What is the Toyota Corolla Hybrid?
A special version of Toyota’s ubiquitous small hatchback that takes all of the interminable model’s likeable elements and adds a petrol/electric drivetrain for boosted efficiency and even a little extra drivability.
This version is the mid-range $29,735 SX which forfeits some of the ZR’s flagship equipment but gains a little more than the most affordable Ascent Sport.
Despite its special drivetrain, this Corolla variant enjoys all the general features that have made the model such an enduring and widespread success and it even has a surprising price too.
We saddled up this mid-range eco-warrior for a week in New Zealand’s North Island to see how a car that pertains to be the most environmentally sensitive in the line-up fares in a nation that is just as focused on the environment.
What is the Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid like to drive?
The Toyota Corolla is not fast. Let’s get that elephant out of the room early on. It doesn’t matter if you go for the standard 2.0-litre combustion-powered variant or this hybrid which combines a 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder to an electric motor, they all accelerate to the milestone 100km/h in about 9.5-10 seconds.
However, in the case of the hybrid version, it’s added dollop of electric torque really comes into its own for ‘in-gear’ acceleration. When you’re out and about, the mild electric assistance is the difference between lacklustre and lively.
We’re not talking rally star, tyre-tearing performance, but a little extra nudge that makes the Corolla more eager in all types of driving.
It comes down to the delivery of power. While any combustion power engine will demonstrate some degree of response lag - whether it’s a turbocharged engine or delay in the transmission, a hybrid’s electrical energy is instant. Whether you can sense it or not, most drivers appreciate the nature of added electric torque.
If you feel like getting enthusiastic behind the wheel, the Corolla has a great chassis which is fun to steer but also confident and sure-footed. Special eco-boosting tyres are fitted as standard, which make your fuel go further but will complain sooner than more conventional road tyres.
It’s extra weight from the battery and electric motor is evident but, thanks to careful positioning of the additional mass, the Corolla Hybrid sacrifices little in agility over the more conventional versions.
There’s a lot of road roar which is aggravated by New Zealand’s relatively coarse surfaces. We would be very interested to see how much a different set of tyres would contribute to road noise reduction, and grip when it’s time for a new set of boots.
For the rest of the time, the Corolla has a beautifully smooth ride that’s comfortable but still in touch with the road.
What is the Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid like to live with?
Perhaps our favourite attribute of the Corolla Hybrid is just how surprisingly normal it is. Adjusting your driving style is not necessary, there’s no charging regime to get used to, and its silent electric coasting at low speed is the most obvious sign it’s doing anything different … until you get to the fuel pump.
During a cruise from Auckland to the far north, the Corolla was using just 4.0-litres of fuel every 100km. That’s astonishing - particularly as hybrids aren’t normally best suited to freeway cruising when they typically drain the small battery and have to rely on combustion power alone.
The Toyota, however, uses a special ‘Atkinson cycle’ for its petrol engine, which is not the best solution for power production, but is fantastically efficient. The result is a small hatchback that manages excellent frugality in stop/start traffic thanks to regenerative braking and pure electric driving, but continues to be economical when you’re out of town.
Seating is comfortable and roomy four four. Five would be fine for shorter trips but our main gripe is at the very back where you’ll find a tiny boot.
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Measuring just 217 litres in volume, the Corolla’s luggage compartment is smaller than that belonging to the Kia Picanto micro hatch. Compared with others in its own small hatchback category, including the Volkswagen Golf (380L) and the Honda Civic (414L) the Toyota is a little inadequate.
There’s also no lip on the edge of the boot when the hatch is opened, which allows things to fall out if they’ve moved in transit. Not great if you’ve picked up a couple of bottle of New Zealand’s finest pinot.
You can boost capacity to 333 litres and get a contents-retaining edge if you buy the range-topping ZR Hybrid, but then you’ll lose the laughably entitled ‘space saver’ wheel in favour of a puncture ‘mobility’ kit. You choose which is the lesser of two evils.
Beyond that, the Corolla was very much part of our team during a week touring the far north. It’s economy was proven through a wide range of driving styles and it hauled kit and people without complaint.
If you’re after a small hatch that works hard without shouting about it, the Corolla is certainly one to consider. If you’re after all that but loathe trips to the servo, the extra cash for the electrified version is definitely worth it. Speaking of which …
Is the Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid worth the money?
Viewed simplistically, a mid-range Japanese small hatchback priced at just under $30,000 is in line with other comparable offerings in the market. The Corolla SX is a typical example of a middle-of-the-road variant with a decent equipment list to remind you that you definitely didn’t jump in at the bargain basement end.
But that’s all before you consider its hybrid power party piece and that’s when the Corolla Hybrid’s value really starts to shine. As you might expect, a hybrid powertrain comes at a price premium but how much respective brands charge for that advantage varies significantly.
If you wanted to upgrade from a standard Honda Accord to the hybrid version, you’ll be charged an extra $2500. Fancy the hybrid version of the mid-range Nissan Pathfinder? That’ll be another $3000 on top. And if you upgrade to the electrified model of Lexus’ IS300 Sport Luxury you’ll be poorer to the tune of nearly $4000.
The Corolla? Adding the hybrid tech to any version including the least expensive Ascent Sport, the range-topping ZR or this SX, costs just $1500. That makes it the most affordable way to walk-up the range to a hybrid of any model line-up currently on sale.
With all of this in mind, it’s fair to say the Corolla SX Hybrid is very good value. If the ‘standard’ Corolla package is appealing - and thousands of Australians think exactly that for good reason - the Hybrid adds a decent technological boost to economy and a little pep for the dynamics for nothing less than a bargain.