Toyota Corolla Hybrid — Gas mileage champ

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Toyota Corolla is an all-new compact sedan for 2020 — the 12th generation of what is regarded as the best-selling car of all time — with new styling inside and out and three drivetrain variants including a hybrid version that is EPA-rated at 52 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

The Corolla gets a new exterior design that imparts more stylish curves and creases including a front end that effectively uses the Toyota/Lexus big mouth grille. The slim LED headlamps wrap into the front fenders in an artful design and in back a bar ties the taillights together, which are also wrapped into the fenders.

The interior has an open feeling with an instrument panel lowered to increase outward visibility. The gauges and displays are dominated by an 8-inch information touchscreen in the center that rises above the dashboard. Proper audio and tuning knobs are part of the new setup.

The Corolla comes as a sedan and hatchback and for the first time in a hybrid format with three engine choices across the lineup — a carryover 1.8-liter 4-cylinder with 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque, a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, and in the hybrid model a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder and two electric motor-generators with a combined output of 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. All are mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.

There are five trim levels — L, LE, SE, XLE and XSE. If you are considering the non-hybrid sedan, we recommend either the XLE or the XSE with the bigger engine. It feels sharper and definitely more energetic than the smaller 1.8-liter.

The new hybrid model offers extraordinary gas mileage rated at 53 mpg city, 52 highway and 52 combined — and should not disappoint even the most lead-footed driver. We achieved 49 mpg, which we consider outstanding based on our more aggressive driving habits.

We were generally pleased with the overall handling and drivability of the hybrid. The downside is the hybrid's turtle-like acceleration measured at 10.7 seconds from 0-to-60, and it takes a full 18 seconds to reach a quarter mile. We discovered that you have to carefully choose the spot to pass a slower-moving car on a two-lane road. The switch between battery and gas propulsion is smooth, and the Corolla can easily pull away from a stoplight under electric power alone.

In fairness, once we learned the car's performance shortcomings, it was possible to live with it whether daily commuting or taking an extended trip. And if you are like us and have no need to proclaim to the world that you are driving politically correct, there's very little to distinguish the hybrid from the gas-engine model other than a "hybrid" emblem on the trunk lid.

Unfortunately, if you purchase the hybrid, you purchase the LE package with no options available other than paint color and such accessories as floor mats and mudguards. This could be a deal breaker for some people who desire the outstanding gas mileage, but want some of the good stuff available on the top trim levels such as a premium audio system, "dynamic" navigation, upgraded wheels, and blindspot monitoring.

Corolla Hybrid models do come standard with the 7-inch configurable gauge display that is optional in the non-hybrid. The screen displays a speedometer and battery charge status, and can be configured to also display things like a tachometer or accelerator guidance system to indicate suggested pedal operation for maximum fuel efficiency.

And like all Corollas, Toyota's new Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety features is standard. It includes forward collision detection with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control that works down to a full stop, lane departure warning and lane-centering steering, automatic high beams and road sign assist.

Also standard are automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition, an 8-inch touchscreen, review camera, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, a six-speaker audio system, Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay. Toyota does not offer Android Auto in any of its products.

The LE hybrid carries a base price of $23,880 including destination charge. That's close to $3,000 more than comparable LE gas model. But the hybrid gets about 19 more miles per gallon than the gas engine version of the LE based on EPA ratings. Our test car with a paint protection film and floor mats carried a bottom line of $24,524.

In addition to the standard three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Corolla hybrid comes with eight-year/100,000-mile hybrid-related component coverage.

Base price: $23,880; as driven, $24,524
Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, 2 electric motors
Horsepower: combined 121 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 105 pound-feet @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,050 pounds
Turning circle: 35.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 13 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 53 city, 52 highway, 52 combined
Also consider: Honda Insight, Toyota Prius

The Good
• Outstanding gas mileage
• A lot of safety for the money
• Quality interior materials

The Bad
• No Android Auto offered

The Ugly
• Slow acceleration