What stands out?

The petrol-electric Corolla Hybrid Hatch – it is a lively and sharp handling small car that stretches a tank of fuel a very long way, even around town. Other Corollas are solid and easy to live with, whether you go for the sportier hatchback or the roomy sedan. Auto emergency braking is available.

This 2015-18 hatchback has been superseded by an all-new Corolla hatch, however the sedans included in this review were is still available alongside the new model in showrooms until late 2019 before they too were replaced by a new model.

We've kept the 2015-18 hatches in this review in case you're looking to buy any as a low-mileage used car.

What might bug me?

In the more expensive hatchbacks, driving at 80km/h on your space-saver spare tyre until you can fix your full-sized flat. The Corolla SX, Hybrid and ZR hatches have the skinny space-saver. (The Ascent and Ascent Sport hatches, and all sedans, supply a full-sized spare wheel.)

In a Corolla Hybrid Hatch, getting used to the electronically controlled brakes. At first they feel very sensitive, responding dramatically as soon as you press the pedal. Over time, the light touch demanded comes to feel natural.

What body styles are there?

Four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. The sedan is significantly longer and has more space between the front and rear wheels, so it is roomier in the back and rides slightly more smoothly.

Both are front-wheel drive. The Corolla is classed as a small car, lower priced.

What features do all Corollas have?

Cruise control. A reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.

Touchscreen control of interior functions. An MP3 compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio and a CD player, and Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and music streaming.

Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, with controls on the wheel for operating the sound system and your phone.

Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which helps you recover the car from a skid. All new cars must have this feature.

An option on every Corolla (and standard on the most expensive versions) is a suite of active safety aids. This Safety pack comprises a forward collision warning, auto emergency braking, lane-departure alert, and auto-dipping headlights. (For more on these systems, and for the placement of airbags, please open the Safety section below.)

All Corollas are covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

As with most small car alternatives, there is a capped-price servicing schedule for the Corolla for the first three years of ownership. That makes it one of the cheapest small cars to service.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The Corolla that uses least fuel is the Hybrid Hatch. And the main reason you might not choose it is that you don’t want the cost or complexity of its petrol-electric drivetrain. This is the standout package, for both economy and driving pleasure.

On the official test, the Hybrid consumes just 4.1 litres/100km (city and country combined). In the real world, consumption is about 5.5 litres/100km for a mix of city and country driving – still extremely good.

The Hybrid augments a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a battery-driven electric motor. When you brake, it reclaims energy that is normally wasted, using it to recharge the battery and hence to propel the car. That makes a big difference to fuel use, and particularly around town where you’re braking a lot.

The other reason you might not choose a Hybrid is that you want a sedan. The Hybrid is available only as a hatchback.

Every other Corolla uses just the 1.8 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, in this case tuned for more power (because it does not have the electric motor to help it). It revs happily and is also fairly fuel-efficient, consuming 6.1 litres/100km on the official test in auto form.

In real-world comparison testing conducted by Wheels magazine for its January 2017 issue, a Corolla Ascent Sport auto with the 1.8 petrol averaged 9.2 litres/100km, which left it near the middle of the 12 cars reviewed for fuel use – about the same as the new Subaru Impreza, and five per cent thirstier than a Mazda3 Maxx.

Automatic Corollas use a CVT, or continuously variable transmission, which has artificial ratio steps and operates much like a seven-speed conventional auto. Petrol Corollas fitted with the less popular six-ratio manual transmission use about 10 per cent more fuel than those equipped with an auto. The Hybrid is CVT only.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly hatchback, the Ascent, rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, and has cloth trim in the cabin and a 6.1-inch touchscreen.

The first price step is to the Ascent Sport Hatch, which has nicer looking and lighter wheels made from an alloy of aluminium. Inside you get a nicer feeling steering wheel, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen that works with a smartphone to operate apps such as Pandora Internet radio.

Spend more for the SX Hatch and the alloy wheels grow to 17 inches and mount wider tyres that have a lower profile (from the side, the tyres look shallower). Many people find this look appealing, and the extra width adds some grip on dry roads. The SX also has satellite navigation. You can control the auto transmission from paddles on the steering wheel. There are sports front seats (which have more side-support, to hold you in place when cornering). Sporty visual elements include skirts on the lower body.

