I tried to get mom to buy a Prius. The mileage improvement would be ideal for her short suburban commute.
After driving nearly every other compact sedan over the summer of 2014, she finally agreed to a drive in a Toyota Prius. Two minutes into the drive, she was certain that it wasn’t for her.
For better or for worse, nearly everybody knows what a Prius is. The unusual teardrop styling shouts to the world that you’re driving a hybrid, allowing anyone in traffic to make reasonable assumptions about the personality of the driver. Mom had made those assumptions as well, and didn’t want to be part of “that crowd.” Plus, the split rear glass is weird, causing a blind spot for her that she couldn’t get past.
Some people don’t want to shout their green bonafides from the rooftops. For those who want more normal with their stellar economy, the people who have perfected the hybrid have brought the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid. A stealth hybrid, perhaps?
Functionally, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is a Corolla with the powertrain of a Prius. The two cars share the same 1.8-liter four cylinder and 71hp electric motor that combine to net 121 total system horsepower. They share the excellent continuously-variable transmission that smoothly and efficiently translates power to the front wheels.
And neither the Corolla Hybrid nor the Prius will ever be mistaken for sports sedans. 121 horsepower is perfectly adequate for getting up to highway speeds – but it won’t happen briskly. Car and Driver’s instrumented testing yielded a 10.7 zero-to-sixty time, which is remarkably slow – but we doubt anyone buying this thrifty hybrid will care enough to test the performance limits.
Other than the lack of urgency from the drivetrain, driving the Corolla Hybrid is quite similar to the standard Corolla. The ride is much improved from prior generations of Corolla, with minimal road or wind noise interrupting your favorite podcast or conversation. Around the city, indeed, the reliance on electric propulsion keeps the sound levels low. Only upon hard acceleration when merging onto the interstate does the sound from the engine bay become noticeable, with a muted roar as the engine and motor combine to muscle forward.
And the mileage? The EPA rates the Corolla Hybrid at 52 mpg combined. In mixed driving that leaned more toward 35 mph rural two-lanes, the on-board mileage computer displayed around 56 mpg. And we weren’t driving with any consciousness toward fuel economy. For our Canadian readers – that’s a hair more than four litres per 100 kilometers. Incredible.
For those of you familiar with Toyota’s trim packages, you’ll surely notice the LE badge on the trunklid of this Corolla Hybrid. The LE trim has, for years, been a nearly entry-level package with minimal frills for minimal bucks. That LE trim package is the only one available – which means this Corolla Hybrid ends up less expensive than even the cheapest Prius.
Don’t fret. Due to the economies of scale, a base model car isn’t as basic as the 1990 Corolla my mom purchased, which lacked power windows, a passenger-side outside mirror, or even a clock.
For the as-delivered price of $24,055 US, this 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE comes standard with:
- Automatic climate control
- Tilt/telescoping steering wheel
- Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity
- Seven-inch color touch screen for the infotainment system
- Smart key with push-button start
- Apple CarPlay – though no Android Auto
- Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 – a suite of safety systems including a full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, and a lane departure alert
And, compared to mom’s first Corolla, yes this has an outside mirror, power windows, and a clock.
The interior is perfectly functional, with plenty of room front and rear for four or five. The front seats, clad in hard-wearing cloth, are comfortable enough for long drives. The style of the dashboard is quite Spartan, with little to distract the eye. A high center screen for that seven inch touch screen could possibly be angled a bit better – as it’s tilted up a bit, the colors wash out in bright sunlight. Other controls are simple, with big knobs and a couple of intuitive buttons for HVAC controls.
The trunk, at 13.1 cubic feet, is well shaped but a bit smaller than we’d like. A 60/40 split folding rear seat adds some capacity, but this is one advantage to the Prius’ hatchback, which has at least 24.6 cubic feet of cargo space. We’d trade the space for the style, however – the Corolla Hybrid looks less spaceship and more everyman’s car.
The Verdict: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The 2020 Toyota Corolla is the best way to pinch pennies on a new car. Between the low price and the incredible fuel economy, this is a great buy.
Oh, after that Prius test drive in 2014? Mom sat in a Corolla on the showroom floor, and sighed “this is it.” She didn’t even drive it. She called her favorite salesperson and had him do a dealer transfer on a new 2014 Corolla. In green.
It was mom’s fifth Corolla, dating back to 1989, when she bought a stripped, manual-transmission ’90 as her first car after she and my dad split. She hasn’t driven anything since. That green 2014 is paid off, and it might be time to replace it. I’ve a feeling she’ll be looking at a Corolla Hybrid this time.