If the Cadillac Escalade is the poster vehicle for conspicuous consumption, that must make the Toyota Prius the poster car for conspicuous conservation. To drive one is to wear your climate-change convictions on your sleeve. One look tells onlookers you’re saving the world by driving a gas-sipping hybrid.
But what about stealth conservation? What if you just want to save money on gas without driving a mobile billboard for environmental piety?
Enter the 2020 Corolla Hybrid. The just-redesigned Corolla is a decent-looking car, but it’s no eye magnet, especially in the dark-blue paint that seemed to camouflage the subtle contours of my test car. And let’s face it, if you want to fly below the radar, Corolla has always been the stereotype for low-profile, car-as-appliance functionality.
New to Canada for 2020, the hybrid version employs basically the same powertrain as the Prius: an efficiency-optimized 1.8-litre gasoline engine paired with two electric motor-generators to yield a combined 121 horsepower.
Toyota asks $24,790 for the Corolla Hybrid, $3,000 more than the closest-equivalent non-hybrid Corolla (the LE) but almost $4,000 less than a base Prius. Among other brands, Hyundai asks $24,399 for a base Ioniq Hybrid while the Honda Insight starts at $28,490.
Standard amenities on the Corolla include an eight-inch display screen, Apple CarPlay, front-seat heaters, automatic climate-control, backup camera, smart key and an impressive suite of driver-assist safety technologies. An available $2,000 Premium package adds, among other things, an eight-way power driver’s seat, wireless charging, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
At the wheel, you sit quite low relative to a bluff dashboard, though other visibility factors are excellent – for instance, slender A-pillars and a well-placed door mirror. The Premium package is worth having just for the eight-way seat. A conventional gear selector and a tachometer are comfortingly familiar features not usually found on hybrids.
Unlike other hybrids, the Corolla loses very little trunk space to the battery pack. Its 13.1-cubic-foot coffer is the same as that of any other 2020 Corolla sedan. That said, most compact-sedan trunks are in the range of 14 to 15 cu. ft. As for passengers, Corolla’s 2020 redesign has mysteriously demoted it from near top-of-class cabin roominess (97.5 cu. ft.) to the bottom (88.6 cu. ft.). Rear-seat knee room is adequate, but far from expansive.
Equally surprising is the meagre supply of stowage space up front. That’s especially ironic considering how, a decade ago, Toyota touted the 2009 Corolla’s “made for Canada” surfeit of stowage for ice scrapers, large cellphones and Tim Hortons coffee cups.
Driving the Corolla Hybrid is a calm, laid-back experience. A zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time of about 12 seconds sounds like a long, drawn-out yawn, but the combination of continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and a lending hand from the battery help it feel faster in everyday utility driving. The engine is fairly subdued too, so the occasional hybrid-typical random surges of rpm when the CVT does its thing are not too intrusive.
Much of the time, the engine isn’t even in the room. The hybrid often slips seamlessly into EV mode, even at freeway speeds; at other times on the freeway, the engine is running, but its rpm are as low as 1,000. Mechanically, it’s a sublimely laid-back cruiser, even if tire and wind noise breach the peace somewhat.
Laid-back also applies to the rest of the driving experience. Unlike other recent new Toyotas, such as the 2018-on Camry, the Corolla didn’t get the memo about “no more boring cars.” In terms of steering and handling, it’s just meh. On the other hand, the ride is nicely cushioned, and the brakes (unlike on many electrified vehicles) feel linear and natural.
The bottom line? Over a mid-September week, we drove almost 1,000 kilometres, much of it at freeway speed with the air conditioning on, and averaged 3.9 litres/100 kilometres, according to the trip computer. My own measurements yielded a still-stunning 4.1 L/100 km. That’s better even than the government 4.5 L/100 km combined rating.
The business case for the hybrid is less clear-cut. Based on official fuel consumption, current gas prices and the $3,000 premium over a Corolla LE, the hybrid could take the average driver five to seven years to pay for itself. Muddying the return-on-investment math, however, the hybrid does include some features the LE doesn’t, such as aluminum wheels, LED headlamps and smart key. Some of that $3,000 is paying for those – whether you want them or not.
Still, whatever your motivation, consuming less gasoline can only be a good thing. The Corolla Hybrid is very good at that, does it for a much lower price than an EV and delivers a range pushing 1,000 km. You can feel good about saving money and saving the planet, even if no one else notices.
- Base price/As tested: $24,790/$26,790
- Engines: 1.8-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-Cycle/Electric Motor
- Transmission/drive: Continuously-variable/FWD
- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 4.4 city/4.5 highway
- Alternatives: Honda Insight, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Niro, Toyota Prius
Vehicle provided by the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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