Thursday, November 21, 2019

A Blend of Two Classic Toyotas

It was inevitable, really. The Corolla, Toyota’s oldest nameplate, with 46+ million units sold over 53 years, is now available with the company’s famous hybrid powertrain.

Adding two electric motors and a nickel-metal hydride battery to the Corolla’s 1.8-liter gas engine creates the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. It brings up the fuel economy numbers while generating 121 horsepower.

New looks, new powertrain+more mpg

The last I tested, almost exactly a year ago, had official EPA numbers of 28 city/35 highway/31 combined—and I got 26 mpg during my test. My Blueprint (blue) 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid test car, on the other hand, earned EPA figures of 53 city/52 highway/52 combined. It got 44.8 mpg during its week-long stay, again a bit below EPA numbers, but much improved over the gas model.

for the hybrid are 7 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas vs. 3 and 7 for the gas-only model.

Restyled As Well As Repowered

Besides all this efficiency, the 12th generation 2020 Toyota Corolla is completely restyled. Taking its cue from the wildly energized Camry and other recently updated offerings, the new Corolla is more aggressive, with slices for eyes up front and a chiseled taillamp that stretches across the tail.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Here’s squinting at ya

Inside, the dash and everything else are brought up to modern standards, with an 8.0-inch touch screen prominently floating above the dash center. Apple CarPlay is finally available, and it provides an up-to-date interface. The six-speaker audio system was pretty decent. The fabric-wrapped seats were comfortable, and as you would expect, everything felt and worked just fine.

As with the Prius and Toyota’s other hybrids, the drivetrain balances use of the gasoline engine with the electric motor, while using regenerative braking to charge up the small battery. The car often used battery only while cruising through town, providing an EV experience. If your battery is full, you can press a button to make the car an EV only, but only under certain conditions.

Three Drive Modes

Choose from three drive modes—Power, Eco and Normal. I sampled Power briefly, but it’s not really in the spirit of a hybrid to race around. Normal was fine, while Eco, when commuting or in town, gets the most efficiency out of the powertrain.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Info is front and center

With no plug, the Corolla requires absolutely no special attention—you just get in and go. The instrument panel and screen provide you with information and incentives to drive intelligently, avoiding stomping on the pedals for quick acceleration or sudden braking. That’s the way to drive any car more efficiently, but with a hybrid, it just makes sense. For each trip I received a score on my driving, based on acceleration, cruising and braking. When I got a 93 (presumably out of 100) I received an “Excellent Steady Driving” message, but there were other suggestions as well.

The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid comes only as an LE model, while standard Corollas offer multiple trim levels. The LE is not the base car, but doesn’t have the upgrades of the XLE level, either. My tester had plastic wheel covers and cloth seats—not premium features. It did boast several options, including a HomeLink frameless rearview mirror ($175), which looked great, but a little fancy for the Corolla’s straightforward interior. The Body Protection Package ($467) included body side moldings, a rear bumper protector and door sill enhancements. The Paint Protection Film ($395) would surely keep your Corolla looking good over its likely very long life, if history is an indicator.

Corollas are made all over the world, but my test car came from Japan. I think it’s the first Japanese-built Toyota I’ve tested in years.

Safety Features Standard

The car is safe, with standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. This package includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams and road sign assist. That’s a mouthful, but it could save your life (and others’ too).

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Not fancy, but comfortable

Corollas have never been expensive cars. The Hybrid starts at $22,950, $3,000 over the base price of the non-hybrid LE model. The base gas-only Corolla L starts at just $19,500. My tester came to $25,233, with options.

Driving the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is pleasant, but not exciting or particularly quiet. My wife commented on the drone of the continuously variable automatic transmission when we were climbing a grade or entering the freeway, and some road noise permeates the cabin. That’s part of what makes it feel less than premium. I did grow to like the car over a week, as it is honest, and the interior is nicely upgraded. However, the real rewards of ownership are the age-old Corolla virtues—reliability, efficiency, and longevity. You get more style and fuel economy now, thanks to the 2020 significant update.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
A more upscale look that doesn’t translate inside

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

Steve Schaefer, a Contributing Editor and EV specialist at Smarticd, has written a weekly automotive column for 26 years, testing more than 1,250 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Recently, Steve became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore, and is focused on moving to EVs and 100% renewable energy. Currently he is working at a start-up dedicated to Read his EV/hybrid blog at

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