EARLIER this year I was fortunate enough to be invited by Toyota to the European launch of a very important car for the company as the Corolla made its return.

A couple of days in Mallorca with the new family hatchback was very nice but not enough time to thoroughly try out the Corolla – so those nice people at Toyota loaned me the hybrid 1.8 version in range-topping Excel trim for a week.

As a hybrid the car’s big selling point is economy, so to give it a proper test I used the Corolla for a weekend break to Surrey, meaning a near 500-mile round trip and several hours behind the wheel.

The first thing to say is that it lived up to expectations on the fuel front as I managed to average a shade over 60mpg during the trip. That real world test, mostly at motorway speeds, compares well with Toyota’s claimed 55 to 65 mpg figures.

The car switches seamlessly between electric, petrol and dual power modes and only by watching the display meter do you know which one you are using. Both engines cut in when you put your foot down hard and that gives a 10.9 second 0 to 62 time with top speed of 112mph.

The hatchback also proved to be a comfortable cruiser with supportive seats and lots of on board kit – as you would expect for a top of the range motor. This included a switchable digital dash with central TFT multi-information display plus a large central touchscreen mounted high on the dashboard. Lots of functions and features on offer here but I found the sat-nav in particular a bit fussy and fiddly at first.

Other highlights include keyless entry and start, eco and sport modes, adaptive cruise control with lane assist, auto lights and wipers, a rear view camera and parking sensors, part leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.

All that comes at a cost and the Excel starts from £27,350 on the road, although the Corolla range starts with the Icon model from £21,300.

This is the latest version of the world’s best-selling motor – so the 12th generation model has very big boots to fill.

The good old Corolla has not been in the news much here for the last few years because Toyota changed its name to the Auris over a decade ago. But now the Corolla name is back (although it only went away in Europe) and Toyota say it is better than ever.

The new model line-up consists of a hatchback, touring sports (estate) and Sedan (saloon) and Toyota say that each has its own look and characteristics with design and engineering differences. The new Corolla is also lighter yet 60 per cent stronger than the outgoing model thanks to extensive use of aluminium and high tensile steel in its construction.

The Hatchback and Touring Sports offer two self-charging hybrid powertrains, our 1.8-litre with 120bhp and a new 2.0-litre developing 178bhp. There is just one conventional engine option, a 114bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol, and the new Corolla range also features the latest Toyota Safety Sense technology.

Toyota’s Burnaston factory in Derbyshire is the European centre for production of the hatchback and touring sports, with hybrid engines (1.8-litre) from their factory in Deeside, North Wales while saloon models are made in Turkey.

The maximum EV drive cruising speed has been increased to 70mph on both hybrid engines. The 2-litre version can hit 62mph in a very respectable 7.9 seconds with a top speed of 112mph.

The new Corolla went on sale in the UK in March and has helped Toyota buck the current downward trend in the fortunes of many car makers as it continues to grow its market share in the UK.

More information at www.toyota.co.uk

By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth