You can have any Toyota Corolla you like as a hybrid, except for the top-spec sedan.
That’s a slightly odd line-up, but when it comes to the four-door Corolla, instead of focusing up high, could basic be best?
The 2020 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport hybrid sedan is the cheapest ticket into Toyota’s hybrid range – with a boot. For those with a preference for sedans, this is where the game starts.
Larger than the hatch it sits next to in showrooms, both with a longer wheelbase and bigger boot, the Corolla sedan promises to be both practical and frugal, without bulking up to something the size of the Camry.
Families can take advantage of the right-sized second car (or even sole car, in some cases) dimensions. First-car owners get the benefit of a full suite of included safety features, while older buyers who might want to keep a lid on running costs get the benefits of reduced fuel consumption.
The difference isn’t huge, but the $27,395 asking price of a Corolla Ascent Sport hybrid puts it a touch under $4400 below the cheapest Camry Ascent hybrid, or the step up from the cheapest petrol Corolla (with a manual) is $3500, or $2000 auto-for-auto. Middle ground doesn’t really get more middling than that.
|2020 Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport hybrid sedan|
|Engine||1.8-litre naturally aspirated, four-cylinder, petrol-electric hybrid|
|Power and torque||72kW at 5200rpm, 142Nm at 3600rpm (petrol), 53kW, 163Nm (electric), 90kW total system output|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||3.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||4.3L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 stars (2018)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 sedan, Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, Toyota Camry hybrid|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$28,895|
That’s enough to get you a bulging list of safety and driver assist features including traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking with cyclist and pedestrian detection, dusk-sensing headlights with auto high beam, all-speed adaptive cruise control, seven airbags, lane-trace assist, lane-departure warning, a reversing camera and two rear seat ISOFIX child seat mounts, plus three top-tether anchorages.
Not too shabby at entry level.
Inside the cabin, the Corolla does show signs of being the base model with its basic cloth seat trim, urethane steering wheel, and fairly simple black-on-black decor, with only a little interior brightwork.
Still, you’ll also find niceties like proximity key and push-button start, single-zone automatic climate control, 8.0-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, auto up/down on all four power windows, LED headlights and tail-lights, a rear fold-down centre armrest, and demisting heated door mirrors.
There’s not much you don’t get, though auto wipers are absent, as are USB charge points (there’s only one in the whole cabin), and the 15-inch wheels with aero covers look a bit naff alongside the handsome 16-inch alloys of non-hybrid models. But at least if you wanted factory navigation and digital radio, you can add those for $1000 (though for less, you could probably up the data plan on your phone and plug it in to the same effect).
Under the bonnet, Toyota uses an efficiency-optimised 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which registers a none-too-exciting 72kW at 5200rpm and 142Nm at 3600rpm. However, in concert with the 53kW and 153Nm from the electric motor, Toyota claims a combined 90kW.
That’s still a touch low compared to segment averages, but put into the rush-and-wait cycle of city traffic, it handles itself pretty well.
A CVT automatic, or in this case an e-CVT, combines power from the electric and petrol power sources as well as sending drive to the front wheels.
While a petrol engine needs to build up some speed to reach its strongest, an electric motor doesn’t. Combining the two means that all bases are covered more effectively than they might otherwise be in a regular car.
There’s even the benefit of a car that’s much quieter most of the time. Electric does the work half(ish) of the time, so as you sit in traffic inching though peak-hour, there’s less noise and vibration. It’s calmer – you’re calmer.
When the petrol engine does chime in the switchover is usually pretty subtle. If you’re heavy with the accelerator, you can get a little gruffness from the petrol motor as it spools up to speed in a hurry, but that’s not the best way to work with what the Corolla has.
While most of Toyota’s hybrids feature an eco-meter that can show you if you’re being too aggressive with the throttle, or how much energy you’re recuperating as you slow, the Ascent Sport sticks with a traditional tachometer. It’s a bit strange to see just how much of the time the petrol engine sits at 0rpm, but also fascinating to watch as revs stay oddly low, even as speed builds at a decent rate.
Officially, the Corolla sedan hybrid reports a 3.5L/100km fuel consumption, but I managed to return 4.3L/100km from a week of buzzing about with a few short high runs thrown in. Still decent for the size and space of the Corolla.
That space is, unsurprisingly, useful in both the front and rear. Whereas the sleeker styling of the Corolla hatch makes it a touch impractical in the rear, the sedan features more rear-seat space, added leg room, and a bigger boot.
Rear seats fall a touch short on amenities. There are no air vents in the rear of the console, and no USB or charge point, which could be a sticking point for family users.
Adult passengers can fit behind adult drivers without the need to contort, and the boot measures an almost midsize-sedan-rivalling 470L. There’s a space-saver spare under the floor, a single bag hook, and the ability to fold the rear seats with a 60/40 split.
It’s a comfy cabin, and the design is contemporary enough while still feeling familiar. Toyota really knows its game here, and has made a modern Corolla that’s sure not to alienate.
The ride around town is much the same. You’re getting a Corolla, and you’ll know it.
The hybrid runs 15-inch wheels compared to 16s on the Ascent Sport sedan. That means more tyre sidewall, and a ride that’s super absorbent when it comes to road-surface ripples and rough edges.
Toyota’s latest-generation chassis is improved over older generations. It’s stiffer and stronger, and even though it’s not trying to be a sports car (the Sport tag is a little misleading), it steers and handles better than before.
It’s still no thrill ride but it behaves well, keeps occupants comfortable, stays composed, and keeps vibrations and annoyances to a minimum at the top of its class.
Toyota is also solid when it comes to steering clear of maintenance annoyances. Your first five standard service visits carry a $180 price tag each. The warranty covers five years with no kilometre cap for private use (or 160,000km for commercial buyers).
Two years' extra driveline warranty and an extra five years of hybrid battery coverage apply if you keep your car service and health-checked through Toyota.
Line up those standard features and hybrid benefits, and the Corolla sedan ticks plenty of boxes. Will it wow you and amaze you? Well, it might – especially if you’re coming from something much older.
Really, though, it won’t disappoint you. The biggest highlight in the Corolla’s box is its Corolla-ness – its dependability, solidity and familiarity.
Even though the Ascent Sport misses out on the seriously sharp-looking big alloy wheels of the range-topper, or the added interior bling, it doesn’t particularly disappoint.