ARGUABLY one of the most important new models released last year was the Toyota Prius IV. Not for of any hybrid powertrain efficiency breakthroughs (in green-car-agnostic Australia – are you kidding?), but rather the snappily named Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) platform lurking underneath that ushers in technology that will underpin most transverse-engined vehicles the company is set to introduce.
Australia’s biggest selling brand’s future is literally riding on TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture).
So why is one of 2012’s biggest debutantes, a homely Corolla finished in fetching Wildfire Red, draped across these pages instead? Basically, we have to wait for our brand-new Prius i-Tech to arrive from Japan. So for the next two months, Toyota has kindly offered us the recently released (in Australia) Hybrid.
Somewhat ironically (considering how utterly unchanged it is visually from your garden-variety Toyota Corolla on the outside) the petrol-electric version stumps up something new (for the series) underneath, in the form of a double-wishbone rear suspension layout, turfing out the conventionally powered version’s torsion-beam arrangement. Just like the European-market Auris.
Weighing 55kg more than an equivalently equipped Corolla SX Hatch, the Hybrid employs a variation of the previous Prius’s ‘Synergy Drive’ system, featuring a high-compression 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 650V 60kW electric motor, for a combined total of 100kW. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack resides beneath the back seat and allows for less than 2km of pure electric driving range (at a maximum of 40km/h), so it’s best to focus on the reduced fuel consumption this Hybrid offers compared to a regular Corolla.
Officially it’s 4.1L/100km (two litres less than its petrol equivalent), but we managed a still-credible 5.5L/100km, and that included heavy city traffic as well as some freeway/highway driving with the car packed to the rafters with holiday gear, 190kg of humans, and one 26kg Labrador.
Larger (and electronically controlled) four-wheel disc brakes are also fitted, so the $27,530 RRP seems pretty reasonable, particularly as the Hybrid also includes satellite-navigation, a rear camera, 4.2-inch central touchscreen, auto-levelling bi-LED headlights, dual-zone climate, keyless entry and start, and 16-inch alloys shod with 205/55R16 Michelin Energy tyres.
Metallic paint adds $450, while for MY17, buyers can opt for the newly announced Autonomous Emergency Braking, as part of a $750 Safety Pack that also brings blind-spot monitoring and auto high-beam headlights.
Four weeks in, the Hybrid’s packaging has surprised by offering decent levels of space up front and sufficient room out back as long as rear occupants aren’t too tall, being perched up so high above the aforementioned battery pack.
Speaking of which, the seamless ease in which the series-parallel hybrid system switches between modes is impressive, as well as the general smoothness of the whole powertrain. The Hybrid’s steering is eager (if a tad artificial), and acceleration is satisfyingly brisk, especially in Power mode.
On the flipside, gripes include grabby brakes (is this a trait in all hybrids?), short-travel and disappointingly unsettled suspension, and the monotonous drone from the CVT under heavy acceleration.
Yet, as My First Hybrid (if the Yaris-based Prius C is too small), this Corolla succeeds in being interesting enough to be a welcome fill-in. With diesels fast falling out of favour, maybe one day every version of Australia’s best-selling passenger car will have some sort of petrol/electric propulsion.
Another reason why Corolla Hybrid is one of 2016’s most important arrivals.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Wheels magazine.