ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST NAMEPLATES - “COROLLA” - HAS SUDDENLY MADE HYBRID MOTORING MAINSTREAM.
Enter the 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Sure the larger Camry Hybrid has been wooing families and the taxi industry for a few years now, but it’s part of a declining medium car class.
The Corolla, however, consistently one of Australia’s best-selling cars, may be the game-changer in ‘normalising’ petrol-plus-electric power.
Only available in hatchback, it is priced from $26,990 plus on-road costs, and is very well-equipped. Importantly, it sells its hybrid wares without forcing buyers to attach to a Prius badge, price tag… or image.
Vehicle Style: Small car
Price: $26,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine: 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol + 60kW/207N electric motor
Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic (CVT)
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.1 l/100km | Tested: 5.7 l/100km
Not only does the Corolla Hybrid bypass the pricing premium typically expected of a petrol-electric model, but it undercuts the petrol-only Corolla ZR range-topper by $2000 while poaching much of its equipment.
Such additions include satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and auto-levelling bi-LED headlights. Meanwhile the hybrid only asks $1200 more than the Corolla SX below it that lacks all those features.
Having underfloor batteries doesn’t reduce its boot space, but claimed combined cycle fuel consumption drops from 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres for the 1.8-litre four-cylinder models, to 4.1 l/100km for the hybrid.
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen AM/FM radio, CD player, ToyotaLink internet app connectivity, satellite navigation with traffic updates and 6 speakers
- Cargo volume: 360 litres
While, globally, Corolla hatchback models are targeted at European buyers, the Corolla sedan is typically aimed at Asian and North American markets. The former is designed as smaller yet classier inside, and the latter more basic with broader cabin dimensions.
Therefore, if you’re looking for space, look to the Corolla sedan – but it’s not available as a hybrid. It is however positively enormous, particularly for rear legroom and boot space.
Conversely the Corolla hatchback we’re driving here is tight in the rear even by class standards, lacking headroom in particular but also with average boot space (volume of 360 litres).
However, if you generally require only the front seats with only smaller passengers in the back, then we have some good news because the Corolla Hybrid offers arguably the classiest cabin of the entire small Toyota range.
Its soft-touch dashboard melds with ice-blue lighting and piano-black highlights, while the climate control and nav additions join a 4.2-inch colour screen between the speedometer and tachometer.
All lift the ambience significantly compared with the Corolla SX.
Yet the Corolla Hybrid also side-steps the glitzier items of the Corolla ZR, and arguably for the better. The wonderfully supportive and comfortable front buckets are trimmed in quality cloth rather than vinyl-like leather trim, for example, while the lack of a sunroof makes for extra headroom when noggin-space is already average to begin with.
The only curious omission is auto on/off headlights that arguably should be standard for the price. Buyers also miss out on heated front seats with driver’s side electric adjustment standard on the ZR.
The touchscreen system works well, although Toyota’s insistence on blocking out functions while driving (such as accessing your phonebook through the tablet-like screen) is absurd - it’s exactly what a Bluetooth link is for.
Likewise, while owners can get Pandora internet radio accessibility that is fast becoming common particularly in Holden, Mazda and Subaru models, but unlike those manufacturers that support plug-and-play USB connections, Toyota forces owners to download a particular ToyotaLink smartphone app first.
These are minor criticisms, though. For $27K the Corolla Hybrid delivers a Euro-like interior, albeit without the stretching space of a sedan or some hatchback rivals.
ON THE ROAD
- Hybrid-drive: 73kW/142Nm 1.8 4cyl petrol + 60kW/207N electric motor
- Transmission: single-speed CVT automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.4m turning circle
If it weren’t for a hybrid badge on its tail-gate and front flanks, it would be impossible to pick that this Corolla runs on petrol-electric power.
Inside, the only major changes centre around a slightly different transmission selector, an ‘econogauge’ in the binnacle ahead of the driver, and a display showing when the engine and motor are being used, and when the brakes are recharging the batteries.
