by Jay Traugott
2020 marks the first time in the history of the 12-generation strong nameplate that Toyota has given the humble Corolla a hybrid derivative, and in one fell swoop, killing off any reason to ever buy a Prius again. Using the same powertrain as that of the hugely successful Prius, the Hybrid Corolla delivers 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque from its 1.8-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine. Power is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) and is managed with three driving modes. Where the usual hybrid vehicle feels like a moving pop-up ad to let you know you're saving the world, the Corolla takes a much more subtle approach and instead, allows you to feel like you're saving money while driving a fully-fledged compact sedan. It faces off against the likes of Toyota's Prius Prime as well as Honda's Insight, but unlike traditional hybrid offerings, and based on the newest generation Corolla, it looks brilliant, promising to be a green machine to keep an eye on.
The 2020 Hybrid Corolla boasts updated contemporary styling that makes it stand out as a highly attractive sedan. A bold and assertive grille is both attention-grabbing and distinctive, flanked on either side by full-LED headlights and J-shaped LED daytime running lights. The Hybrid boasts model-specific 15-inch alloy wheels that are lighter and smaller than the other models in the range to maximize fuel efficiency; a high-sloped roofline and sleek body lines culminate in a modern rear that is neat and reminiscent of older models. High-grade LED taillights are standard exterior features as well as color-keyed outside mirrors. 'Hybrid' badging completes the differentiation from standard Corolla models.
The Corolla Hybrid is one of the lightest sedans in this class, with a curb weight of only 2,850 lbs actually making it lighter than the remainder of the Corolla lineup. The Hybrid measures 182.5 inches in length - within an inch of the Prius Prime and the Honda Insight - and rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. It stands 56.5 inches tall and 70.1 inches wide while retaining the standard Corolla's 5.1-inch ground clearance.
The Corolla Hybrid inherits the Prius's basic powertrain, mating a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine to two electric motors and a 1.3 kWh battery for combined outputs of 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled CVT automatic, delivering smooth power all the way up to highway speeds. Accelerating from a standstill in town exposes the motor's somewhat sluggish nature, and the situation doesn't improve when trying to overtake at highway speeds. Since it shares a powertrain with the Prius, it also suffers from the same disadvantage as the Prius does in terms of an underwhelming engine; the Corolla Hybrid excels in urban driving situations, with adequate power to go from traffic light to traffic light.
The Corolla Hybrid may be part of a new generation of Corolla that's more exciting to drive than vanilla efforts of the past, but skinny tires and an eco-focus don't exactly do wonders for enthusiastic driving dynamics. Instead, it feels more relaxed and almost a bit floaty in comparison. The ride is very comfortable though, and a faint glimmer of excitement can be found in the three available driving modes. With a pick of either Eco, Normal, or Sport modes, throttle responses are tuned electronically, with Sport mode offering delayed simulated upshifts to gain more power from available torque.
The overall driving characteristics of the Hybrid LE are quite pleasant, comfortable, pliant, and responsive enough to enjoy, while still being easy enough to use regardless of whether you're going on vacation of running to the mall, although it is ideally suited for the city environment. The 15-inch wheels and eco-tires do give off quite a bit of road noise, but Toyota has made large enough improvements to cabin insulation to make it more than bearable.
When it comes to Hybrid models, gas mileage claims are where the money is, and Toyota has hit the nail on the head with the Corolla Hybrid. EPA estimates of 53/52/52 mpg city/highway/combined are on par with the best in the segment, and its 11.4-gallon fuel tank capacity will see you driving just seven miles shy of 600 miles on a single tank of gas. Compared to Toyota stablemate, the Prius, the Corolla Hybrid falls only just shy of the 54/50/52 mpg achieved by the Prius Prime, calling into contention whether Toyota needs both the Prius and the Corolla Hybrid, or if perhaps a single model may suffice.
Toyota's Corolla Hybrid LE seats five people comfortably, although the sloped roofline diminishes the headroom in the rear substantially. At 38.3 inches of headroom up front, a six-foot driver would be easily accommodated, and while the 37.1 inches in the rear is undoubtedly better than what the Honda Clarity has available, the Corolla Hybrid is not ideal for tall back seat occupants. Fortunately, rear passengers benefit from 51.7 inches of shoulder room, with 54 inches up front making it a rather spacious cockpit to sit side by side in. Legroom for rear passengers is good at 42 inches, catering to most adults on relatively comfortable, premium-upholstered fabric seating.
The Corolla Hybrid is no exception to Toyota's commitment to practicality; with 13.1 cubic feet of cargo volume, however, this is quite poor in relation to the 15 cubic feet in the Honda, and almost 20 cubic feet of the Prius Prime. The Corolla Hybrid should fit ten or twelve shopping bags at least, although die-hard Toyota fans looking for a spacious trunk area in a Hybrid format may consider the Prius Prime instead.
The center console in the front has an armrest as well as a midsized compartment that could fit a small water bottle and a few miscellaneous items. Front and rear door storage pockets are available, and two cup holders are situated in the center stack in the front, and another two in the flip-down armrest of the back seat.
