by Michael Butler
The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid enters the new year with some mild changes but retains the fantastic fuel economy that has put it on the radar of buyers looking for good value, comfort, and efficiency in the compact sedan segment. With its unique blend of style and frugality, the Corolla Hybrid is even taking away market share from the Prius, which used to be the go-to compact hybrid in Toyota's stable. Looking at images of the Corolla won't inspire, but this humble sedan offers everything you need for a comfy day-to-day driving experience. Its 1.8-liter powerplant produces a modest 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, but the Corolla sips fuel like few others and offers impressive levels of safety, thanks to Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 suite. The hybrid variant of the Corolla goes up against cars such as the Honda Insight and Hyundai Ioniq.
The Toyota Corolla got its first hybrid powertrain last year and has since gone on to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective cars in its class in the US. The hybrid Corolla, as with the rest of the Corolla range, benefits from a few new additions for 2021: all models gain Android Auto capability and SiriusXM with a three-month all-access trial. Safety has also been enhanced with rear side airbags. Rear cross-traffic alert with a blind-spot monitor is now optional on LE Hybrid vehicles. All models gain auto engine shut-off functionality.
1.8-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Unlike the exterior design of the new Apex Edition on non-hybrid models, the 2021 Corolla Hybrid looks like something you'd park at the airport and never think about again. Even in photos, it looks timid. That being said, it is neatly packaged. All cars feature high-grade LED headlights, color-keyed outside door handles, small 15-inch alloy wheels, a black front grille with sport mesh insert, and color-keyed heated power exterior mirrors.
The Corolla is a compact sedan that measures up to the likes of the Honda Insight. The overall height of the new Corolla Hybrid is 56.5 inches, while the dimensions for length and width are 182.3 inches and 70.1 inches, respectively. The hybrid Corolla rolls on a 106.3-inch wheelbase and has a ground clearance of 5.3 inches. At a curb weight of 2,850 pounds, the hybrid is lighter than the combustion-only model it's based on by 105 lbs.
Toyota has gone for the most efficient setup it can, so you can forget about an impressive top speed and 0 to 60 times. The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is powered by a simple 1.8-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine and two electric motors connected to a 1.3 kWh battery. This engine combo produces a mild 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled CVT transmission. Unfortunately, this powertrain leans heavily on the side of efficiency. Hence, performance is sluggish across the board: in city conditions, you won't be able to dart off the line, and the same can be said for highway driving, where overtaking requires a bit of planning.
We've commented in our 2020 review of the Corolla Hybrid that it drives with comfort rather than dynamism, which is entirely understandable when you look at the package as a whole. The mere fact that this car drives on 15-inch wheels should give you an idea of what you can expect. Around town, the Corolla Hybrid loves to soak up slow speed bumps, and the cabin is beautifully isolated from the outside world, which makes the driving experience even more refined. The same can be said of the driving experience on the highway; it's surprisingly refined for a car in this price bracket. Don't push it too hard, though; those small wheels offer the grip of a hockey puck, and the brakes can be grabby as they switch between friction and regenerative braking.
The whole point of the Corolla Hybrid is to get the best gas mileage possible at the cost of outright performance. But you'll accept that con once you start looking at the fuel economy figures; it sticks with the best of them without fuss. The EPA states that the Corolla will achieve a best of 53/52/52 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Combine this with an 11.4-gallon fuel tank, and you're looking at a maximum range just short of 600 miles. On the other hand, the Prius will manage 54/50/52 mpg, which begs the question of why Toyota even bothers with two models when you no longer have to put up with ugly looks to get excellent gas mileage.
The interior of the 2021 Corolla Hybrid is spacious enough to seat five adults in relative comfort, with the front passengers getting the better deal. The sloping roofline affects rear headroom, and passengers over six feet tall will feel slightly cramped. The headroom comes in at 38.3 inches in the front and 37.1 inches in the rear. Shoulder room is 54 inches in the front, and 51.7 inches in the back. Occupants in the front enjoy 42 inches of legroom, but those in the rear get just 34.8 inches, which is less than what rivals like the Honda Insight offer.
The Corolla Hybrid's primary focus might be fuel efficiency, but it is still a practical sedan and, therefore, needs to offer enough trunk and cargo space to appease the buyer. The space you get in the 2021 Hybrid isn't the best in its class, but at 13.1 cubic feet, it is enough for a solid run to the grocery store or school. For extra space, the Toyota offers 60/40 split fold-down rear seats. The Honda Insight, by comparison, offers a sizable 15.1 cubic feet of space, and the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime provides an even better 19.8 cubic feet, which might sway some buyers.
In terms of interior storage, the Corolla offers a center console storage bin and small storage nook. Front and rear door pockets are also included, as well as a glove box and two cupholders in the rear flip-down armrest.
The Hybrid model is based on the LE gas variant, so the spec sheet looks more or less the same, and that means you get the basics and not much more. This configuration includes exterior features such as LED headlights. On the interior side of things, the LE Hybrid gets a single-zone automatic climate control system, auto engine shut-off, an integrated backup camera, and a six-way adjustable driver's seat covered in premium fabric. You also get a smart key system with push-button start. The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite is standard, and includes driver assistance features such as a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, and road-edge detection with sway warning.
