The Corolla is one of Toyota’s most important nameplates with a ton of history, providing families with a cost effective and reliable means of transportation. The Corolla has always been a car that represents the best of what Toyota made. From the 1985 Corolla Trueno which became a legendary budget rear wheel drive sports car to the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid on test today, it has been the unbreakable compact sedan.
The Corolla is now moving on to dominate a new segment of green cars. 2020 was the first year that Toyota gave the Corolla a Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, an exciting update as it represents hybrid technology becoming more mainstream and affordable. Toyota has packaged their hybrid technology and offer it in an economical mainstream product for the masses instead of a niche vehicle with a high electrification premium. It shows the market has matured and become significantly more receptive to hybrid vehicles.
The current Corolla stormed onto the scene as a 2019 model with a handsome new design. The Hybrid model is a lot more trimmed down with a cleaner contemporary design compared to the sporty SE and XSE variants. The fascia carries the current corporate look with a large trapezoid grill and sleek narrow headlights. The Corolla retains a traditional profile unlike the Honda Civic, which looks like a four door coupe.
The interior is an area that has received a lot of praise. The Corolla’s interior was already a beautiful fusion of organic and contemporary design. The dash has a two tone colour scheme with dark leather on the top and cream injection molded soft touch materials. The Premium Package adds Softex synthetic leather seating as well as a heated leather steering wheel elevating the comfort level of the interior. The result is a light and aery interior which is needed for the tight quarters in the Corolla.
Rear legroom is acceptable, but a taller passenger may have a tough time behind the driver. Headroom is fine, but shoulder room is not as forgiving. Three adults in the back would be very cramped. The trunk is surprisingly spacious with a wide opening for convenient loading into the 371-litres of cargo volume. What’s impressive is the lack of cargo penalty with the Hybrid drivetrain; the battery is cleverly packaged without intruding into interior space.
Upon getting into the car, the eight-inch touchscreen gives a false sense of hope that the infotainment may be improved. This is an area in which Toyota continues to struggle a bit with; with slow rresponse time and an obsolete interface. The saving grace is that it still has physical buttons for all key functions; flipping between key functions is only one press away. 2021 also adds Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay is also standard fare.
The digital display in the instrument cluster is much better, with vibrant and clear graphics accompanied by two analog gauges on either side. Steering wheel mounted controls were simple an intuitive allowing you to scroll through and customize the display to your content. The overall experience is basic and easy, which suits the Corollas target audience.
The driving experience is what led us to understand where all the praise of the new Corolla comes from. The Corolla is built on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform which has been raved about every application. From the Camry to the Highlander, Toyota is currently using this platform to great success. This platform allows a wider stance, lower center of gravity and multilink rear suspension for a sophisticated ride quality. In a small package such as the Corolla, the responsive and playful handling characteristics shine through.
Ride quality is great for an economical compact; the quick handling of the Corolla did not come at the sacrifice of ride quality in any way. Steering is excellent, with accuracy and great on center performance as well. At highway speeds the Corolla continues to feel planted, and the way it can dive into a corner without immediately initiating terminal understeer is a huge improvement from the past. The Corolla can truly be considered a fun to drive option in this segment.
The hybrid option is what sets the Corolla apart from the competition. It is the only compact sedan. The system is an electric motor bolted to a 1.8-litre inline four with dual VVTI (variable valve timing with intelligence). Combined output is 121 horsepower and immediate torque delivery thanks to the electric motor. In the real world, the drivetrain has a split personality.
In most urban situations with relaxed acceleration, the Corolla is superbly quiet and serene thanks again to the electric motors. The instant torque allows for reasonable acceleration with light throttle application keeping the engine revs low. However, on more open roads with higher speed limits, the Corolla turns into a coarse and unrefined machine. The continuously variable transmission amplifies the lack of refinement, but at least the engine has enough grunt that it never feels underpowered.
Those driving in more urban settings can make use of an EV-mode, which works at speeds up to 30km/h and with light throttle use. Normal throttle application from a stop will trigger a warning stating too much throttle application and shut off EV mode. After a while of constantly watching the power distribution display, drivers will quickly learn how to drive the Corolla with its better side in check.
After years of refining their hybrid technology, the Toyota Corolla Hybrid is definitely a fuel sipper. Fuel consumption is rated 4.4L/100km city and 4.5L/100km highway for a combined 4.5L/100km rating. During our week of testing in winter conditions, we averaged 5.6L/100km. Drivers will most likely cut their gas station visits significantly by living with the Corolla Hybrid long term.
The Corolla Hybrid is the cheapest way for a buyer to get their hands on a hybrid vehicle at the moment with a starting price of only $24,990. Our tester also came equipped with the Premium Package adding heated steering wheel, power adjustable driver seats and rear heated seats. The Corolla also comes standard with Safety Sense 2.0 which includes key features such as full speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, pre collision warning, blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert to name a few.
The Corolla’s closest competition comes from the Korean sisters, the Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro, with starting prices of just over $25,000. The newly redesigned Hyundai Elantra also offers a hybrid option. The allure of Toyota reliability paired to the lowest price in the segment is a package that is hard to beat.
Up until now, there has always been an uncertainty behind hybrid tech as well as the stigma of it being costly. By offering the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, the brand is sending a message to the masses that this offering is their most renowned worry free, low maintenance and reliable car. With additional for warranty for the hybrid components, it really is time to embrace hybrid technology.