If you’re expecting any sort of added off-road ability from the Corolla Trek, then you’ll be disappointed; the extra cladding and raised ride height are purely for show. Having a price tag in excess of £29,000 also makes it look like something of a costly option against its competitors, especially when the level of standard kit isn’t that generous either. Nevertheless, like the regular Touring Sports, this is an excellent all-round family car, while its brilliant hybrid powertrain also makes it a genuine alternative to a model with a diesel engine.
This is the Toyota Corolla Trek, a mildly beefed-up, off-road-inspired version of Toyota’s Ford Focus Estate rival. The Japanese firm says it’s aimed at those with “outdoor lifestyles”, apparently because of its raised ride height and chunky wheelarch surrounds.
This new car follows the tried-and-tested formula set out by the likes of the Skoda Octavia Scout and Audi A4 Allroad. But unlike those models, which feature four-wheel drive and some additional off-road driving modes, the Toyota doesn’t get any mechanical tweaks or software changes to make it more capable in the rough stuff.
That means the Corolla Trek is more of a trim level than a model in its own right, and prices from £29,225 put it towards the top end of the Touring Sports range.
The Trek is available with a choice of two hybrid powertrains. A 120bhp 1.8-litre unit kicks off the range, with the more powerful 181bhp 2.0-litre engine sitting above it. Both are front-wheel drive only and come paired with a CVT automatic gearbox.
As standard, the Trek comes fitted with a honeycomb front grille, bespoke 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, kick-activated tailgate opening, LED headlamps, two-tone textile upholstery and a wood finish on part of the dashboard.
Against its closest competitor, the Ford Focus Active X estate, the Toyota’s price tag makes it quite a costly option. Similarly equipped, and fitted with the excellent 123bhp 1.0-litre turbo and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Ford is more than £2,000 cheaper than the Toyota. Plus the Ford gets larger 18-inch alloy wheels and the bonus of a panoramic glass roof.
But the Toyota offers something none of its rivals do: a hybrid powertrain; and that could curry big favour with buyers. Our test car was equipped with the entry-level 1.8-litre petrol-electric set-up, which is familiar from elsewhere in the Toyota line-up. It’s not a particularly powerful engine, as shown by the lengthy 11.1-second 0-62mph sprint time, but it is now a genuine alternative to a diesel unit if fuel economy is top of your priorities list.
Acceleration begins to tail off sharply after 50mph, but up to that point the Toyota has reasonable punch, boosted by the instant assistance from the electric motor.
Squeeze the throttle at higher speeds, though, and the CVT gearbox sends the engine’s revs soaring, and little progress is made. This is an engine that works at its best when it isn’t being rushed.
If you’re gentle on the throttle, you can comfortably accelerate up to 30mph in electric mode, before the engine kicks in to aid progress. The more laid-back approach the powertrain prefers also results in truly impressive fuel economy; with little effort, we were regularly able to return upwards of 50mpg over a range of trips.
Unless you accelerate hard, the engine and gearbox work very well together, keeping progress hushed and relaxed. Sometimes the powertrain slips into EV mode without you noticing, because engine noise is well isolated from the cabin at a steady cruise.
It’s just a shame that the hybrid set-up isn’t a little more involving, because it’s paired with a very impressive chassis. The ride is consistently supple and composed, even over rough surfaces, with little to no vibration making its way into the cabin though the seat or steering wheel. The car even handles quite neatly; its steering is initially quite light, but weights up as you apply lock. Body control is also excellent, making the car more entertaining that you might believe on winding back roads.
As good as the Corolla Trek is to drive, buyers will be more concerned about how much stuff it can carry. But it’s good news here as well; the 598-litre boot is a good size, on par with its main rival’s, and the capacity increases to just over 1,600 litres once the rear bench has been dropped. There’s also a handy storage area under the boot floor, plus deep pockets either side of the main cargo area, to secure loose items.
Elsewhere inside, you’ll find the same positives and negatives that we’ve come to know from the Corolla. The overall quality is very good, and the design is clean and simple, but yet again the infotainment is the car’s weak link. The eight-inch unit sits perched on the top of the dash, but is slow to operate, rather basic in its functionality, and looks a little low-rent. Happily, Apple CarPlay has been added to the Corolla Trek so you can bypass Toyota’s system entirely by plugging in your smartphone.
|Model:||Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 1.8 VVT-i Trek|
|Engine:||1.8-litre 4cyl hybrid|
|Transmission:||CVT automatic, front-wheel drive|