Here you have two very different takes on hybrid motoring – the 2016 Toyota Prius, and the 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Yeah, we know they’re both Toyota models so there are some similarities between the two, including the fact they’re both five-door hatchbacks. But in other regards, these two are also vastly different.
The Prius is the “look at me” greenie model of choice, not so much stating that the person driving is trying to do their bit for the environment, but screaming it.
The Corolla goes a very different way about getting the eco-job done. It isn’t shouty; in fact, it’s almost boring. There’s hardly anything that would give it away as being one of the most efficient cars on the market.
But is there more to these two than meets the eye? And which is the one that will justify your do-gooder eco urges more (*or just save you bucks at the bowser!*)?
Pricing and specifications
Aside from appearance, this is perhaps the biggest gulf between the two cars you see here.
The base model Prius you see before you starts at $34,990 plus on-road costs – and it’s not the one with all the fruit: you can get a higher-spec i-Tech model for $43,990.
The Corolla Hybrid comes in one specification only, and it's a handy wad of cash cheaper than the Prius, at $26,990 plus on-road costs.
So, the gap is $8000. You’d expect a fair bit more equipment in the Prius to justify the cost, right? Not quite…
Let’s start with the things the Corolla Hybrid gets that the Prius misses out on: satellite navigation; 16-inch alloy wheels (the Prius sports 15s); voice recognition; dual-zone climate control (the Prius has single-zone); and tinted rear windows.
And what about the Prius? Does it have any extras over the Corolla Hybrid? You bet it does, and many of them are safety related: radar cruise control (Corolla has standard cruise); forward collision warning; auto high-beam headlights; lane-departure alert with steering input; head-up display; 10-speaker stereo system (Corolla has six speakers); driver’s lumbar adjustment; electric folding door mirrors; Qi wireless phone charging; and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Stuff that is common to both cars includes: LED headlights; LED daytime running lamps; LED tail-lights; 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with USB/Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; rear-view camera; push-button start and keyless entry; auto on-off headlights; and auto wipers. Both have seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee), and stability control, too.
Admittedly, the Prius is a fair bit larger, so you can see why it is priced one size bracket up.
In terms of exterior dimensions; it spans 4540 millimetres long, 1490mm tall and 1760mm wide. The Corolla is shorter nose-to-tail (4330mm), not as tall (1475mm) and exactly the same width (1760mm). The Corolla also has a shorter wheelbase than the Prius, (2600mm v 2700mm) which links us nicely to the next consideration in this test: interior space.
Okay, so the $8000 extra spend sees you get a bit more metal for your money in the Prius, and inside there is a notable gap between the two cars.
There is considerably more rear seat space in the Prius for those with long legs, but headspace is a little tight given the rake of the roofline. You’ll fit three in the back a little more comfortably in the Prius than the Corolla, mainly because of that extra legroom.
Pictured above: Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The Corolla offers decent room for average-sized occupants, with reasonably leg and toe room and fine headroom. Both cars offer about the same amount of shoulder space across the rear bench.
Boot space is another win to the Prius, with its liftback hiding a handy 457 litres of cargo capacity, easily eclipsing the Corolla’s 360 litres of boot room (that’s not great by small hatchback standards, either). At least the hybrid bits don’t eat into boot space, with the battery packs hidden under the rear seats of both the Corolla and the Prius.
Pictured above: Toyota Prius
Storage is good for both cars, with bottle holders in the doors and cup-holders up front. But the Corolla’s bulky centre stack takes away a handy storage box that you get the in the regular (non-hybrid) model range. The Prius’s large central cavity offers stowage for plenty of loose items.
Pictured top: Toyota Corolla (left) and Toyota Prius (right); middle - Toyota Prius; bottom - Toyota Corolla
And in terms of usability, the Corolla misses out on the clever little LED downlight that is fitted to the Prius that makes it easier to see the gear selector at night. That little light also adds a nice ambience when you’re travelling late in the evening, where the Corolla can feel quite dark inside. The Prius has an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, which is a heaven-sent highlight if you do a lot of driving at night.
