I write from the perspective of an Uber driver. I have been driving a 2016 Corolla Hybrid for the past year, and decided to take a look at the new 2019 model that was launched last week.
I was able to take the car for a short test drive around the Gosford area north of Sydney. The test drive included some regular city streets as well as a freeway section.
For those unaware, an Uber driver might do 1200km per week on mostly short trips, with the occasional longer trip including freeways. The legendary Hybrid fuel economy works like this for an Uber driver. Over 1200km, the car would consume 49 litres of R98 fuel costing $79 (at 4.1L/100km). In another non-hybrid car, fuel consumption would be around 96 litres (at 8L/100km) costing $149.
So, approximately $70 of savings are available to offset the additional $1500 cost of the hybrid car. An Uber driver would be ahead within six months. So the economics work. However, the car must be safe and usable to be fit for purpose.
My overall impression is that the car drives as well as its predecessor, and my fear concerning the reduction of power and a strange new gearbox proved unfounded. The car is well behaved and performs credibly, and handles well on the road with good acceleration. It easily handles freeway speeds and acceleration at up to 110km/h is good.
1. Toyota has changed the cruise-control operation. I found it liable to take off unexpectedly from 110km/h to 120km/h when I just tried to nudge it up 1km/h. Needs some work.
2. Passenger space: The rear seat. I am 5ft 9in tall and built heavy. Both myself and the young tall salesman tried getting into the back seat and found it difficult to do so without bumping a head on the door sill. The tall guy had to ride the front seat like a bronco because there was not enough leg room. The space between us on the back seat was squeezy and would have made life difficult for the fourth passenger.
3. Accessories: The Ascent Sport is the base model of the series, so it's pretty plain and does not come with automatic day/night mirrors, but they are essential if you spend half your life driving at night. The problem is that they are not available as accessories to buy from Toyota, and due to the new safety sensor mounted on the windscreen, you won't be able to fit an aftermarket unit either.
4. Cabin noise: The car comes with Dunlop Enasave tyres in lieu of the Michelin Energy tyres found on the earlier model. There is a noticeable increase in the level of cabin noise at all speeds, which I found annoying because I got used to the earlier model with virtual silence on the Michelin tyres.
5. Driver ergonomics: Toyota has provided a new layout for the dual-zone climate-control air-conditioner controls. Unfortunately, Toyota has made the buttons much more complicated and the labels are smaller and harder to read when you are driving.
Toyota has missed out on providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on this model, with no indication as to whether this will be a free upgrade or not when it becomes available. The problem for an Uber driver is that they need to use a phone or tablet to interact with the Uber App and Google Maps. Without Android Auto, the phone or tablet needs to be mounted somewhere close to hand. About the only option on this car is to get a cupholder mount, but it's far from satisfactory.
The single 12-volt outlet is located in the console storage box, which makes it inconvenient to say the least, since that one outlet may need to provide power for three devices including the passenger's iPhone. It really needs an extra outlet. I have not forgotten the USB port provided under the dashboard, but this appears not to be in a useful location.
6. Emergencies: Unfortunately, Gosford's roads are of a pretty poor standard, and with all the development work going on, they are littered with PK screws and the like. So, having an efficient spare tyre is important. Toyota has provided the space-saver spare tyre in this model. You cannot drive normally on these, and the only option is to go home or straight to the tyre dealer. Great, so there goes my Ubering for up to one day if a flat tyre should happen on the weekend.
You can purchase a proper spare wheel from the dealer, but Toyota makes it prohibitively expensive at $1200 not including the tyre. Maybe I could get one at a wreckers?
A Note from the Editor: A stock image has been supplied with this review