The humble-looking Toyota Corolla saloon remains resoundingly popular with Irish buyers. For 2023 it gets all of the same refinements and improvements as the hatch, but just looks a touch more conservative. Worth it for the improved space in the back seats and boot? Probably...
In the metal
Does the Corolla Saloon look more conservative than its hatchback and estate siblings? Yeah, it does. Even with the adjustments to the front-end styling, which do give it a faint whiff of the larger Toyota Camry, the four-door Corolla remains the most quietly-styled model in the line-up.
To be honest, that's arguably the way most of its Irish buyers - who tend to be over 50 and Corolla owners and drivers of long standing - prefer it. After all, who wants to signal to the neighbours that you're getting notions about yourself? There are at least two new colour options, though - a new shade of metallic grey and a rather attractive 'Midnight Teal', a soft green.
The styling is at least a touch sharper than it was, and the Corolla saloon has one big advantage over its hatchback stablemate. Well, two advantages really - rear seat space and boot space. The Corolla saloon is actually built in an entirely different factory to the hatchback. The five-door is built, alongside the Touring Sports estate, in Burnaston, just outside Derby, in the UK. The saloon is built - alongside the C-HR crossover, incidentally, in Toyota's plant in Turkey in Arifiye-Sakarya.
It's also built (as is the Touring Sports) on a longer wheelbase, with around 100mm more space between the front and rear wheels. This opens up considerably more legroom for rear-seat passengers, turning the Corolla's rear space rating from 'acceptable' in the hatchback to really quite alright in the saloon.
The only fly in this particular ointment is headroom - the combination of a sweeping C-pillar design and the fact that our test car was fitted with the optional sunroof robbed a crucial few millimetres of rear headroom. It's OK, but taller passengers will have to tilt their heads in the back, which likely renders the middle rear seat all but unusable. Don't go for the sunroof if you need to fit tall people in there.
At least the boot is a decent volume, holding 471 litres compared to the hatchback's 361 litres, although the boot lid makes a 'clang' when you slam it shut where the hatch and estate tailgates make a more satisfying 'whump'.
Up front, you get the same improvements as you'll find in the Corolla hatchback including very attractive digital dials, an impressive new infotainment system and the sort of quality that would make a Swiss watchmaker weep with envy. It's comfortable, too with very good front seats, although the dash design and the relatively tall centre console can make you feel a touch hemmed-in at times.
Does the Corolla saloon drive any differently to the hatchback? Yes, it does, although the differences are quite minor. Through a series of corners, you get the same smooth, liquid-feeling steering and the same sense of front-end grip and bite, but you can tell that - thanks to that extra 100mm in the wheelbase - the saloon isn't quite as enthusiastic to turn into a given corner.
It's a wafer-thin gap between the two cars, and you'd have to be driving them back-to-back over the same route (which is exactly what we were doing) to notice the difference. It's more a question of nuance than it is two cars at loggerheads. Basically, the Corolla saloon provides broadly the same driving experience, which majors on smoothness and refinement but which has an underlying agility that makes it surprisingly entertaining at times.
The upgraded 1.8 hybrid engine (Irish Corolla buyers won't get the more powerful 2.0-litre engine, except in the more expensive Corolla Cross) now develops 140hp (up from 122hp), but you really need to be driving in Sport mode to get the full effect of the extra performance, which we reckon vanishingly few Corolla drivers ever do.
More important is that CO2 emissions remain impressively low, as does fuel consumption - 5.0 litres per 100km in mixed driving is a realistic target, as is the notional 80 per cent of urban journeys spent running on electric power, rather than having the engine running.
The only issue, as with the hatch, is in noise suppression. While the hybrid updates have helped to make the powertrain quieter than before, the Corolla suffered tyre rumble on most of the road surfaces we drove on in Spain, and it seemed a little worse in the saloon compared to the hatchback. We'll have to see how it fares on Irish roads later on.
What you get for your money
That the Corolla has become more expensive is hardly surprising - everything has, and while a base price for the saloon of €33,280 is hardly surprising, neither is it what you'd call bargain basement. The only consolation is that it's not out of line with any of the competition. The bonus, in going for this mid-spec Luna Sport model (€36,000), is that you get a little extra equipment compared to the hatchback model of the same spec and price - namely heated front and rear seats and a self-dimming rear-view mirror. Enough to draw you from the hatch to the saloon?
The updated Toyota Corolla saloon remains a comfortingly sensible choice. It's not as interesting in the styling department as the Corolla hatch and estate, but makes up for that with the same dynamic performance and extra space in the back relative to the hatch.