The Hybrid LE is modeled on the gas-powered LE trim, which is at the lower end of the standard Corolla range, and as such, it benefits from having the same standard features as the non-hybrid variant with a few small differences. Heated mirrors, automatic climate control, high-grade LED headlights, and three driving modes are included, while a Smart Key System on the front doors and trunk grants keyless entry and push-button start. There aren't any differentiating trims, however, and no additional packages can be added. The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite adds a plethora of driver and passenger safety features and is substantial: pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, low-light pedestrian detection and daytime bicyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection all form part of this package. Additionally, sway warning system, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, road sign assist, and lane-keeping assist are installed.
The Corolla Hybrid LE features a responsive, intuitive, and very easy to use eight-inch touch-screen display paired to the Entune App, and using a six-speaker audio system. Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, and a single USB port take care of connectivity, while an AM/FM radio and Siri Eyes Free are also available. Navigation is handled by a third-party app called Scout GPS Link as opposed to natively supporting it, and Android Auto remains excluded from the infotainment system. The touch-screen is more interactive than most, prompting users for an array of menu options, which might put off new owners or first-time users. It is easy to get used to and allows for fuss-free navigation and utilization overall.
In July 2019, the NHTSA issued a recall for specific models in the range for loss of stability control and brake assist functions. Despite this, the J.D. Power predicted reliability score for the 2020 Corolla Hybrid is an outstanding five out of five, identifying this vehicle as among the best. The available warranties are comprehensive and include a three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty, five-year/60,000 powertrain warranty, and top-of-the-class eight-year/100,000 mile hybrid-related component warranty. Additionally, a two-year/unlimited mile roadside assistance plan is issued at purchase.
As a brand new vehicle in the range, the Corolla Hybrid has yet to be crash tested and rated by IIHS, but the regular Corolla sedan was awarded the title of Top Safety Pick for 2019. The NHTSA has evaluated the Corolla Hybrid, but only in select areas, awarding it five stars for frontal crash protection and four for rollover protection. Safety features include standards like ABS and EBD, as well as a comprehensive eight airbags including a driver knee and front passenger seat-cushion airbag. Advanced safety features are encompassed in the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite, and include pre-collision detection, automatic braking, lane departure alert, road sign assist, and adaptive cruise control.
Based on arguably the most exciting Corolla in decades the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is an interesting, yet welcome, entry to the segment. But featuring an identical powertrain and mileage estimates to those of the Prius; it begs the question, does Toyota actually need both? The short answer is no because with the introduction of the Corolla Hybrid, Toyota has killed the Prius. Now you can finally have a frugal, reliable Toyota that's packed with safety and convenience features, and importantly doesn't have looks that only a mother could love. The Corolla Hybrid offers a conventionally stylish cabin, well-appointed and spacious enough for most families, with enticing driving dynamics, and all the mod-cons one might need. Simply put, the Corolla Hybrid may just be the best compact hybrid money can buy.
Available only as a single trim, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE has an MSRP of $23,100 excluding tax, licensing, registration, and a $930 destination charge. The only additional costs to consider are the $395 added if selecting the Blizzard Pearl exterior paint option.
1.8-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
The Corolla Hybrid comes in one trim only, namely the Hybrid LE. What that translates to for prospective buyers is a well-specced, mid-range Corolla with the benefits of extensive standard safety features and the exclusive Hybrid powertrain. It cannot be customized through additional feature packages, however, with Toyota instead opting to condense a broad selection of features across the non-hybrid range, into this single model. Accessories that can be added include the Body Protection option (costing $467), removable cross-bars (for $299), and various cargo enhancements.
The Corolla Hybrid and Prius Prime both utilize the exact same powertrain yielding 121 hp and 105 lb-ft and comparable gas mileage estimates. But the Prius Prime has a trick up its sleeve as a plug-in hybrid, as those mileage estimates are on gasoline alone. Throw in a 25-mile electric-only range, and the Prius Prime begins to justify the $4,500 price difference between it and the Corolla hybrid, with an MPGe value of 133. In contrast to the one trim level for the Corolla Hybrid, the Prius Prime has three variants to choose from which opens up the spectrum for customization and varied levels of specification, with the Prime offering more features than the Corolla on higher trims. While the Prius Prime has much more cargo space to offer (19.8 cubic feet vs. 13 cubic feet of the Corolla Hybrid), the Corolla has taken the traditionally ugly concept of the Hybrid and given us something beautiful, yet just as eco-friendly. While the plug-in nature of the Prius Prime may make it more economical, the Corolla only sacrifices minimally in this department but gives buyers a better-looking, better-driving hybrid, for less, making it our pick.
Honda has long offered a stylish alternative to the Prius in the guise of the Insight, offering up a peppy 1.5-liter gasoline engine and electric combination that delivers 151 hp in comparison to the 121 hp of the Corolla Hybrid, and proffering substantially better performance. Where the Corolla scores 53/52/52 mpg, the Honda Insight has EPA estimates of 55/49/52 mpg, earning better rates in city driving conditions, and a weaker score only on the open road. With a slightly larger trunk space and equally impressive NHTSA safety scores, the Honda stands toe-to-toe with the new Corolla Hybrid. As is usual with Toyota, however, expected reliability ratings are class-leading. The Honda offers a noisier ride, with the engine protesting somewhat when pushed hard. A minor difference in price between the two vehicles makes this an even harder comparison; in the end, we choose the reliability and familiar safety of the Corolla Hybrid, coupled with a new-found sense of style.