Everything that made the Toyota Corolla one of the world's most popular small cars has been carried over to the new hybrid model. Only now, thanks to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, fuel consumption is cut by more than 2.0L/100km, and CO2 tailpipe emissions are down 33 per cent. It's a significant step in the story of a car that has just celebrated 50 years on the market with sales of well over 40 million units.
The Corolla is just the latest beneficiary of Toyota's stride towards hybrid versions of each vehicle in its range, following on from the Prius and the Camry. Unlike early hybrid vehicles, there's no cost premium on this model, which slots into the middle of the Corolla hatch range at $26,990. Around town, the hybrid economy advantage is actually greater, because the electric motor is used more frequently in stop/start traffic and the battery is recharged when braking. The counterpoint to cost savings is a requirement for a minimum of 95-octane petrol.
The car gains an electric drive motor linked to its standard 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and seven-speed CVT transmission. The petrol engine is retuned for economy with a lower maximum power figure, but the overall power output of 100kW is comparable with the regular Corolla. Most importantly, the large battery pack is well concealed beneath the rear seat, which means the hybrid model retains the full split-fold rear seat loading practicality. Fuel tank capacity drops slightly to 45 litres and there's a small step between the boot floor and folded seat. Another small drawback is, unlike other Corollas, the hybrid now carries a space saver spare wheel.
The cabin, which has good occupant space for its class and will easily seat four adults, mirrors the latest Corollas with smart presentation and familiar controls. The square dash design ensures good positioning of functions such as air-vents, while information and energy read-outs from the hybrid drive are neatly incorporated. The Corolla's front-seat comfort is better than average and drivers get a more tactile and fully adjustable steering wheel. Cabin presentation is enhanced with soft touch pads or trim inserts, particularly in the door panels.
There are also a few convenience features added over those on the base cars, including dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, seven-inch touchscreen audio, voice recognition and inbuilt satellite navigation. A rear-view camera, seven airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating reflect sound safety credentials, yet some fundamental convenience features are missing. Don't expect rain-sensing wipers or auto headlights, or the option of safety additions such as blind spot monitoring.
Overall performance is solid and, again, not dissimilar to the petrol versions – although noise levels are higher with the CVT when overtaking. There's also a slightly slower throttle response on hill starts and a whirring noise from the electric motor on acceleration, which are more characteristics than annoyances. Likewise, a slight change in brake pedal feel between the initial electric retardation and full braking is occasionally apparent around town, but is indistinguishable at speed on the open road. Emergency braking and pedal feel are surprisingly good.
Ride and handling have improved across the Corolla range with the latest version, and the hybrid always feels solid and surefooted. The electric power steering has a progressive feel and the suspension set-up delivers a more engaging drive than might be expected from such a practical small car.
The hybrid Corolla brings sizeable reductions in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Significantly, this well-equipped and competitively priced mid-spec model loses none of its passenger space and practicality.