I’m driving down a typical suburban street in my local ’hood in the Lower Blue Mountains. It’s about a kilometre long, bush on one side and houses on the other. It's slightly downhill, and the petrol engine in my 2020 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid sedan remains totally dormant.
What’s more impressive, however, is when I get to the street’s terminus, I turn around and drive back up. I drive sedately, but not slowly, gently accelerating up to around 40km/h. The petrol engine only kicks in about three-quarters of the way up the hill, using a much smaller portion of fuel compared to a conventionally powered vehicle.
While it might not sound that impressive, this kind of hybrid driveline performance gave me an overall fuel consumption figure of just 3.8 litres per 100km during my week of mixed driving. Not far off Toyota’s claim of 3.5L/100km on the combined cycle, and an economic edge that nothing can match in this segment or price bracket.
The guts of the driveline comprises a 1.8-litre petrol engine, which makes 72kW at 5200rpm and 142Nm at 3600rpm using the efficiency-over-power Atkinson combustion cycle. It works in almost seamless conjunction with a 53kW/163Nm electric motor and 6.5-amp/hour nickel-metal hydride battery. This all runs through a CVT automatic transmission to the front wheels.
There are plenty of additional things like kilowatt-hours, voltage currents, closed loops and chemistry you could dwell on, but all of that stuff is missing the point with this Corolla Hybrid. For all intents and purposes, it’s just a normal car. It just happens to use a lot less fuel.
When that petrol engine kicks in to help or override the electric motor, you can notice it. But it’s neither loud nor jarring. If you had music cranking, or were engrossed in conversation or podcast, it’s likely you won’t notice it at all most of the time.
Unless you’re taking off at the lights with intent, you can let the electric drive do a lot of heavy lifting around town. It’s quiet, refined and (of course) efficient.
It’s not fast, with a combined power output of 90kW quoted by Toyota. But it’s not meant to be quick. With the big multifunction display in front showing your hybrid drive details, you feel compelled to drive the hybrid Corolla for ultimate economy bragging rights.
Scavenging millilitres at a time with your throttle inputs, you forsake getting to the limit quickly, favouring as many of those stored amps as possible. Tailgaters be damned, what’s the rush, anyway?
This iteration of Corolla sedan, mid-spec SX with a hybrid driveline, might just be the pick of the entire Corolla range. Starting from $29,735 before on-road costs, adding hybrid efficiency costs a paltry $1500 over the 2.0-litre petrol driveline.
It’s more powerful (125kW at 6600rpm and 200Nm at 4400–4800rpm), but not as efficient (6.0L/100km, claimed combined cycle).
I say pick of the range because although comparable hatch and sedan models are priced the same, the latter is a bigger car with more wheelbase and overall length to play with. There’s more room in the second row, and the boot is more than twice the size (470L versus 217L for a Corolla SX Hybrid hatch).
SX is a solid mid-range specification, with 8.0-inch infotainment display that has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio and satellite navigation. The SX Hybrid gets a 7.0-inch multifunction display in front of the driver, up from 4.2 inches in non-hybrid.
The interior is basic and uncluttered, with slim centre console and air-conditioning controls. You’ve got a couple of cupholders and a wireless phone-charging pad. There's only one USB point and a single 12V plug to fight over, which is probably underdone these days.
While the design feels modern, it’s a bit lacking in colour and contrast. Black cloth seats (with manual adjustment) are well bolstered with an integrated headrest look, giving a good balance of comfort and support.
Kudos to Toyota for adding in a physical volume dial, along with screen-flanking buttons. It makes the infotainment unit much easier to operate on the fly.
Other specs include: automatic LED headlights and daytime running lights, heated electric exterior mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels, electric handbrake, single-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-button start, and reversing camera.
Safety is another strong point for the Corolla sedan. The SX gets all of the safety gear, getting blind-spot monitoring atop the Ascent Sport. That's on top of autonomous emergency braking with day/night pedestrian and day cyclist detection, all-speed active cruise control, lane-trace assist, lane-departure alert, automatic high beam and traffic sign recognition.
The Corolla sedan gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which was attained by the hatchback variant in 2018 and applies to all Corolla variants.
So, it’s very efficient and very safe. Two important boxes to tick for a new runabout with a $30,000 asking price. But what’s it like to live with?
The Corolla Hybrid proved to be very quiet around town and on the highway, especially when it’s electrically driven. And both around town and on the highway, you can achieve plenty of engine-off action.
When the engine is operating, it’s mostly quiet as it hums at around 1200–1500rpm. Plant it, and the revs jump up to 4000rpm. It’s naturally noisier at this point, and there’s enough shove for most merging and overtaking both around town and on the highway.
The ride has a really suppressive nature about it. It’s soft, without feeling light and bouncy. When combined with the overall quietness and effective noise suppression, behind the wheel of the Corolla proved to be a relaxing place to spend time.
The Corolla holds the road well, with a nice feeling through the steering wheel to be an enjoyable experience. It’s not sporty, but it strikes a great balance of control and comfort. This is likely helped by the 15-inch alloy wheels that allow a meaty and practical 195/65 tyre with plenty of bump-absorbing sidewall.
The Bridgestone Ecopia EP150 tyres give low rolling resistance, which is great for your fuel economy and road noise, but they do contribute to a slight feeling of vagueness when cornering on wet roads.
The tyres don’t lose control, but you can feel a slight wandering through the steering wheel.
Toyota’s warranty offering for the Corolla Hybrid is good: unlimited kilometres for five years. It stretches out to seven years for the engine and 10 years on the hybrid battery, but you’ll need to commit to servicing your Corolla through the dealerships for that benefit. And while it’s cheap to service to start with, those costs do balloon out noticeably.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, which come under a capped-price servicing program. Each visit costs $180 a pop up until 60 months or 75,000km, and then sharply head north to $773, $234 and $804 for the next three services.
Negatives about the Corolla Hybrid sedan are both thin and few: tyres could be gripper, but they err on the side of efficiency where the Corolla is so strong. And servicing costs do get expensive, if you plan to own this vehicle long-term and stick to dealerships to do the work.
Positives, however, flow thick and fast: its efficiency is almost outrageous, and isn’t cost-prohibitive to access. Hybrid power is also refined and smooth, although not outright powerful.
It’s strong in terms of both technology and safety, but perhaps the most pleasant surprise is that the Corolla Hybrid is now both comfortable and enjoyable to drive. Jokes about Corollas, cardigans and Kelvinators don’t really apply any more.