Toyota’s perennial “beginner” car is no longer beige in character.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Base price: $24,790
Options: $2,000 Premium Package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $28,535
Is the new Corolla beautiful? No, I don’t think there is anyone who would say that. But it certainly is a lot nicer than it ever has been. It’s longer, lower and wider. It has a sporty-looking grille and some slick LED headlights. And in the upper trim levels, it does not look entry-level at all. My hybrid review sample didn’t quite stick out as much thanks to its silver colour and 15″ alloy wheels that actually seem to mimic hubcaps. But overall, it is a significantly more handsome ride than its predecessors.
OK, so this interior does not come across as an entry-level vehicle. I enjoyed the straight-forward and simple layout and the materials are very nice for what is almost the starter vehicle from Toyota. You’ve got some beautifully textured soft plastics, you’ve got panels on the dash with contrasting stitching, you’ve got LED ambient lighting, you’ve got a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, you’ve got heated seats that are as nice to look at as they are comfortable to sit in. Not only are they comfortable, they are quite supportively bolstered too. Overall, it simply does not feel like a basic entry-level sedan.
There is a configurable digital driver information screen between the analog gauges. And then there’s that huge touchscreen that juts out of the dash. The interface is straight-forward and simple, and the system works just fine. I did feel that it was a tiny bit slow to respond to touch at times. I do appreciate the inclusion of hard buttons and knobs to control the system – that makes it so much more intuitive.
Below the screen is an automatic climate control system and that’s about it for the dash – there is no centre stack so to speak. What happens is the centre console sneaks up right under the dash. At the front of it, is a wireless charging mat for smartphones – you’ll also find a USB plug right there.
Toyota ensures you get a full whack of driver assistance technology as standard equipment – there’s a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams and lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, dynamic cruise control and road edge detection.
I found the space in the rear seats quite spacious – at 5’10”, sitting behind my own driving position, I had plenty of leg room left (not to mention excellent foot room under the front seats) and about two inches of head room as well. The middle position is a bit tight obviously. But the two outboard seats (which are heated) were very comfortable. Other than roominess, there’s nothing else going on for rear passengers – no air vents, no charging plugs.
There’s some storage space under the armrest lid, along with 12V and USB plugs. The Corolla’s 371L trunk is a very nice size for a small sedan.
Under the Hood
The front-wheel drive Corolla combines a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor (for a combined horsepower rating of 121) and a CVT transmission. You can bet they’ve done everything to ensure this is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the planet. Toyota rates it at 4.4/4.5 L/100 km (city/highway). Those numbers alone are great, but get this – I averaged 3.7 L/100 km during my week with the Corolla and I made no real effort to drive efficiently. Wow!
I really liked the hybrid powertrain – it works well and is quite refined, and thanks to some nice electric torque off the line, it doesn’t feel like you have to compromise in performance. The whole experience is very smooth thanks to the CVT.
The hybrid Corolla has enough power to comfortably handle any driving situation, although you can apply the law of diminishing returns here – the more you step on it, the more obvious it becomes that this isn’t a rocket. Also, the car makes quite a bit of engine noise when you step on it – versus the relative silence when it is running on electric power. That continues on to highway speeds where the Corolla remains remarkably composed and quiet.
Power mode is almost surprising sometimes as it really ratchets up the initial responsiveness of the car.
The ride is absolutely outstanding. I wouldn’t call the Corolla Hybrid fun to drive in terms of its handling, but it is certainly capable and competent. The significant amounts of body roll around corners and curves throw things off a bit, but it will never surprise you in a bad way and it is quite agile.
As you’d expect, the regenerative brakes are standard hybrid fare, which is to say mushy. We found visibility out of the car to be good.
I found there were a couple of ergonomic oddities that bothered me here. The first is the placement of the seat heater buttons. They are directly in front of the wireless charging mat and jut out of the flush surface down there. Often when I would place my phone on the wireless charger, my finger or my phone would hit the buttons and inadvertently turn on the seat heater. Annoying!
The other issue might seem trivial but it bothered me. I’m used to the power window buttons being near the front of the driver’s armrest so they fall naturally into your hand. Instead, the Corolla’s are set back and instead, Toyota decided to put the window lock button at the front. Which is exactly what I often ended up pushing. So I’d often be locking out the power windows instead of opening my window. Just a little gripe, but it is something I never got used to during my week with the car.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was pretty high. She said it looked alright, and the interior was pretty nice, but she was surprised at how nicely it drove.
There are no bones about this – the new Corolla is a great car in any of its trim levels. I found this hybrid very easy to live with and it would actually be just fine without dishing out the extra cash for a few niceties in the Premium Package. With that said, the package is reasonably priced.
It’s comfortable, incredibly efficient, not that expensive for hybrid technology and offers plenty of higher-end touches that make this little sedan a smart car.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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