For a little more up front than an SX Hatch you could have instead a Hybrid Hatch, with its fuel-saving petrol-electric power. For trim and equipment, the Hybrid is effectively a more luxurious Ascent Sport, retaining its 16-inch alloy wheels and less sporty cloth seats but adding dual-zone airconditioning (which brings independent temperature control for the front passenger), sat-nav, and smart entry and start (which lets you unlock the car and drive away without handling the key). Headlamps and running lights use very bright and long-lived LEDs. And the Hybrid has a different rear suspension from other Corollas, a double-wishbone design that improves grip and stability.

Cough up for the most expensive Corolla hatchback, the ZR, and you get the sportier wheels, tyres and seats from the SX with the extra luxury of the Hybrid. In addition, the ZR’s seats are trimmed in a combination of real and fake leather, the front seats have heaters, and the driver’s seat has power-adjustable lumbar support (for the lower part of your back). As on the Hybrid, auto transmission is standard. Finally, the ZR has the active safety aids from the Safety pack that is optional on less costly Corollas, which include auto emergency braking and lane-departure alert.

On the sedan side, prices again begin with the Ascent, which has smaller steel wheels than the base hatch, at 15 inches, shod with slightly narrower and taller tyres, for a more comfortable and quieter ride around town. The Ascent Sedan also has the bigger 7.0-inch touchscreen with Toyota Link, as fitted to the Ascent Sport Hatch.

Spend more for the SX Sedan and you get alloy wheels in a 16-inch size, satellite navigation, and smart-key entry (but not sports-type seats). The SX also adds front parking sensors to the Ascent’s rear sensors.

Paying more for a ZR sedan brings you LED headlights, leather-accented seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. And you get the same active safety suite as the ZR Hatch. (The ZR Sedan has only single zone airconditioning, however.)

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The lower-profile tyres fitted to the SX and ZR hatchbacks ride a little more roughly than those on the other Corollas, and may cost more to replace.

The SX, Hybrid and ZR hatches do not have the full-sized spare tyre supplied with all other Corollas, instead getting a skinny space-saver spare that has a recommended top speed of 80km/h.

The only standard colour is white. The sedan is available in five other colours and the hatch in another seven, all of which cost extra.

How comfortable is the Corolla?

Styling inside the Corolla is dominated by the upright, dark dashboard. There is a silver-laced instrument cluster, and binnacles for odds and ends. Both the sedan and hatch get modern looking finishes but with differences to the generally formal but elegant patterns.

The front seats are broad and quite comfortable. In a hatchback they are well bolstered for side-support even on less sporty versions, helping you relax through twists and turns. Corollas ride bumps in a way that treads a safe middle ground between plush and punishing, with enough damping to prevent unwanted bouncing.

The sedans ride more comfortably than the hatches, due to their dimensions and setup. For example, the longer wheelbase gives them a natural advantage over speed humps and other imperfections. At most price points they ride on tyres with a slightly deeper profile than those on the comparable hatch, which means there is more cushioning air between the wheel and the road.

Around town the popular Corolla petrol auto might feel a bit lazy from traffic lights, particularly with a good load on board. There is plenty of power for comfortable highway cruising however.

The Hybrid Hatch is easy to drive but it does take some getting used to, and it is well worth developing an understanding of the selectable driving modes that allow you to optimise it for economy or zest. In Power mode it is quicker off the line than its petrol siblings, with the electric motor contributing instant thrust.

What about safety in a Toyota Corolla?

Seven airbags, stability control, a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors, contribute to a respectable safety picture in any Corolla.

There are two airbags directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one beside each front occupant to protect their bodies from side impacts; and a curtain airbag down each side of the car at head level to protect occupants front and rear from side impacts. Finally, there is an airbag at knee level for the driver.

Corolla ZR hatches and sedans have in addition autonomous emergency braking, a lane departure alert, and headlamps that dip automatically for oncoming drivers. These active safety aids also comprise a Safety pack that can be supplied with any Corolla as an extra-cost option (in most cases, for about $750).

The auto emergency braking on a Corolla uses a laser sensor and camera to detect obstacles in front of the car – typically another car that has slowed suddenly. It is effective at speeds below about 80km/h. If it concludes that a collision is likely, it first gives an audio-visual warning. If you ignore that, it will apply the brakes automatically – with the aim of reducing the impact speed, and possibly preventing a crash.