Both have the aforementioned 7.0-inch media screens, which aren’t the best in the business but they are easy to use once you’ve spent a bit of time with them. The Corolla gets the nod here, given it has navigation with SUNA live traffic updates, and the Prius doesn’t have maps at all in this spec. Neither of them have the latest in in-car connectivity (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto).
Drivetrain and fuel use
The pair is partly-powered by 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, with the Corolla’s pumping out 73kW at 5200rpm, and the Prius gets the newer version of that engine with, wait for it – 72kW at 5200rpm. Yes, it has one fewer kilowatts. The Corolla churns 142Nm of torque at 4000rpm, and the Prius pulls with 142Nm at 3600rpm.
The Prius’ electric motor churns out 53kW and 163Nm. According to Toyota, the combined power output is 90kW, though there is no combined torque figure available. The Corolla’s electric motor churns out more, with 60kW and 207Nm, but as with the Prius, there’s no combined torque output (combined power is higher at 100kW).
Claimed fuel use for these two cars is another area where the gap seems to give the advantage to the Prius – it is said to use just 3.4 litres per 100 kilometres, where the Corolla Hybrid claims 4.1L/100km.
Because both of these cars are aiming primarily at urban-dwellers, we set out on a specific urban loop to assess their credibility against those bewilderingly low fuel use claims: it is now time to point out that the Prius claims 3.4L/100km around town, and the Corolla claims 3.9L/100km.
“How can that be?” you may ask yourself. “How can they be even more efficient in traffic?” It comes down, in part, to the regenerative braking systems fitted to the cars, which helps capture energy that would have otherwise been lost as heat when you’re on and off the brakes in traffic.
We tested out those brakes – as well as the powertrains, suspension and steering – during our urban loops, and found that both were surprisingly amenable to urban daily driving conditions.
It’s fair to say that the Prius is a smoother operator than the Corolla Hybrid, which is essentially running the previous-generation Prius’ running gear. The Corolla’s power delivery isn’t quite as smooth, with a delayed reaction from a standing start due to the throttle calibration. You get used to it, but the Prius is quicker to jump, and it is generally more refined than the Corolla as you accelerate.
The Prius rolls around town in electric mode more comfortably, too, as the drivetrain has been worked to make use of the batteries more, and at higher speeds (it can drive in EV mode at up to 105km/h). The Corolla will, instead, use its batteries more sparingly, and it only has about two kilometres of range, but that range is constantly being topped up by the brakes around town. The Corolla isn’t clumsy in the way it switches between using batteries, using the engine or using both sources at once, but the Prius’ new-generation drivetrain is more refined, albeit not that much more efficient…
While the claimed urban driving usage difference may be 0.5L/100km, we saw a narrower margin: the Prius used 4.1L/100km, where the Corolla Hybrid used 4.4L/100km.
Across similar highway conditions, though, we saw the Corolla Hybrid use 4.9 litres per 100km, where the Prius used 4.4L/100km. It is fair to say, then, that in every situation the Prius is more efficient despite being larger and heavier (there’s about 55kg difference between the two).
Estimates from industry workbooks suggest that the Prius will cost you $45.00 per 1000km, where the Corolla Hybrid will cost $54.00 per 1000km. That’s more about the fuel requirement rather than the fuel tank size, as the Prius can run on 91-octane regular (E10) and the Corolla Hybrid requires 95-octane premium. The tank sizes are 43 litres and 45L, respectively (the regular Corolla has a 50L tank).
So, an extra $9.00 every 1000km, or $0.90 per 100km… You get the picture? The Prius will take a while to recoup that $8000 of extra initial expenditure.
