Toyota has long been the leading manufacturer of hybrid vehicles, beginning with the game-changing Prius more than 20 years ago. Since then, the Japanese giant has electrified almost every model in its U.S. lineup (minus the trucks and big SUVs), giving buyers the choice of seriously improved fuel economy for a slightly steeper price.
However, one Toyota /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM +0.40% that’s never gotten the hybrid treatment in the U.S. is also the bestselling nameplate in automotive history: Corolla. With a similar size and affordable price, the Prius has always essentially been a Corolla Hybrid with a liftback and strange styling, but no longer.
Meet the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, a Prius with a closed trunk, lower base price, and frankly, more palatable looks.
Part Prius, part Corolla, all new
Ditching the polarizing liftback design of the Prius in favor of the somewhat angry looks of the latest Corolla, the Corolla Hybrid has a few design touches that scream “super-efficient” upon closer inspection. Don’t be fooled by the massive grille up front; the blue-trimmed Toyota emblems and low-drag wheels are your visual cues that this is a car built to maximize fuel economy above all else. Hybrid badges help, too.
The front end is wide, smooth, and as flat as possible to minimize aerodynamic drag, unlike the sportier XSE model with its wide fenders, fake air intakes, and 18-inch wheels. All around, the Corolla Hybrid is as slippery as can be, and according to early estimates, the results have paid off. Toyota claims the Corolla Hybrid will return over 50 mpg on average, but the jury is out until the EPA has had its say.
Thanks to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that underpins many of the brand’s latest models, the Corolla Hybrid shares underpinnings with the Prius, including a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine, an electric assist motor, and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Combined, the components produce 121 horsepower delivered to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Like other Toyota hybrids, the Corolla Hybrid uses electric power only at lower speeds, kicking the gas engine on when needed for additional oomph and to charge for the battery. Like the Prius, the Corolla Hybrid offers an EV mode for traveling short distances at modest velocity, using only the available charge in the battery and the electric assist motor. This is good mainly for when you’re stuck in traffic or searching for a parking space at a shopping center.
Three driving modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport – allow the driver to set the aggressiveness of the power delivery. A regenerative braking system helps return charge to the batteries when the car is stopping, and the brake hold function will keep the Corolla Hybrid stopped at a traffic light without the driver applying pressure on the brake pedal.
Standout screen, subtle sleekness, standard safety systems
You can configure the 7-inch gauge cluster information screen to show real-time battery charge status, performance data, and even provide guidelines for maximizing efficiency by coaching the driver how to brake properly to optimize the regenerative system.
Toyota’s latest Entune infotainment system is offered in the Corolla Hybrid. With a standard 8-inch touchscreen display, it packs Bluetooth audio and phone, USB inputs, voice recognition, weather and traffic information, and (finally) Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.98% CarPlay and Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.94% Alexa connectivity. Note that buttons and knobs for media selection and the sound system thankfully flank the infotainment screen, adding to the car’s ease-of-use.
As part of Toyota’s commitment to include active safety features as standard equipment in all of its vehicles, the Corolla Hybrid comes equipped with the Safety Sense P system. It includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, road sign recognition, and full-range automatic cruise control that can bring the car all the way to a stop relative to the vehicle in front.
A less conspicuous Prius for the mass market
Toyota has yet to divulge 2020 Corolla Hybrid pricing and trim information, but the car is slated to go on sale in the spring of 2019. With standard safety tech, impressive projected fuel economy, and more palatable exterior design, the Corolla Hybrid could be the perfect fit for those thinking of switching to a hybrid vehicle but wishing to avoid the visual penalties that often come along with doing so.
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Whatever the case, Toyota’s legendary combination of reliability, value, and safety makes for one enticing compact sedan, hybrid or not.
And you can always swap out those lame wheels for something better.
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This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.