Toyota marketing director Matthew Harrison said: 'We are in our 12th successive year of growth and we want 2004 to be the time when we achieve a 5% share of British registrations.
'We are on target to do this because I don't think we have ever been so well placed to satisfy demand from customers who expect higher quality irrespective of price. We're confident of getting a total of more than 140,000 registrations this year.'
Speaking in Barcelona as Toyota launched revisions to the ninth generation of the world's best-selling car, Harrison told Fleet News that introducing an affordable Euro IV diesel offering maximum company car tax benefits represented a huge opportunity.
He said: 'I regard our new 1.4-litre D-4D as unleashing fresh potential for us in the user-chooser area of the fleet market. We're already experiencing solid fleet growth in diesel with the Avensis and I'm convinced the Corolla will work equally well to develop our volume.
'We have improved sales by 40% since the current Corolla was launched two years ago, but the majority of our growth has been in the retail sector.
'We've yet to fully exploit the diesel market, so I'm looking to demand-led fleet segments like user-choosers and limited-badge fleets to generate an extra 4,000 registrations.'
Figures from Toyota GB show that the company's line-up reflected a 14% diesel mix at the end of 2001. The figure now stands at 22% in a market in which diesel accounts for 33.5% of new car registrations.
'Over the last 18 months, we have launched two Euro IV power units and the new 1.4-litre D-4D is the third. I think the lower-medium segment defines the customer's perception of a brand, and our rise in sales shows we're giving people what they want,' Harrison added.
With a fresh bonnet line, front grille and teardrop headlamps, the Corolla has improved looks. Acoustic windscreen glass and better sound-deadening materials have upgraded levels of refinement in the T Sport and diesel versions.
As a result of cosmetic detailing borrowed from the T Sport, T3 hatchback models come with new blue fleck trim to appear more sporting. Standing on 15-inch alloy wheels and boasting side skirts and rear bumper extensions, these versions are now expected to make up more than 50% of sales.
Air conditioning has been adopted across the range, and even the entry-level car has a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake. The upgrade means T3 specification now includes power operation for front and rear windows, fog lamps and a carbon fibre-style treatment for the facia.
But the big news for the Corolla, which has achieved a staggering 28 million sales since the original was launched in 1969, lies under the bonnet.
The 114bhp 2.0 D-4D is retained for the estate, but the 1.4-litre D-4D, despite the big drop in capacity, produces the same power – 89bhp – at lower revs, returns 57.6mpg economy compared with 49.6mpg and achieves a dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions – 127g/km compared with 154g/km.
It takes fractionally longer to accelerate to the benchmark 62mph (13.3 seconds compared with 12.6 seconds) but the smaller engine reaches the same top speed of 112mph and is also lighter at 108kg compared with 180kg.
Adding icing on the cake is that the engine is Toyota's first diesel with the option of multi-mode transmission (MMT) which combines the ease of two-pedal driving in town with snappy sequential manual changes on the open road.
Offered as a £500 option, the electrically-driven unit is unique in the C segment.
Only slightly heavier than the usual manual transmission, it is so efficient that it boosts economy to 58.9mpg and also further reduces CO2 emissions to 125g/km.
Engine design manager Kazuya Kibe said: 'In the last three years, I've spent a lot of time in Europe and it's obvious congestion is getting worse. I think demand for diesel automatics is rising, but rather than using a conventional unit, I wanted a better solution. I think our combination has produced one of the most fuel-efficient cars in the segment.'
Behind the wheel
European design influence banished the boring looks of many Toyota vehicles when the Corolla first broke cover in 2002 and this major revision has made a good car even better.
It might appear little different from the model that became Toyota's first European car two years ago, yet the latest-edition Corolla features dozens of revisions.
All have been introduced with the aim of lifting performance and image and helping attract younger drivers.
But none looks more likely to be a bigger hit in the business car sector than the latest D-4D engine. Also destined for the next-generation Yaris to be introduced next year, it proves a best-of-all-worlds solution to extracting more power from less fuel.
Over a mix of country lanes and major highways in Spain, the 1.4-litre unit put in a stout performance and never felt any the worse for shedding sufficient cubic capacity to power a superbike.
Even better, it doesn't seem to suffer from the usual side-effect of downsizing in generating more noise because it has to work harder and is both subdued and relaxed when cruising at 80mph.
Linking the unit with MMT is a potential marriage made in heaven for those spending long hours behind the wheel. Idiot-proof, this semi-automatic system allows the engine to start only when the driver's foot is on the brake pedal, generates sufficient 'creep' to hold the car on inclines and has smart electronics that adapt gear changes for the best economy.
There is a slight pause during upward changes in auto mode, but the 'nudge change' facility produces delightfully smooth shifts and proved to be so much fun to operate that the gear lever stayed in sequential mode for most of my drive.
Go-faster drivers will appreciate the T Sport's added sharpness from new suspension and more direct steering – and the car looks better for being 20mm lower. But with the new turbodiesel unit under its bonnet – particularly so if it has MMT as well – the T3 has all it takes to appeal as a refined, comfortable and well-equipped family and fleet model.
Model: Corolla 1.4D-4D
Max power(bhp/rpm): 89/3,800
Max torque(lb-ft/rpm): 140/1,800
Max speed (mph): 112
0-62mph (sec): 13.3
Fuel consumption(mpg): 57.6
CO2 emissions (g/km): 127
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 55/12.08
Service intervals: 10,000 miles
Transmission: 5-spd man or 5-spd MMT
On sale: September 1
Prices: £12,695 to £14,395