Test-driving the Toyota Corolla 2020: The world's bestselling car is back, but is it better?

The Japanese marque's greatest contribution to automotive history has been reworked and now comes with a hybrid powertrain

We like Toyota Corollas on planet Earth. It must be the case, because we keep buying them, year after year. And so did a lot of our mums and dads. Since its launch in 1966, figures suggest well in excess of 40 million Corollas have been sold, making it the most popular vehicle ever to grace the world’s tarmac.

Not bad going, when you consider how many Beetles must have been churned out by Volkswagen and its partners over the decades.

The thing is, like the German people’s car, the Corolla is a vehicle you’ll definitely have heard of, even if your automotive knowledge is limited to thinking an exhaust pipe is something people drink cola from when they’re tired. While countless motor vehicles have been consigned to history over the decades, still existing only in the memories of the most petrol-bonced individuals, you’ve certainly heard of this particular motoring celebrity. And, what’s more, many of you may well be able to cite some moment in your life in which a Corolla has played a part. One incident that comes to my mind involves a group of 18-year-olds in a remote corner of England in the 1980s whose lives opened up when one of them got regular access to his mum’s Corolla. (But the less said about that the better...)

The car initially replaced the now unheard-of Publica and was the bestselling car worldwide by 1974. And, if statistics are your bag, there have been estimates that suggest a Corolla is purchased somewhere in the world every 40 seconds. There are probably chocolate bars that don’t get those kind of sales.

Now, what of this brand-new 2020 edition? Well, this is the model’s 16th incarnation and it is certainly a sleeker affair than any of its predecessors. It’s closer to the ground than ever before, too, and manages to be distinctive enough that you could spot it in a crowd. That’ll be largely due to that sporty little front fascia. You can choose from three versions – a 1.8-litre Hybrid LE, a 2-litre SE and a 1.8-litre XLE. We got our hands on the first of these and, as you’d expect from the company that produces the hybrid Prius, they’ve got the balance right in the powertrain.

The new Corolla comes in eight distinct colours, not just the obligatory silver and red.
The new Corolla comes in eight distinct colours, not just the obligatory silver and red. Courtesy Toyota

The LE is smooth, silent and only produces a throaty little rattle when you need to put your foot down. Put it in Sport mode and you get a bit of beef from under the bonnet as well. All very satisfactory. Go inside and you’ll find a smart, functional interior, and a rather more acceptable one than you’d find in many far pricier vehicles. The centre console, with its 20 centimetre touchscreen display, is clear and easy to use, and the seating neat. You need to fiddle with the knobs and levers to find your ideal driving position, but that’s not a serious issue.

Importantly, you also have an array of active safety features, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, and lane departure alert with steering assist and road-edge detection. And you’ve got eight airbags littered around the cabin.

In business terms, it’s tough for the Corolla. It competes in a crowded market, one in which all the most successful brands have a foot (or wheel). Even so, you’d be hard pushed to find a reason not to opt for any of these 2020 models. You can feel good about getting a quality hybrid (if you choose), and even better about its reasonable price – the base hybrid model is Dh83,900, with the petrol version even cheaper at Dh71,900.

The Corolla emphasises its hybrid credentials.
The Corolla emphasises its hybrid credentials.

In short, this is inexpensive, no-frills motoring, and if you had to take a long journey in the new Corolla you would not be unhappy.

Many might deride models of this sort as mere commuter fare, but so what? That’s exactly what they are and exactly what a lot of people want from their vehicle. We’re all awaiting the arrival of Hyperloop, but until it’s here, residents of the UAE still have to go back and forth between Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the road, and this is an ideal car in which to do that.

Updated: September 26, 2019 06:36 PM


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