's heavy at 1400kg, though the hybrid's centre of gravity is close to the ground.
It's agile, responsive, planted - and, yes, almost sporty, would you believe? - with a noticeably tighter body and light, precise steering. Dunlop Enasave tyres aren't the stickiest, though.
Our politicians seem incapable of doing anything constructive about climate change, so I will.
Electric cars and the infrastructure needed for them are still too far from the mainstream to be viable. Plug-in hybrids are expensive. This is affordable, proven, efficient technology.
HYUNDAI IONIQ Launches in October, with electric, plug-in and Corolla-style full hybrid versions. Hyundai claims 3.9L/100km for the hybrid. Boot space is more than twice the Corolla's. Pricing expected to be about $30,000.
VW GOLF 110TSi FROM $26,490 The most fuel-efficient conventional set-up in the class, a 1.4-litre turbo and seven-speed twin-clutch auto that returns a claimed 5.4L/100km. The benchmark car in many respects, though reliability can be an issue.
Proven, efficient hybrid engineering, paired with sophisticated safety technology, in an affordable package that's now a more engaging drive, too. Tight rear seat and boot space may make it hard to live with.
TOYOTA COROLLA ASCENT SPORT HYBRID
PRICE $25,870 (good value)
WARRANTY/SERVICE3 years (short); $700 for 4 yrs/60,000km (bargain)
ENGINE 1.8-litre 4-cyl series/parallel hybrid, 90kW combined
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise, lane keeping, auto high-beam, speed sign recognition (excellent)
THIRST 4.2L/100km (frugal)
SPARE Space-saver (not good)
BOOT 217L (tiny)