BY BRIAN BYRNE
TOYOTA’s Corolla hasn’t always been the best looking of cars. Indeed, there have been times when it might well have scored high in the dull category. Which didn’t really matter, as people bought Corolla mainly because it would never let them down.
That last very likely still applies. But, in the looks department, Corolla is now very much on the highest rungs of the ladder.
That thought was triggered by a period in the current Corolla hatchback. Granted, the top of the range one, but right back down through the grades the underpinning high style shines through.
There are similarities up front to the C-HR SUV, a quite complex sculpting that gives the car an engaging presence. The rest is not as complex as its sibling, but does have a very distinctive style, the kick-up of the rear side door into the roof pillar especially attractive to my eye.
It’s all together a kind of a hunting bird, sporty look. The very sharp alloys and the contrasting roof colour added to the whole theme.
I like the interior too. A smooth line to the dashboard is the kind of thing that helps to keep one relaxed. The screen in the centre is quite large but not obtrusive, and has real buttons as well as touchscreen virtual ones.
The main instruments are neatly clustered in a semi-rectangular binnacle. There’s plenty of information available here, but it isn’t overwhelming.
Hatchbacks in this class now have adequate room for adult rear passengers, and the Corolla is also on message in this respect. As for comfort, the review GR Sport comes with very supportive seats. I don’t expect those in the base grade were any less comfortable.
A high standard specification that pertains across all grades includes Toyota’s latest driver assistance systems, dubbed Safety Sense 2. Included in this are LED headlights with automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control that notices changes in speed limits and lets you know.
The car is, of course, hybrid. This also means you get automatic transmission as part of the drivetrain. I’m all for that for many years now, and it’s interesting to see the rapidly increasing level of automatics across all brands here.
I rarely talk about ride and handling these days, as all carmakers seem to have this completely sussed for whatever type their car is. But the ride particularly in this one was worth noting, with very much the comfort and feel of a much larger and premium car, yet retaining nimbleness on back roads.
There are two engines available across the current Corolla line-up, 1.8 and 2.0 hybrids of 122hp and 184hp respectively. The more powerful one is only available in the GR Sport I drove, and was the engine in the review car.
Those extra horses certainly added some accelerative punch, and if you wanted to play with the transmission, the engine also comes with paddle shifting. You can chose modes between Eco, Normal, and Sport ... the latter tightens up response and adds a bit of noise.
A little unexpectedly, this one is driving very close to being my favourite car of this year, and certainly in compact hatchbacks it could be leader.
What I like: That it surprised me.
Price: From €26,430; review 2.0 GR Sport €34,400.