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2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Review: The Anti-Prius

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

For 2020, Toyota has added a hybrid option to their Corolla lineup. At first blush, it makes sense as the Corolla is one of the best-selling nameplates of all time and with Toyota’s long association with Atkinson Cycle hybrid powertrains, this seem the obvious move. 

See also our Review of the 2020 Toyota Corolla

Thing is, Toyota already has the Prius and it’s pretty much exactly the same size – both inside and out (both are about 4,400 mm long and 1,700 mm wide) – as the Corolla. It also makes the exact same power – 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque – by using the exact same running gear. To top it off, the Prius has more cargo room due to its being a hatchback and the Corolla having a traditional trunk. 

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Photo: D.Heyman

So, what’s the deal? As popular as the Corolla is, the Prius has plenty of brand equity of its own. Indeed, there are times I’ve wondered why Toyota doesn’t just get on with it already and create a Prius sub-brand (at one time there were three Prius models, remember - four if you include the Prime PHEV) to help fill the gap left by the departure of the youth-oriented Scion sub-brand in 2016. Why did Toyota feel the need to send the Corolla scurrying onto the Prius’ turf?

But then I invite you to, well, take a look at the Prius. This may seem shallow, but it is a weird-looking thing and there’s a large slice of the buying populace that may want an advanced powertrain, but not necessarily to advertise the fact through cray-cray styling. Look to the toned-down second generation of the Chevrolet Volt to see what I’m on about.  And so, enter the Corolla, a car that prompted my architect friend to say upon encountering it: “that’s what you think of when you hear the word ‘car’.” Read: it’s pretty vanilla. 

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The current generation is somewhat less vanilla, mind you. The headlight lenses are a little more aggressive and the ultra low-profile grille that bisects them helps provide a menacing fascia. Yes, I said “menacing” while talking a bout a Corolla. A hybrid Corolla, no less. Quote me. Or sue me. Whatever. 

The big black mesh below that grille is a little too extreme if you ask me, but they had to get the cooling in there somehow. The effect is a little tamer around back, but the Corolla’s low-profile taillamp lenses do add a touch of class to the proceedings. 

Photo: D.Heyman

The interior
Inside is where the work is really done to differentiate the Corolla from the Prius. The Prius’ massive vertical display and centralized gauge cluster is in stark contrast with the Corolla’s traditional gauge set-up and smaller horizontal display (though it still measures a respectable 8 inches diagonally), that you’ll find in other models in the Toyota lineup. You also get a traditional gear lever in the Corolla as opposed to the dongle thingy in the Prius. I’ll take the Corolla’s option any day of the week.

 

 

 

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Heyman

Those differences notwithstanding, the interior of the Corolla benefits from what’s been going on at Toyota over the last few years. There’s a good helping of high-quality materials in here, and even some upper-class touches like contrasting white stitching on the black leatherette seats and bisecting the dash. This is no taxicab-spec offering, that’s for sure. 

Though there’s only one Corolla Hybrid trim, the leather seating and steering wheel you see in the pics come as part of the $2,000 Premium Package, which also adds niceties like heated rear seats, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, wireless charging, ambient lighting and more. I was genuinely surprised by the luxury features included. Heated rear sets? In a compact sedan? Really? 

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers

It makes sense once you’re sat in the back, however. This is a nicely spacious place to be and while it may be a compact sedan, I wouldn’t have a problem offering to drive three adults home from the holiday party in one of these. They’d be fine for room and with the heated seats and leather surfaces, they’d be comfortable in the cold, too. The seats both front and back are well-padded, though I would like just a little more lumbar support up front. 

I’m less enamoured with the infotainment system, however, starting with Apple CarPlay. At first, I thought there was no CarPlay support; typically, CarPlay is a plug and play system – you plug your device in, and were good to go. Here, though, one has to first activate CarPlay by navigating the menus. There’s no support for Android Auto; Toyota doesn’t “do” Android Auto on anything but a few select 2020 models. The Corolla Hybrid isn’t one of them.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Toyota’s native Entune system is OK, if not all that good-looking thanks to aged graphics and less-than-satisfying colour palette. Put the Corolla’s infotainment display against that which is found in a Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra, and you’d think you’d be looking at cars from different decades.

On the road
While the power figures aren’t going to blow anyone’s socks off, the Corolla Hybrid is a pretty happy cruiser once you’re up and running. Road and wind noise are nicely low and while you’re going to hear it when you aggressively get on the throttle, a lot of that can be blamed on the CVT transmission as these systems tend to not be the quietest of operators. You won’t win any stoplight grand prix, but that’s not really what vehicles like this are about.

Photo: D.Heyman

Indeed, better they should keep fuel intake low and the 6.7L/100 km combined total I registered during my urban testing is low enough for me. If I were to really feather the throttle then I could keep it in full-EV mode for longer; you can cruise at about 40 km/h in EV mode. Beyond that point the system sends you a somewhat stern-sounding message through the gauge cluster display that your speed has exceeded EV mode’s limits. 

You can also press a button to activate EV mode, but all that really does is increase the threshold that the Corolla stays in EV mode. I hardly ever used the feature, preferring to let the system work it out itself because it’s probably smarter than I am. The fuel consumption totals suggest I’m right. 

 

Photo: D.Heyman

While interior space is a big part of occupant comfort, how smoothly a car rides is another. For its part, the Corolla rides just like its looks suggest it would: uneventfully and predictably. Bumps are mostly well-absorbed, and you don’t get that tinny feeling as you hit more severe ones. They did well with the shocks and bushings here to ensure that the family will be happy cruising around in its Corolla Hybrid for years to come. 

The family will also be happy with all the extra goodies coming their way thanks to the Hybrid’s fuel-stinginess. It should come as no surprise that this here’s a car that works exactly as you’d expect it to. It’s not exciting to look at or drive, to be sure, but those looking for the qualities this type of car delivers likely don’t give two hoots about that. It’s fuel-efficient, it’s comfortable and it’s 100% unassuming. It also provides a more sedate alternative to the bonkers-looking Prius alternative.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

We like

Fuel-efficient 
Interior space
Comfortable ride

We like less

Low on guts
Tame-looking, to put it politely
Infotainment lags behind competition 

The competition

Honda Insight
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Toyota Prius

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Heyman

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