IN JUNE 1967, Toyota launched the Corolla in Australia. Three months later I was born. And almost to the day 30 years after that, the first production series-parallel hybrid system debuted internationally wearing a Prius badge.
Now all three of us coalesce to this – my final report on a model that was quietly released in mid 2016 as Japan’s first petrol-electric alternative to the increasingly on-the-nose Euro turbo-diesels.
Honestly, however, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy three months of Corolla Hybrid stewardship.
Previous experiences with the regular 11th-gen hatch out since 2012 left me thinking that Toyota dialled it in.
Distinctive design and total reliability are both fine and good, but sub-par refinement, comfort and driver appeal against over-achievers like the Volkswagen Golf and (latest) Subaru Impreza reeks of complacency.
In our recent base petrol auto small-car megatest (January 2017), Australia’s number one selling passenger car could only manage a measly tenth.
What happened to the successors of that original Corolla KE10 1100 that, in its first comparo (Wheels, October 1967), was declared “the nicest overall to use”? Well, nearly 3800km later, the Hybrid isn’t your garden variety Corolla.
To recap, it ditches the ageing 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre four-pot petrol lump for a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle unit married to a 650V 60kW electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack (for 100kW combined and just under 2km of pure electric range at up to 40km/h.) It also bins the torsion beam rear for a pair of double wishbones.
What I discovered was that while the regular Corolla’s tyre noise intrusion largely remained, the suspension was less busy and bouncy, particularly with four people on board.
Secondly, despite numb steering, the Hybrid handles with more composure and control, especially at speed and/or over bumpier roads.
Thirdly, this thing really hustles.
And, lastly, it averaged just 5.4L/100km. Yes, that’s wide of the 4.1L/100km claim, but not bad for real world devil-may-care driving.
Here, then, is the first Corolla in generations that is genuinely innovative, without compromising half a century of functionality and reliability.
For the money the Hybrid represents outstanding value against far more expensive Euro diesels while delivering palpably better economy, handling and ride qualities than its normal petrol siblings. The Hybrid is the pick.
Respect, then, to that other 50-year-old. I hope I’m as fit and efficient come this October. Meanwhile, next month, it’s the all-new Prius i-Tech’s turn. At just 20, will it also win us over?