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Toyota Corolla Hybrid 2016 review

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Toyota Corolla Hybrid with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

At last you can buy a small hybrid Toyota and not look like you’re trying to draw attention to your planet-saving good deed. Yes, 15 years after the first-generation Prius went on sale in Australia Toyota has introduced a petrol-electric hybrid version of its Corolla hatchback and it looks… just like a regular Corolla hatchback.

The first Prius was actually pretty low key.  It wasn't until the futuristically designed wedge-shaped second generation in 2003 that made folks do a double take, and thanks to its adoption by Hollywood celebrities it instantly became recognised as ‘that hybrid car’ ever since.

Sure if you want something more covert looking there’s the hybrid Camry, but that’s a lot bigger than a Corolla hatch and you may have to get used to people jumping into the back at traffic lights thinking you’re a cab.

The Corolla hybrid has been on sale overseas since 2009. So why did Toyota Australia take so long to bring one here? It seems like a no-brainer especially considering it’s the nation’s best-selling car. Toyota’s public relations people told us the time wasn’t right until now. That and they needed to be sure they could source the cars from Japan.

Well it’s here now and has slipped into the Corolla hatch line-up just under the top of the range ZR and above the SX.

Design

The 11th generation of the much-loved Corolla hatch launched in 2012, then in June 2015 an updated version went on sale with a new look before the hybrid arrived in June this year.

The Corolla needed the sexier styling to comepete with its good looking rivals rivals. There's the Hyundai i30  which is handsome but starting to show its age while the Mazda3 is frankly beautiful.

The updated car was lengthened by 55mm to give it a sleeker look and now at 4330mm its 30mm shorter than the i30, but still shorter than the Mazda3 by 130mm.

At 1365kg the Corolla hybrid weighs 50kg more than the heaviest petrol Corolla – not a bad feat considering that batteries, the electric motor and cabling isn’t exactly light.

The hybrid’s interior almost mirrors the cabin of the regular Corolla. The main differences are the chunky old school shifter in the petrol car has been swapped for one that’s more of a tiny toggle and the hybrid doesn’t have a tacho – there’s a gauge that tells you when you’re charging or using your motor or engine instead.

Apart from that it’s the same high-quality feel, stylish cabin.

Practicality

The special thing about the Corolla hybrid is that it’s normal. The 360 litre (VDA) boot is the same size as the normal hatch, and it has the same great leg and headroom in the back seat where I can sit – all 191cm of me behind my own driving position without my knees digging into somebody’s back.

There’s two cup holders next to the (normal) handbrake, two in the back in the fold down armrest I the back and bottle holders in all the doors.

There’s pockets in the backs of the front seats and a 12V outlet for the rear passengers.

Getting in and out of the car is made easy thanks to wide opening doors. The tailgate is light and  it’s fairly effortless to open with a handle is positioned mid-way up.

Price and features

The Corolla Hybrid costs $26,990, that’s pretty expensive considering the range starts at $19,790, but look at it this way it’s a very affordable Lexus. Huh? OK the Lexus CT 200h hybrid hatchback shares the same platform and hybrid system as the Corolla Hybrid but it costs $37,990. Sure you miss out on some nice leathery Lexus trimmings and yes some of you will now go hunting for a Lexus, but most of you will see that the Toyota is a relative bargain now in comparison.

Making it even more of a good deal is that the hybrid Corolla gets a stack of the standard features of the ZR variant above it. There’s proximity unlocking, dual-zone climate control, auto-levelling LED headlights, 6.1-inch touch screen with sat nav with traffic updates and the Toyota Link media system and reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels and a space saver spare.

The Corolla Hybrid doesn’t have much petrol-electric competition in Australia. Honda axed its Civic and CR-Z hybrids, there is a Mazda3 hybrid but it’s not sold here and Hyundai’s Ioniq hybrid hatch isn’t expected to arrive until 2017.

