Driven! 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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The new 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is certainly not the company’s most exciting car. Leave that to the Supra. Nor will the newest Corolla variant do anything to challenge Toyota’s reputation for building automotive appliances. But this is a car that anyone looking for inexpensive transportation should be considering.

  • The Corolla is the world’s all-time best-selling vehicle.
  • A hybrid version of the Corolla is being offered for the first time for the 2020 model year.
  • The Toyota Corolla Hybrid sedan is rated at 52 miles per gallon combined.
  • Pricing starts at $24,055.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Toyota’s Corolla has never been flashy, but it’s also never had a hybrid powertrain. (Photo: Toyota)

Like the Prius, but not

When its second generation debuted for the 2004 model year, Toyota’s Prius popularized the high-mileage hybrid. Its image as a futuristic, weird looking car that calls lots of attention to itself appealed to a wide cross-section of buyers, many as eager to trumpet their eco-consciousness to their neighbors as save money at the pump. It set in place a formula Toyota still adheres to today.

Despite similarities in size and some mechanical similarities, the Corolla couldn’t be more different. Plain to a fault, Toyota’s compact sedan has long been the company’s most conservative car. Redesigned for 2020, it still is. But it’s the first Toyota in years to have escaped the company’s recent penchant for wild styling. That’s definitely a plus, but the real development is that Toyota now offers buyers the option to have the hybrid gas-electric powertrain from the Prius installed under the Corolla’s unassuming hood.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Toyota didn’t go crazy on the styling of the Corolla, which has long been the company’s most conservative car. (Photo: Toyota)

Miserly power, miserly fuel economy

Just as in the Prius, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in the Corolla Hybrid drives the front wheels through a transmission that integrates two electric motors. The combined output of the system is only 121 horsepower, and that’s not a lot. Although the instantaneous torque of the electric motor when pulling away from a stop makes the Corolla feel a bit more powerful the car’s demeanor is always sedate.

But for urban driving – where traffic congestion often means slogging along at a pace easily matched by bicyclists – the Corolla Hybrid is more than enough. The constant switching between the gas engine, electric assist, and electric-only driving is seamless. Its regenerative braking system operates almost undetectably. After just a little time behind the wheel, there’s no reason to even think about the fact that the Corolla is a hybrid.

At least, that is, until you reach the bottom of the Corolla Hybrid’s wee 11.4-gallon tank. No matter how you adjudicate its efficiency, this car is miserly. Its range is nearly 600 miles, meaning far fewer trips to the gas station. Filling the tank in the Corolla Hybrid will cost only about $30 for those paying close to the national average price for gas. With an EPA combined fuel economy of 52 mpg, the Corolla is tied for third highest fuel economy on the market with the Honda Insight and Toyota Camry, behind only the Prius and the Hyundai Ioniq, both dedicated hybrids.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The Toyota Corolla Hybrid has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is its 52-mpg combined EPA estimate. (Photo: Toyota)

Doing the math

The Corolla Hybrid is $3,050 more than the non-hybrid version (but that’s still $2,310 less than a comparable Prius). The hybrid gets 19 mpg better combined fuel economy than the standard Corolla, according to the EPA, which estimates annual fuel cost for the hybrid would be just $750. That’s $450 less per year than the non-hybrid, making the payback time for the extra cost of the hybrid nearly seven years.

That’s quite a while, but the EPA’s calculations are based on a set of assumptions that may not fit all drivers. The first is that annual mileage is 15,000, with 55% of that driven in the city. The second is that gasoline costs only a national average price, which was $2.65 per gallon for 2019. Obviously, those who live in western states with high gas prices or who drive more miles may reap a greater advantage from the hybrid.

This can justify the additional cost of the Corolla Hybrid much sooner. For instance, in California, where the current average price of gasoline is $4.09, the estimated break-even point for a 15,000-mile driver would be about 4.5 years. For many buyers, that would be months before they’ve even paid off their car loan.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid Interior
The Toyota Corolla’s interior is basic, but comfortable and quiet. (Photo: Toyota)

Is the Corolla Hybrid for you?

While fuel economy is the obvious number one reason to consider a Corolla Hybrid, it’s not the only thing appealing about this small sedan. The hybrid model comes only in LE trim, which means its plastics and fabric seat coverings are basic, but the Corolla Hybrid doesn’t feel like a cheap car.

The packaging of the hybrid allows the rear seat and trunk to be unchanged in dimensions from the standard car. The hybrid battery tucks neatly beneath the backseat, so the Corolla can still have 60/40 folding seat backs that allow access to the trunk, which is a reasonable size for its class.

Like the standard model, the hybrid version is much more comfortable and quiet than in past generations. A new multi-link rear suspension design helps deliver an excellent ride, although the Corolla Hybrid is tuned for compliance rather than handling prowess. The hybrid rides on just 15-inch tires, which are relatively small compared to most new cars. This is good for fuel economy and comfort, but limits cornering performance. At least the hybrid weighs only about 100 pounds more than the non-hybrid, a nominal difference that doesn’t impact the car’s driving dynamics.

A standard 8-inch touchscreen sticks up from the Corolla Hybrid’s dashboard, with dedicated hard buttons that make it much easier to use than the systems in some competitors. Toyota has finally added Apple AirPlay compatibility to its infotainment systems, a welcome development, although Android Auto is not yet available in the Corolla. Toyota has also made its Safety Sense system standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, and automated emergency braking.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid Infotainment
The Corolla Hybrid has a standard 8-inch touchscreen, with dedicated hard buttons to improve its ease of use. (Photo: Toyota)

The verdict

Critics may use the word “appliance” pejoratively, implying that Toyotas are unimaginative and uninspiring. But Toyota’s legions of owners tend to see the opposite, regarding its vehicles as trustworthy machines, built to do a job without fuss. But by either measure, the Corolla Hybrid is likely the best appliance the company has ever built.

Read more:

Driven! Lexus UX250h Hybrid Crossover

Driven! 2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e Review

When Is a Prius Not a Prius? When It’s the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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