Sure, if you’re totally into the ecological benefits of petrol-electric motoring, the CO2 emissions of the Prius will inevitably be lower (the claim is 80g/km for the Prius on the combined cycle test and 96g/km for the Corolla Hybrid), but you’ll be left asking if those extra dollars will buy you enough eco-credits in the long run…
Akio Toyoda, the head of Toyota Motor Corporation, said it was his aim to make this fourth-generation Prius fun to drive. And, to his credit, it is marginally enjoyable in corners and offers a level of steering feedback and control that has been missing from the Prius since the car’s first generation launched way back in 2001 in Australia (1998 in most other markets). And yes, I’ve driven every generation of Prius…
So, if you’re the type of buyer who may head outside of the urban limits to find a twisty road, will the level of dynamism on offer thrill you? That depends whether you wear cardigans ironically or not, but the fact is that it steers decently in the twisty stuff, holds its line nicely through corners, and the suspension isn’t too flummoxed by quick direction changes or mid-corner bumps.
The same can be said of the Corolla to an extent – this version, due to its hybrid underpinnings, sees the adoption of double wishbone rear suspension (just like the Prius) rather than torsion beam rear suspension that you get in the regular Corolla hatch, and that has its part to play in the way the car behaves through corners. It is decently tied down, and it steers fine, too, but lacks some of the driving enjoyment of the Prius. Who would have thought that was something anyone would say, ever...
On the open road, with a coarse-chip Aussie highway surface under the tyres, the Prius is by far the noisier car. There’s a lot of road roar through the wheel arches, and there’s a bit of wind noise from the mirrors, too.
The Corolla is more passenger-friendly in terms of road noise, with just some minor tyre roar in the cabin, and barely any wind noise at highway pace.
Both ride decently at highway speeds, but the Prius can be a little bouncy over bigger undulations. The Corolla feels a little more relaxed on the road, without as much travel from the suspension – but it’s never firm or uncomfortable. The Prius, though, can prove a little tiring as it moves around quite a bit on rougher sections of highway.
Around town the Prius again offers a slightly better drive experience in some ways, with its steering offering a quicker response time and better accuracy, where the Corolla’s steering tune is a bit heavier around town, making for harder work at low speeds and less accuracy when you’re tackling roundabouts and the like.
Still, the Prius can be a little clumsy over sharp-edged bumps, where the Corolla offers a slightly better judgement when it comes to dealing with road joins and thumper potholes.
If we had to live with one? Hmmm… That high-speed road noise in the Prius is pretty frustrating – so much so that recipients of Bluetooth calls said “wow, that sounds like you’re in the middle of a storm”.
Both of these hybrid Toyota models are covered by the standard three-year/100,000km car warranty, and an eight-year warranty on their battery packs.
Both are cheap to service, with Toyota’s low capped-price maintenance program applying to both models. The Corolla will 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 Prius has exactly the same service plan.
Obviously there’s another cost of ownership (outside of fuel costs!) that could be considered when you’re buying into the hybrid space – depreciation. We used the Glass’s Guide depreciation index to see what each car would be worth after three years or 50,000km.
The Prius had an estimated retained value of about $16,200, meaning it will be worth just 46 per cent of its purchase price after that hypothetical period. The Corolla, which has a much lower initial purchase price, will theoretically hold up better over the same time, with a retained value of $14,950, or 53 per cent of its initial purchase price.
Value for money motoring is something the Toyota Corolla has been associated with for aeons, and nothing has changed in the case of the Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
It’s that value that we can’t ignore, and it’s that value – both in the initial purchase cost and the projected long-term ownership experience – that gives the Corolla Hybrid the win over the larger, dearer Prius.
We can understand why you might want to go for the Prius – it’s the poster child for eco motoring, for one, and if you want to be seen to be doing the right thing, there’s no doubting you will get people’s attention a lot more in the Prius than you will in the Corolla. It arguably drives better in almost every way – but that’s not to say that the Corolla is a dud on the road, just that the next-generation Corolla Hybrid will need to step up its game.
And while the Prius is roomier and has more standard safety equipment (and even has a few more thoughtful touches than the Corolla) the fuel savings aren’t massive enough, and nor is the price gap small enough, for it to take top spot here.
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