By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – The first thing we noticed when getting into the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid was that it had a range of 575 miles. That was simply astounding for a subcompact car with an 11.4 gallon fuel tank.
But with a fuel rating of 53 mpg in the city, 52 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg combined it makes sense. The Corolla Hybrid had a 1.8-liter four cylinder engine and two electric motors which produced a net of 121 horsepower. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission or CVT.
Like most hybrids, the Toyota Corolla was smooth and quiet. And like most hybrids, acceleration was not its strong suit. Under normal circumstances the car was okay. When pulling away, the battery provided a subtle power boost in order to put less strain on the engine and eliminate the “rubber band” effect experienced with some hybrids. That’s what Toyota said. But when aggressive acceleration was needed it was really not there. The 2020 Corolla was definitely a car that needed to be understood and defensively driven.
Hybrids have regenerative brakes capable of capturing kinetic energy and transferring it to the battery for charging. The Corolla had electronically controlled regenerative brakes and they could be aggressive, or biting we thought. A couple of times we found ourselves stopping short because we had not gotten use to the brake pedal feel.
The brakes could also reduce driver pressure needed on the pedal to keep the Corolla stationary while waiting at a traffic light. When the accelerator was pressed, Brake Hold as Toyota has branded it, releases instantly. We never noticed it.
With lighter more powerful Lithium-ion batteries being used in newer hybrids, Toyota continues to rely on nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery packs in a lot of its hybrids. In the 2020 Corolla Hybrid a newly developed technology called Hyper-Prime Nickel™ was used to boost battery performance in a smaller and lighter package.
The battery’s smaller size and flatter shape allowed it to be packaged under the rear seat, rather than taking up trunk space, and also allowing a 60/40 split folding rear seatback to expand cargo capacity. The battery location also contributed to the vehicle’s lower center of gravity, a boon to agility.
During every day driving the Toyota Corolla Hybrid was more than adequate. It rode well, the car’s suspension smoothed out the road, it cornered well and the sight lines were good. There were even several drive modes: eco, normal and sport.
Toyota said the normal mode allowed the hybrid system to achieve an ideal combination of fuel economy and vehicle acceleration. The accelerator opening amount changes linearly in response to accelerator pedal operation. Eco mode improved the hybrid system efficiency by limiting power in response to light to moderate accelerator pedal input and in sport mode the available power is increased, allowing for improved acceleration response.
I’ve heard product developers say we’ll cut your throat to save a quarter. By that axiom, there must be a lot of blood on the floor in the room where the Toyota Corollas Hybrid was developed. It was notable what the car did not have.
There were no heated seats, they were not power, no satellite radio, no automatic deeming mirrors and no navigation system. The car was pretty bare bones. However, at its core it was a Toyota Corolla and that ain’t bad. If not for the Corolla, it is doubtful that Toyota would still be in the American market. Almost 50 million have been sold since it was first introduced in 1966.
The 2020 Corolla Hybrid did have Toyota’s safety package: pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, and lane departure alert with steering assist that could be turned off, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, on the test car and road sign assist.
The car was spacious, comfortable and awfully easy to drive. They used royal blue arcs in the instrument display for a speed bar in the speedometer and in the fuel and temperature gauges. It was reversed out of a black background. And there was a floating infotainment screen.
The interior was black too and the material used was some sort of micro fiber. We climbed into the back and found it surprisingly spacious for a car of this size. There was plenty of headroom and lots of legroom too. We did have to scrunch down to get through the rear door which curved down abruptly at the C pillar. The trunk was 13.1 cu. ft.
We were surprised and pleased by the mud flaps. There were two USB jacks; one on the dash and another in the center console. We thought there should be more in a car meant to attract younger buyers because of its price.
Even though there was no satellite radio, the vehicle could be linked to a smartphone for streaming either through Bluetooth or with a chord. We tried both ways and found the chord more reliable. Sometimes Bluetooth worked and sometimes it didn’t.
At $24,467 as tested, the 2020 Corolla has reverted back to its ancestral character: a high quality product at a low price.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com