What is it?
There was a time when car-based vans were pretty popular, and though they had largely disappeared, they seem to be making a comeback. Renault will now sell you a commercial version of its electric Zoe, while the quirky Dacia Duster is available as a van too.
Now it’s time for Toyota to join in, with a new ‘Commercial’ version of its Corolla Touring Sports estate car. Claiming to be Europe’s first ‘self-charging full hybrid electric van’, the model is produced at the brand’s Burnaston factory in Derbyshire alongside standard versions of the Corolla. But is an estate car-based hybrid van a niche too far?
On looks alone, not a lot appears to be new about this Corolla Commercial, and really there aren’t too many alterations, perhaps despite the obvious removal of the rear seats to make way for an extended load space.
Some of the alterations are carried out in the factory itself, while others – such as the opaque film blocking out the rear windows that is a requirement for vehicle classification purposes – are carried out by Toyota’s ‘Business Revenue Centre’.
What’s under the bonnet?
Though the regular Corolla is available with a choice of 1.8- and 2.0-litre hybrid setups, this Commercial is available purely with the smaller powertrain.
The combination of petrol and electricity produces a maximum of 120bhp, allowing for a 0-60mph time of 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.
But it’s the efficiency of the Corolla Commercial that really impresses, with 61.4mpg claimed – a figure we found to be quite easily achievable on our mixed test route. CO2 emissions are also low at 105g/km. With our car reading a range of 600-plus miles with a full tank, there’s loads of scope for long jaunts, which could be ideal if you find a regular electric van’s range just a bit too restrictive.
What’s it like to drive?
It shouldn’t come as any major surprise but the Commercial doesn’t drive all that differently to the standard Corolla. The silent startup will prove a pleasant surprise if you’re used to a clattery diesel, while it’s able to switch to electric driving for a decent amount of time in a range of scenarios, aiding those impressive diesel-beating efficiency figures. The switch between petrol and electric is noticeable, if not intrusive, though the combustion engine can get quite noisy if you put your foot down as the CVT automatic struggles to keep up.
There’s perhaps a touch more wind noise than the regular estate, but it’s still very refined even at motorway speeds, while the small wheels and big tyres equate to a comfortable ride that soaks up bumps and potholes in the road well.
How does it look?
If you want a van that doesn’t look like a van, there’s a lot to be said for the new Corolla Commercial, as really it just looks like the regular estate model. Though the 15-inch steel wheels don’t do much to flatter it, this Toyota’s sleek shape and sharp front end are very pleasant by regular van standards.
The colour palette is limited to white, black and silver, with our test car coming in the latter, and looking particularly good in the sun. The rear side windows appear to have a strong tint at first, but are actually just some black film that can look a bit cheap if you look too closely.
What’s it like inside?
It’s behind the front seats where the obvious changes take place, though. With no rear seats, it leaves a relatively large flat load floor, equipped with a hard-wearing plastic cover. It can handle a load capacity of 1.3m-cubed and a payload of up to 425kg, while still retaining useful space beneath the boot floor.
What’s the spec like?
Despite its ‘entry-level’ billing, though, it still comes with loads of equipment, and far more than you’d typically get from a van. LED headlights, heated seats, dual-zone climate control and a reversing camera are all included, though it’s worth adding no actual parking sensors are fitted as standard.
More impressive, though, is the level of safety kit, with adaptive cruise control, high beam assist and lane keep assist all packed up. As for pricing, the Corolla Commercial costs from £22,149, excluding VAT.
Though the Corolla Commercial won’t prove practical enough for some that are used to larger vans, its mixture of car-like comfort and dynamics combined with impressive efficiency figures are both very welcome.
It certainly bridges the gap well between small supermini-based vans and electric commercial vehicles, and though it remains to be seen how big this market is (Toyota itself doesn’t even know, simply saying it can produce as many as needed), the Corolla Commercial is without doubt a very welcome addition to the market.