2020 Toyota Corolla
Pros-First Corolla hybrid. All new. High fuel economy. Lively. Agile. Roomy. Advanced safety features.
Cons-Occasional grabby brakes. Little cabin storage. Narrow rear door openings. No Android.
Bottom Line-Outstanding in most respects.
The all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla is the first U.S. Corolla to be a gas-electric hybrid and is the most fuel-efficient model to wear that name. The Corolla is the best-selling vehicle of all time. It arrived in 1966, and more than 46 million have been sold.
The Corolla long has been a rather dull but practical, utilitarian car, but the 2019 hatchback got an aggressive new design. The 2020 sedan also looks more sporty and is new from the ground up, with such items as black front grille with a "sport" mesh. However, the new styling causes the rear seat doorways to be rather narrow, and there's only one trim level.
There are "hybrid" signs strategically placed on the front tenders and trunk to let everyone know you're being "socially responsible." Without them, it would be impossible to tell this is a high-economy hybrid model. Some hybrids seem to be deliberately designed to alert folks that they are hybrids.
The Corolla Hybrid delivers an estimated 53 miles per gallon in the city and 52 on highways. As an aside, the engine compartment is a thing of beauty, as if Toyota took pains to place all components in an almost artistic manner.
The hybrid system delivers 121 horsepower and provides the 3,050-pound car with lively acceleration. I found it to be quick off the line, and entering Chicago's very fast-paced expressways was no problem. Easily passing other vehicles at highway speeds also was no problem. One can choose Normal, Eco or Power mode, but I found Eco mode to be fine virtually all the time.
There's no noticeable switch from electric to gasoline power, and the CVT transmission worked smoothly with the hybrid system, which has a long warranty.
Although designed primarily for high fuel economy, the Corolla Hybrid is fun to drive. It's quick and nimble with nicely geared steering. However, as if often the case with gas-electric hybrids, the anti-lock brakes are occasionally grabby at lower speeds. The 15-inch wheels with 65-series tires aren't aren't especially large, but the Corolla Hybrid is nimble in town and handles sweeping curves with confidence, thanks partly to vehicle stability and traction controls. The ride is supple.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine requires only 87-octane fuel for the compact 182-inch-long car's 11.4-gallon tank, although the hybrid powertrain from Toyota's proven Prius should allow owners to pass lots of gas stations without stopping.
If nothing else, the Corolla Hybrid is practical. Cabin storage room is stingy, but there's good room for four tall adults, although the rear seats are rather firm and the backseat center is too stiff for comfort and best left to the fold-down armrest with dual cupholders.
The fairly large trunk has a low, wide opening and can be enlarged by flipping the 60/40 split-folding rear setbacks forward. However, the pass-through opening from the trunk to the rear-seat area should be larger and the seat backs are too thick to sit entirely flat.
The interior is quiet and nicely laid out, with good materials and a backup camera. There's a push-button start, adjustable steering wheel, supportive (manual-only) front seats, easily read instruments, no-fuss touch screen and a good number of clearly marked manual controls. Power door locks have an automatic locking feature.
One dashboard readout shows how much battery power is left. There's also automatic climate control and the 6-speaker sound system is decent. You get Apple CarPlay compatibility, but no Android feature is available.
Being mainly a family car, the Corolla Hybrid has advanced safety features. They include a pre-collision system with pedestrian protection, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure assist with steering assist, lane tracing assist, brake assist, smart-stop technology and brake force distribution. There's also a bunch of air bags, including front and rear side-curtain air bags.
After more than 46 million Corollas built, one should expect the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid to be something special.