The lane departure alert monitors road markings, and warns you if you begin to drift out of your lane on the highway – possibly dangerously, because you are tired or distracted.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded all Corollas – including the Hybrid – its maximum safety score of five stars. The hatches were rated most recently in June 2016, and the sedans in March 2017.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Steering on all Corolla models is light and responsive. The hatches, in particular, have a feeling of athleticism about them that works well around town.

On country roads the SX and ZR hatches – with their 17-inch wheels – deliver great cornering grip. But even the Ascent Sport is good in turns for a popular small car, with fairly accurate – if somewhat feel-deprived – steering and reassuring poise. Body movement over bigger bumps is quickly controlled, and the cars stay settled.

Acceleration from highway speeds is respectable but not exceptional, helped by a relatively lightweight body. The petrol engine is not particularly powerful but feels willing, and happily revs higher when you need more thrust. (Other small cars with turbocharged engines react more smartly to a prod from your right foot, however.)

The automatic transmission does a good job of extracting the most from the engine, adapting fast to changing conditions. The six-speed manual is good too, with a crisp shift action.

There is a good chance you will enjoy driving a Hybrid Hatch more than any of the other Corollas. It feels more precise and secure in the corners, a result of its superior rear suspension. And even from highway cruising speeds it jumps more smartly when you ask it to accelerate, which helps when overtaking.

How is life in the rear seats?

It is rear-seat passengers who will notice the most marked interior difference between Corolla hatches and sedans.

The sedans have 100mm more space between the front and rear wheels. Rear headroom and leg room are significantly greater in the sedans than in the hatchbacks, and the hatches match most small-car alternatives.

However the hatchback body has a near-flat rear floor, making it easier for middle passengers to place their feet. The sedans have a more pronounced hump in the middle of the rear floor.

The Hybrid houses its battery under the rear seat, but the seating position remains comfortable even for adults.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Corolla hatches have clever hidey holes, with small compartments on either side of the luggage area and underfloor storage on some models.

The sedans miss out on some of that thoughtfulness but still get split-folding seats. Their boots are broader than those on the hatches, albeit with a bigger lip.

The boot on the Corolla Hybrid is the same size as in other Corolla hatches, at 360 litres. Sedan boot space is 470 litres.

Where does Toyota make the Corolla?

Corolla hatchback models – including the Hybrid – were built in Japan, and the sedans in Thailand.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Perhaps swifter overtaking from a turbocharged engine. The Volkswagen Golf, Holden Astra and Ford Focus offer this, for example.

The ability to display apps from your smartphone on the touchscreen and control them from there, via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. This is available on the Golf, Astra and Focus, and on other cars such as the Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Cerato.

Possibly the all-weather security of all-wheel drive, standard on an Impreza.

Maybe a longer warranty. The Elantra and the Hyundai i30 both carry five-year warranties, as do the Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia. The Cerato gets a seven-year warranty.

Other alternatives include the Mazda3 and Peugeot 308.

Are there plans to update the Corolla soon?

The Corolla Hatch went on sale late in 2012 and was updated in mid-2015, with revised suspension and steering, improvements to fuel economy, and more features.

The Corolla Hybrid arrived about July 2016. A facelifted Sedan followed in January 2017, bringing a freshened interior, suspension improvements, enhanced sound insulation, and refinements to the engine and auto gearbox.

The facelifted sedan also brought auto-braking and lane departure alert to the Corolla. Hatches too picked up the crash-avoidance technology – optional on all Corollas, and standard on the most expensive – in January 2017.

An all-new Toyota hatch arrived in August 2018 for the 2019 model year, with a more dynamic look and a host of features not available on the current model.

The 2019 Toyota hatchback range features a highly efficient new 2.0-litre engine along with hybrid versions, while its new TNGA chassis makes driving a lot more fun. It also autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise as standard.

The 2017 sedan covered in this review was on sale until late 2019 before being replaced by the new-generation four-door in November 2019.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

Of the petrol-only Corollas, our reviewers like the Ascent Sedan, for its impressive interior space and good equipment for the money.

If you are comfortable with the added complexity, the 2017-18 Corolla Hybrid Hatch represents exceptional value as a used buy.