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Toyota Corolla 2019 review: Ascent Sport hybrid


Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

3.8/5

The last time I drove a Toyota Corolla hybrid was a couple of years ago when I tested on by one by taking it 400km north from Sydney to a meeting of old cars with giant petrol engines, otherwise knows as a hot rod run, a pilgrimage to worship at the shortened exhaust of the combustion engine.

The good news is that nobody torched the Corolla hybrid during the night of revelry, and the other good news is that I found it to be an impressive car.

Is the new Corolla Hybrid just as impressive as the old one? Is the new Corolla Hybrid just as impressive as the old one?

That was the previous generation Corolla hybrid, now the new-gen one is here and, while I didn’t take it on a hot rod run this time, I put it through another test – the day-to-day living challenge of pre-school drop offs and shopping, parking, commuting… I even used it to carry a 2.5m tall tree. So, is the new Corolla Hybrid just as impressive as the old one?

The grade I tested was the Ascent Sport. What does that mean? Read on to find out.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Ascent Sport is the entry grade into the Corolla range and the hybrid version is $1500 more than the petrol-engined  variant at $25,870.

What other hybrids are there on the market for this price? Not many. The Mazda3, Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato are the top three rivals to the Corolla and none of those come with a hybrid powertrain.

There is the Hyundai Ioniq, which is larger and a damned good thing, but the most affordable one costs way more, at $33,990.  The closest car to the Corolla Hybrid isn’t really a competitor but more of a sibling rival, in the form of the Toyota Prius C, which was being offered at a driveaway price of $27,596 at the time I wrote this.

The rest of the hybrids available to us in Australia right now are either prestige cars or SUVs. So, while the Corolla is far from a hatchback unicorn, the hybrid version really is unique.

What other hybrids are there on the market for this price? Not many. What other hybrids are there on the market for this price? Not many.

Standard features on the Ascent Sport Hybrid for the most part mirror those on the petrol version. The list includes LED head- and tail lights, LED running lights, heated and power door mirrors, an eight-inch touch screen with reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control and some cool advanced safety tech, which you can read about below.

As far as standard features go, Toyota hasn’t been super generous and you’re made to step up to the SX if you want sat nav and the wireless-charging pad, while you need to climb higher into the top-grade ZR if you want to swap the cloth seats for leather.

One of the bonuses of buying the hybrid version of the Ascent Sport is getting dual-zone climate – the petrol version only has single zone air conditioning.

Still, at $26K the value equation is impressive.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

There’s a lot of love for the Corolla, particularly older versions of the species (just ask our editor Mal, he rescues rusty ones out of paddocks), but the previous model was never really widely adored for its looks and was beginning to age compared to new and improved rivals. Enter this new-generation Corolla, which looks sexier and more modern.

I’m especially taken by the tail lights, which are far more appealing than the previous model’s egg-splat design. The same goes for the new headlight design and that large grille.

The tail lights are far more appealing than the previous model’s egg-splat design. The tail lights are far more appealing than the previous model’s egg-splat design.

It’s a completely different Corolla to the last one, but has kept the same pointy nose at the front and the bulbous bum.

The only indication that the hybrid isn’t a petrol variant is the Toyota badge with the blue halo aura effect and, of course, the word ‘Hybrid’ on the tailgate.

The interior is also modern feeling with a large, cleanly designed dashboard with that touchscreen sitting prominently atop it, like a billboard. I have to admit, though, the Ascent Sport’s interior lacked a bit of wow-factor, with its hard surfaces and too much use of piano-black plastic. I know Toyota can do cool interiors – just look at the C-HR, so it’s a bit disappointing that the Ascent Hybrid’s cabin isn’t more interesting.

In terms of dimensions, the Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is 4375mm long, 1790mm wide and 1435mm tall. The small size made it easy to park in the tiny spots left outside my house by the time I get home, and easy to pilot in narrow laneways and city traffic.  

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

So, you’re thinking of a petrol-electric hybrid, eh? Well you’ve come to the right review because Toyota has been producing hybrid cars on a huge scale longer than anybody, which has given the company decades to refine and develop the tech.

The Ascent Sport Hybrid doesn’t plug into a power point. Toyota doesn’t currently sell any plug-in hybrids in Australia. Nope, this one builds the charge back up in its batteries from the energy captured when you brake.

 Under the bonnet you’ll find an a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 53kW/162Nm electric motor. Under the bonnet you’ll find an a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 53kW/162Nm electric motor.

