The big-selling Toyota Corolla hatchback now has a petrol-electric variant, so it's fair to ask: does this car negate the need for the more expensive Prius?
What happens when you take one of Australia's best-selling models and make it more fuel efficient? You end up with the new 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
It is priced at just $26,990 (before on-road costs), which slots it $2000 under the flagship ZR ($28,990) and $1500 over the SX automatic ($25,490).
The Corolla Hybrid’s aggressive pricing puts it well and truly in the consideration zone for most small hatchback buyers, and it’s not like the new model is a stripped-out baser, either – it comes packed with some pretty impressive equipment.
Standard kit includes ZR-donated features like dual-zone climate control, auto-levelling bi-LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and keyless entry/ignition. Unlike the ZR with its blingy 17-inch wheels, the Corolla Hybrid gets 16-inch alloys.
It also has goodies such as satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates, along with Toyota Link connectivity and a 4.2-inch multi-information display.
Safety is well accounted for, with seven airbags, a rear-view camera and stability control.
Some things it misses out on, compared with the ZR, include leather seat trim, heated front seats, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. We could do without the leather, but the heated seats and anti-glare mirror would be nice…
Still, the price tag can’t be ignored, and nor can the fact the Corolla Hybrid doesn’t cost any more to service when compared with a regular Corolla hatch. It’ll set you back a measly $140 every six months or 10,000km to maintain, and the plan spans three years or 60,000km, whichever occurs first. The standard Toyota three-year/100,000km warranty remains for the car, but the hybrid battery pack is covered by an eight-year warranty.
Speaking of that hybrid battery back, some vehicles of this type suffer from less boot space due to those items eating in to boot space, but the Corolla stows its Nickel-Metal Hydride pack beneath the rear seats, so it maintains the same boot space as the rest of the range – 360 litres. It’s not exactly class leading, but it is fine for a couple’s gear for a weekend away.
The seats can be folded down in a 60:40 fashion to expand the boot space, but if you need the back seat for passengers rather than parcels, it’s suitable for two adults. The back pew isn’t exactly spacious, with limited knee- and headroom for taller occupants, but parents with little ones will appreciate the dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.
Up front the Toyota Corolla Hybrid doesn’t look too different to the regular model. It gets a Prius-like gear selector that, annoyingly, doesn’t illuminate at night, meaning the unfamiliar may find themselves blindly fumbling with the stubby little lever in the dark.
Further, the centre console area is much larger and not quite as user-friendly in the Corolla Hybrid, with the slab-like section eating in to space and storage – there’s a little storage box ideal for phones/wallets and the like that's missing in the Hybrid.
The door pockets are big enough for drink bottles, and there is a pair of cup holders between the front seats, and a drop-down armrest in the rear with cup holders too.
The usability of the space is pretty good. And while you miss out on leather trim, the cloth finish is pretty smart.
The eco-bits you get inside the cabin include that 4.2-inch colour driver info screen, with a display that shows you which part of the petrol-electric drivetrain is doing what at any given time, and instead of a tachometer, there’s an eco-meter that shows you whether you’re driving 'greenly', or using the power of the combined engine and batteries, or charging those batteries on the move via braking or general downhill driving.
Being a hybrid, you’d expect fuel use to be better than the regular Corolla hatch - already not the thirstiest small car out there, claiming fuel consumption of between six and seven litres per 100 kilometres.
This new petrol-electric Corolla betters that, by dropping fuel use to a claimed 4.1L/100km. That’s a bit more than the much dearer – and larger – Prius model that launched earlier in 2016, which sips a claimed 3.4L/100km, but it's still a decent claim. And on test we saw about 4.8L/100km displayed on the screen, meaning the Corolla Hybrid is one of the most real-world efficient cars you can buy for the money.
Toyota claims the Corolla Hybrid’s total tank range is 1100km, even though the fuel tank is five litres smaller – just 45 litres. And it may offer even better range around town when the batteries and electric motor come into play more often.
That’s an interesting point in itself. The company is pitching this as something of an alternative to a diesel small car – there aren’t many of those around any more, and there are even fewer hybrid small cars, but you can’t argue with the fact it is efficient. It does need premium fuel, though.
So what makes it so good on juice? The hybrid system uses a 1.8-litre petrol engine teamed to an electric motor, and there’s a CVT automatic transmission channelling power to the front wheels. Depending on the situation, the drivetrain will use the batteries, the engine, or a combination of both, to power the car.
The total output of the drivetrain is 100kW. Not massive by class standards, but it’s the low-end torque, where the batteries help push you off the line, that is what typically characterises a hybrid model.
That’s sort of the case with the Corolla, but the throttle response is quite sluggish from a standstill. Once you’re up at speed it responds well, but in stop-start traffic the powertrain can be a bit of a pain unless you sink the boot in.
There are three drive modes – 'Power', 'Economy' and 'Electric' – with the latter offering between one and two kilometres of pure EV range, which is hardly up there with the likes of plug-in hybrid offerings that offer up to 50km or more of EV range.
But unlike those models, this doesn’t require plug-in recharging – it’s more like set and forget motoring, and that has a certain amount of appeal, you just fill it up and drive it like you would any conventional car. We left the car in 'eco mode' for our test, and found it offered an adequate balance of power and frugality.
As for stopping, the brakes of the Corolla Hybrid are a bit less user-friendly than the regular Corolla – they can be initially grabby and the pedal feel is a bit graunchy, but they do pull up well.
It drives as well, if not better, than the regular Corolla hatch too, with this version getting a double wishbone rear suspension setup that seemed to offer better bump absorption than the regular models with a torsion beam rear end. It corners reasonably well, too – you can barely notice the extra 95kg that the hybrid bits add to the kerb weight – and apart from the steering being a bit annoyingly heavy at low speeds, like when you’re parking, it’s pretty inoffensive from the driver’s seat.
Inoffensive – that’s one way to describe the 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid. Other words we would use include decent, efficient, and yes – to come back to the question we raised at the beginning of this review – it is a bit of a bargain. In fact, it could be the best Corolla money can buy...
Click the Photos tab above for more 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid images by Sam Venn.