Wednesday 22 January 2020

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Cork Independent


Toyota’s got the perfect hybrid car for Ireland

Thursday, 18th July, 2019 10:26am

Perfect is an especially dangerous word for any professional critic to use. After all, once you’ve deployed the ‘p’ word what happens next? What happens when something better comes along, as it eventually inevitably will? So generally speaking, we tend to avoid it.

It’s kind of hard to see here, though. Toyota has long been a favourite among Irish motorists. We were actually the first country, outside of Japan, where Toyota became the best-selling car in the market (back in the 1980s).

We’ve always held the giant Japanese brand in higher regard than our cousins in the UK, for example, and the Corolla has long been our favourite Toyota.

To be honest, for many years, that favouritism was based more on practical, pragmatic reasons than emotional one. We loved previous Corollas because they were simple, straightforward, unfussy, and incredibly reliable.

Oh sure, there were some sporty Corollas from time to time - the old AE86 Coupe and its twin-cam engine is still beloved in certain circles, and the 190hp T-Sport from the early 2000s was an underrated gem - but for the most part a Corolla has been a more rational purchase than it was an exciting one.

I think, perhaps, that those days are past. I mean, look at this new Corolla. It just looks so sharp, and better than ever as this Touring Sports estate version. Ah yes, Touring Sports — once again a car maker is swerving violently to one side to try and avoid using the dreaded word ‘estate’.

Irish buyers continue to be blasé when it comes to wagons, but not for the first time I’m going to tell you that this is — without question — the best of the new Corollas.

First up, it’s the best-looking one. it gets the same front end styling as the hatchback (which is significantly more exciting at which to look than that of the four-door saloon, which has been deliberately toned down for a more conservative audience) but has the longer wheelbase of the saloon, which means more space in the back seats than you get in the hatch.

Plus, from the rear, you could easily mistake it for a much more expensive Lexus — it’s that nice. If anything it’s even nicer inside. For far too long, Corollas had interiors that were just too plain, too simple, too cheap-feeling. Well, not any more.

This Corolla, in high-spec Sol form, has one of the nicest automotive cabins you’ll see all this year. The surfaces are covered in lustrously touchable plastics, while the switches and buttons all feel expensive and nice under your fingers.

There are a couple of mis-steps. The digital instruments aren’t the most impressive-looking in the class. Meanwhile, the big central infotainment screen looks good, but it uses software that feels a bit slow and old-fashioned.

Plus there’s no Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto as yet, although on the upside the screen is simple and easy to use.

These are minor shortcomings though, and overall the interior is hugely successful. Space in the back isn’t quite as generous as you’ll find in some rivals (Skoda’s leg-friendly Octavia for one) but it’s enough for a growing family, and comfort levels are high.

Plus, there’s that big 598 litre boot sitting out the back, which expands to 1,606 litres when you fold the back seats flat. It’s worth pointing out that the Corolla Touring Sports’ boot is larger even than that of the much physically bigger, more expensive RAV4 SUV (which deploys 580 litres behind the back seats) and way, way bigger than the 377 litre boot of the C-HR crossover, which is priced more or less in tandem with the Corolla.

Once again, it behoves us to say that if you’re actually looking for a practical car, especially one for a growing family, then an estate beats an SUV hands down, more or less every time.

It’s also better to drive than Toyota’s SUV lineup. The C-HR is a sparky, engaging little thing to drive; the RAV4 rather less so (though still impressive enough) but the Corolla has both of them licked.

Leave the driver mode selector in either comfort or normal, and it’s a light-touch, easy-going cruiser with impressive levels of refinement and comfort.

Switch it over to Sport, and it becomes genuinely engaging and impressive, with decent steering feel and weight, good front-end grip, and a sense of poise and enjoyment that used to only come in family cars with Ford badges. It’s a big, big step up from Corollas of old.

Oh, and the hybrid system? It’s really good.

The 1.8 litre engine, battery, and electric motor are shared with the Prius and the C-HR, and they’re just as good in the Corolla as in the others. Which is to say not quite perfect, but close enough.

Because of the CVT gearbox, there is still the old problem of the engine revving its head off when you ask for full acceleration, but thanks to the Corolla’s impressive refinement, it’s less of an issue than it used to be.

On top of which, economy is impressive — 55mpg on the motorway, and more like 65-70mpg around town, when the hybrid’s battery power can be deployed to its fullest. Honestly, why wouldn’t you want a hybrid?

Equally, why wouldn’t you want an estate? And in particular this Corolla estate? As an all-rounder it’s pretty hard to beat, to be honest.

In fact, I’d go so far as to call it practically perf… phew, just managed to stop myself, there.

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