Those nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries are in the back of the car and under the bonnet you’ll find an a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 53kW/162Nm electric motor. The engine and motor take turns and also work together to drive the front wheels, and the transition between one power source and another is smoother than any other hybrid I’ve driven.

The transmission is a CVT, which is an automatic and, while I’m not a fan of them in petrol variants, because they cause the engine to rev without much in the way of shove to go with it, in a hybrid the extra torque from the motor means acceleration is pretty good.

What's it like to drive?

Welcome to the driving bit, which will make even more sense if you read the section above, which explains how the hybrid system isn’t alien technology, but rather a petrol engine and an electric motor engaged in a constant dance to provide drive to the front wheels.

That engine-motor combination works superbly and more seamlessly than any other hybrid I’ve driven. I even like the CVT transmission, which is something I thought I’d never write, because when this type of automatic is in a petrol variant it provides a lucklustre feel to the acceleration. It's not the case here, thanks to the help of the motor, which adds instant torque and good off-the line shove.

Corolla Ascent Hybrid is right up there with its competitors. Corolla Ascent Hybrid is right up there with its competitors.

Combine this with great steering, good handling, a comfortable ride and a very quiet cabin, and you have a hatch that’s enjoyable to drive. I’m not going to say outstanding (it’s not quite an 8 out of 10) because the Mazda3 is also impressive to drive and so are the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato. But the Corolla Ascent Hybrid is right up there with them.

How practical is the space inside?

I was afraid you’d ask me that question because the answer is: not very. The legroom in the back seat is tight, so much so that at 191cm tall I can’t fit behind my driving position. I’m tall, but even our more normal-sized reviewers found the rear legroom to be limited.

My four-year-old is only three feet tall and he remarked that “Mummy’s seat is squashing my feet”. That was when he was in his car seat and my wife was sitting next to me.  She had to move her seat almost until her knees touched the dash so that his feet weren’t squashing.

The legroom in the back seat is tight. The legroom in the back seat is tight.

Also a bit disappointing is the boot space – 217 litres of cargo capacity if you have a space-saver spare wheel and 333 litres if you go with the tyre-repair kit. That’s too small for our CarsGuide pram, so if you’re thinking of a Corolla as your next family hatch, then I’d take your pram/golf clubs/drum kit and test out the space before handing over your money.

The boot space is disappointing. The boot space is disappointing.

Cabin storage isn’t bad, with two cupholders up front and two in the back, along with bottle holders in the doors. The centre-console bin offers good storage and there’s a small tray in the second row big enough for a wallet.

As for USB ports, there’s a lonely looking one under the dash.

If it’s any consolation, I used the Corolla to transport a 2.5m tall tree that arrived at CarsGuide HQ for me after I ordered it online. My other two choices were a Mitsubishi Triton ute and a Ford Mustang and, as it turned out, the hybrid hatch was better suited to the job, as you can see in the images. So there you have it: the Corolla is more practical in some ways than a ute or a Mustang.

How much fuel does it consume?

This is what it’s all about right? Well, sort of. Hybrids of this kind don’t achieve fuel economy as good as, say, a plug-in hybrid and while Toyota claims the Ascent Sport Hybrid should only use 4.2L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads, after mainly city testing I measured 7.7L/100km when I filled up at the petrol station. It takes 91 RON, by the way.

That fuel economy is still good, considering our testing of the regular petrol variant saw it use 9.0L/100km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Coming standard are AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance, speed-sign recognition and auto high beam headlights.

There are also seven airbags and for child seats you’ll find three top-tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.  

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a five-year capped-price servicing plan. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km and you can expect to pay $175 for each of the first four services.

The Ascent Sport Hybrid is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. The Ascent Sport Hybrid is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

 

I’m never going to stop worshipping the combustion engine and I’ll keep going to hot rod runs in my big, old V8-powered beast, but to me, if you’re going to buy a Corolla why wouldn’t you choose the hybrid? It’s more fuel efficient than a regular petrol variant and offers a better city driving experience, by being able to run silently and smoothly as an EV at low speeds with decent off-the-mark shove when you need it. As for hybrid rivals – there are none right now, but even if there were, Toyota’s perfection of hybrid tech over the past two decades means it would likely be better than the competition. 

Would you choose the petrol or hybrid version of the Corolla Ascent Sport? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

 

$25,870

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Urban score

3.8/5