The eight-inch touchscreen display in the Corolla Hybrid is mounted high in the dashboard, making it easy to read and interact with it. With a relatively intuitive operating system and bright graphics, first-time users should have no problem getting to know how to use it. The Hybrid LE's infotainment system includes basics such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration, two USB ports, hands-free phone capability, Bluetooth streaming, and SiriusXM with a three-month trial period. You also get Toyota's Safety Connect with a one-year trial and Wi-Fi connection with up to 2 GB on a three-month trial. The audio system features six speakers that deliver an acceptable performance, but falls short of the optional JBL system found in specific non-hybrid models.
The Corolla Hybrid is one of the most dependable cars in the USA with a reliability rating of 82 out of 100 from J.D. Power. And, while no recalls were issued at the time of writing, two recalls are logged for 2020 models due to a possible loss of stability control and brake assistance, and a rear seatbelt assembly that may not lock as intended.
Toyota will cover the hybrid with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on electric and hybrid components. A corrosion warranty of five-years and a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty are included, and you get two years of roadside assistance and a two-year/25,000-mile maintenance plan. A hybrid battery warranty covers the car for ten years or 150,000 miles.
Safety is the name of the game for family-friendly sedans such as the Toyota Corolla, and the good news is that this platform is safe. The 2021 model has had a partial test done by the NHTSA which shows that the front driver's side and front passenger side offers solid protection, and the rollover protection score is also good. The 2020 model scored a full five out of five stars. The Corolla gets ten airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, and rear-seat side airbags, and the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite, which includes dynamic cruise control, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and traffic sign recognition. Optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert for $500
The Corolla has always been a safe bet for those looking for a reliable and comfortable sedan that doesn't break the bank. The 2021 Corolla Hybrid makes the choice easier thanks to fantastic fuel economy figures and high safety levels, but without the caveat of questionable looks found on the Prius. What it has achieved is also quite phenomenal; it has managed to squeeze its in-house rival out of the limelight. The Corolla offers the same levels of comfort and practicality as the Prius but looks a hundred times better doing it. Priced at an MSRP of $23,400, the LE gets the minimum in terms of features and extras, but that's why we like it. It's a purist car of sorts and squarely focused on delivering awesome gas mileage and high general comfort levels. We can respect that. The fact that it comes with advanced safety tech such as pedestrian detection and advanced cruise control is just an added bonus.
Finding a 2021 Corolla Hybrid for sale won't be an issue, as these cars are proving to be very popular amongst young families and older generations that appreciate its low cost, efficiency, and comfort. With an MSRP of only $23,400 excluding tax, registration, and a destination fee of $955, the Corolla Hybrid's price places it directly alongside competitors such as the $22,930 Honda Insight and $23,200 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid.
The 2021 Corolla Hybrid is exclusively available in LE trim, so you don't get a say in the matter. What you do get, however, is a well-specced mid-range car that offers excellent levels of tech and safety. Unfortunately, Toyota doesn't give much in the way of optional packages, so what you see is what you get. What you do get is the option to fit a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert for an additional $500. The exterior of the LE Hybrid features 15-inch alloy wheels, while the interior gets manually-adjustable front seats, push-button start, and single-zone climate control. The infotainment system consists of an eight-inch touchscreen display featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a six-speaker sound system. The Toyota Safety Sense suite adds forward collision warning with pedestrian warning, attention assist, lane keep assist, and traffic sign assist.
The eco-friendly sedan is getting cheaper and more stylish by the year. But one such model that proves just how far we've come in the battle against dull hybris is the Honda Insight. The Insight is based on the venerable Honda Civic and has seen the addition of many new standard features for 2021. Power is provided by a 1.5-liter petrol engine and electric hybrid system. Total power output is 151 hp and 197 lb-ft, which is significantly more than the Toyota Corolla. This makes the Insight a better car to drive and live with on a day to day basis, and the best thing is, despite this power advantage, the Insight will still deliver 55/49/52 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. The Insight is a much more fun car to drive on the road, the interior is well specced, and there are more options on offer than the Toyota. The interior space and trunk are also more spacious, and the Insight has been awarded a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS, making it the safer car. We'd go with the better-looking Honda, despite the Corolla's benefits.
The Toyota Prius has been around since 1997 and is still one of the ugliest cars in the Toyota fleet, although it is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road - its biggest selling point. The fact that competitors, and Toyota itself, are offering more hybrid models puts into question the future of the Prius, but for now, it is still an excellent eco-warrior. Powering the both is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine producing 96 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. That power is supplemented by an electric motor for combined system outputs of 121 hp. Power is sent to the front, or all four wheels via a CVT transmission. The fact that the Prius is offered in AWD is a major benefit over the Corolla. Fuel consumption is an amazing 58/53/56 mpg city/highway combined for the L Eco trim, which trumps the Corolla by a fair margin, although AWD variants don't fare quite as well. On the interior side, the Prius has a more modern design which we prefer, and features are comparable with the Corolla. Maximum cargo capacity is 27.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats which eclipses the 13.1 cubic feet on offer in the Corolla. Both are sedate in terms of dynamics. We'd choose the ugly but capable Prius here.