If it’s about fuel efficiency the Hyundai i30 Active diesel for $25,890 is your best alternative.

Engine, motor and transmission 

Just so we’re clear, the Corolla Hybrid isn’t a plug-in hybrid that charge through a power point. This is a self-charging car with a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 60kW/207Nm electric motor. When you step on the brakes the motor runs backwards and generates electricity which is sent back to the batteries which are under the floor behind the front seats. The combined power output is 100kW.

There’s one transmission available – it’s a CVT, which is smooth and great for fuel efficiency.

Fuel consumption 

OK the point of hybrids is to burn less fossil fuels and with the motor lightening the load on the petrol engine and also allowing the car to run purely on electricity at times. Toyota says you should see an average combined fuel figure of 4.1L/100km. The fuel tank capacity is 45 litres and Toyota says that should get you 1100km – in theory, buy maybe don’t test this in the Outback.

My wife couldn’t hear a thing, well she said she could a little bit, but I could tell it was to shut me up.

After more than 500km of city, highway and country driving without even trying to conserve fuel, but leaving the stop-start system on my average was 5.1L/100km.

Driving

First the bad news. The front seats are a tad hard and after two hours in the saddle, it felt a bit like a saddle. Both myself and the wife found them to be uncomfortable over long distances.

Then there are all the noises. There’s the alarm which sounds when you put the car in reverse – it’s a beeping noise like a truck reversing but not on the outside to warn people, on the inside to annoy people and it won’t stop until you shift into Neutral, Park or Drive. Toyota says that as the car is so quiet the beeping is a safety measure to remind the driver that the car is in reverse and not to open the door and get out. Seriously?! 

Then there’s the less intentional noises that seem to be connected to the regenerative braking system – it’s a high-pitched sound that’s not loud but still audible and irritating if you have my dog-like hearing. My wife couldn’t hear a thing, well she said she could a little bit, but I could tell it was to shut me up.

Now the good news. The Corolla Hybrid’s suspension set-up is excellent – the test drive took it through some of NSW’s most pot-holed, hilly and windy country roads and the ride was nothing short of excellent. It’s not a floaty aircushion excellent – it’s more a composed, absorbed, firm and controlled feel. The handling too is impressive. Steering is a tad numb feeling, but accurate.

There are three driving modes: EV, Eco and Power. EV or electric vehicle mode lets you run on electricity alone for 1 to 2 km provided the batteries are charged enough and you don’t mash the accelerator. In Eco the throttle response is mild and the air conditioning is adjusted to reduce energy usage. Power combines the electric motor and petrol engine to give you more grunt and sharper acceleration.

Most of the time was spent in Eco mode and the way the hybrid system transitions between motor and engine is so smooth.

Safety

The Corolla Hybrid has a five-star ANCAP rating. While it has the expected safety equipment such as traction and stability control, it would be good to see more advanced technology such as AEB as offered by rival brands.

Ownership

Servicing is capped at a maximum of $140 per service for the first three years or 60,000km. The hybrid battery is warranted for eight years or 160,000km and this is made up of a three year new vehicle warranty and a five year battery warranty.

Verdict

A hybrid without the self-congratulatory stigma. The Corolla Hybrid normalises petrol-electric systems without any compromises to the driving or practicality. Now if they can just stop that beeping…

Does a 'normal-looking' car make you feel more comfortable about driving a hybrid? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Toyota Corolla Hybrid pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$16,989
Based on 954 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,500
Highest Price
$24,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Ascent 1.8L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $12,320 – 16,500 2016 Toyota Corolla 2016 Ascent Pricing and Specs
Ascent Sport 1.8L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $13,990 – 18,888 2016 Toyota Corolla 2016 Ascent Sport Pricing and Specs
Hybrid 1.8L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $17,990 – 24,990 2016 Toyota Corolla 2016 Hybrid Pricing and Specs
SX 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $13,977 – 21,995 2016 Toyota Corolla 2016 SX Pricing and Specs
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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