Put your head down under the rear of this hatchback, however, and the technically astute will discover an independent rear suspension that is more sophisticated than the flat torsion bar used with every other Corolla.
The Corolla Hybrid has a kerb weight of 1365kg - 90kg more than a petrol-only Corolla ZR - and much of it centres around the underfloor battery pack that taxes the suspension components.
With a combined power output of 100kW, the petrol-electric model actually drops 3kW compared with its petrol-only cousins.
It’s not a simple matter of combining petrol (73kW) and electric (60kW) outputs because there are different driveability peaks and driveline losses through the automatic CVT.
Torque can’t be combined at all, Toyota claims, but across a range of driving conditions - city and country - it’s fair to say the petrol (142Nm) and electric (207Nm) combination feels more flexible than the standard 1.8-litre (with 173Nm).
The Corolla Hybrid however doesn’t feel as fast as the petrol model from a standing start. Particularly in Eco mode - accessed via a button on the lower console - the throttle feels sluggish and the hatchback takes ages to respond.
In the EV Mode next to it, the drivetrain keeps in ‘silent electric running’ for as long as possible but only up to about 35km/h.
Compared with a similarly priced, but lighter and size-smaller Toyota Prius C hybrid hatchback, the Corolla Hybrid feels slower and more sluggish. There is a price to be paid for all that extra space, luxury and bulk.
Switch to Power mode and everything livens up, but again Peter pays Paul because the trip computer’s fuel consumption rating goes up.
For refinement and smoothness, though, the Corolla Hybrid is very good.
The new rear suspension in concert with chubby 16-inch Michelin tyres (compared with the low-profile 17-inch ZR rubber) soaks up large potholes and lumpy roads very well. That said, there’s also an occasional jitteriness and firmness that betrays the weight at the rear.
The electric steering is light and smooth, but the Corolla Hybrid is no benchmark for handling; it is safe and stable but relatively unresponsive.
For buyers who stick to the city, this Toyota actually achieved its best fuel consumption in thick peak hour traffic, showing 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres. More freeway time and some hilly driving took that to 5.7 l/100km.
In any case, the Hybrid didn’t exceed its official 4.1 l/100km claim by as much as some rivals fall shy of consumption claims.
There are some diesel models in the small car class that could challenge the Corolla’s fuel consumption on the open road, but nothing - except the company’s own Prius C - can touch it around town.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - The Corolla hatch range (including Corolla Hybrid) scored 35.25 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016.
Safety features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, reverse-view camera, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.
Warranty: Three years/100,000 km
Servicing: Toyota Service Advantige capped price servicing covers the first six services for three years or 60,000km, with each service priced at $140, and intervals set at six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Hyundai’s i30 Active X diesel claims to drink 4.9 l/100km and costs an identical $26,990 (plus orc) to this Toyota, but it isn’t as well equipped or complete to drive.
Peugeot’s 308 diesel matches the Corolla Hybrid’s official consumption but costs a startling $35,290 (plus orc). Neither of these will come anywhere near the model we’re testing for urban fuel consumption.
For economy, if not for size and practicality, the Corolla Hybrid however pales alongside the company’s own Prius C – and buyers still have that ultimate economy model as an option.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For drivers who keep mostly within city limits, and would like a little more space and style than the Prius C offers, it’s difficult to imagine a more pragmatic option than the Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
It will deliver extraordinary urban fuel consumption, has a decent boot, super comfortable front seats, and a classy and well-equipped cabin.
In addition to its fuel economy, you can add the promise of Toyota reliability, and among the cheapest scheduled servicing in the land - although bi-annual/10,000km intervals are a pain.
Put all that together, and you have a very appealing package here for young family buyers.
If you want an engaging driving experience and like to explore roads less taken, look elsewhere - perhaps the Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3 - but otherwise Toyota’s Corolla Hybrid is comfortable, well-equipped and very good buying.
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