Behind the Wheel

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Review: So good, you wonder why they still make the Prius

The Toyota Corolla Hybrid is surprisingly fuel-efficient and cheap.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Toyota Prius. I said that when it first came out twenty years ago, it was for environmentalist wackos and early-adopter do-gooders who didn't mind driving a weird looking car. In fact, that was the point—to show everyone how green you were.

That new Prius gets terrific fuel economy and still looks a bit weird, but that remains the point if you want to show off how green you are. But what if you don't want to show off? What if you just want a car to get you from point A to point B? A car that is normal and doesn't stand out in a crowd?

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Toyota delivers the Corolla Hybrid on standard 15-inch wheels.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

In that case, my friend, you want to get yourself a Toyota Corolla. It's the least show-offey car around and, if you buy the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, it's just as fuel efficient as the polarizing Prius. In fact, it's so good that I think it might be the best small car that you can buy today.

The Corolla has always been a top choice for small car buyers. Between it's terrific reliability and reasonable price, it's a car that's easy to recommend (if a little boring). While the Corolla Hybrid won't get any hearts racing, it checks every box and then some.

The powertrain has been transplanted from the Prius, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder unit along with the requisite battery pack. There's no plug (that is kept for the Prius Prime and the new RAV4 Prime), so you drive it just like a regular car and the only hint to the outside world that there's anything different going on is the litany of "Hybrid" badges all over the thing.

The front end is also a bit more aerodynamic than the standard Corolla, but not so much that you'd notice unless you had them side by side. Easy-rolling low-resistance tires are fitted to 15-inch wheels to complete the look — no rolling on dubs here. In other words, it looks basically like every other Corolla you've ever seen. It's inoffensive and vaguely pleasing to look at.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid The car has a a traditional shifter setup that leaves the cabin feeling spacious.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Inside, it's a little more exciting. The floating dash leads to a surprising feeling of spaciousness for the front passengers, with reasonable amounts of storage in the doors and a big pocket for a phone sitting fore of the shifter. That shifter, it's worth noting, is a standard P-R-N-D unit (with an added "B" mode that adds additional engine braking for going down a hill) so it's familiar and easy to use.

The steering wheel allows easy access to volume and media controls, as well as the buttons to control the adaptive cruise control. A big digital display for the driver keeps you apprised of what the hybrid system is doing, including a tachometer which is lets you know what the internal-combustion engine is up to — not that you'll really care.

The center infotainment stack leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, it has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, so you're good to go there, but the buttons surrounding the 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen are completely unnecessary and use up valuable real estate that could be a larger screen. It's a nitpick, but I wish Toyota would just give us a bigger touch screen and forget all the hard plastic buttons. There's single-zone climate control which works perfectly well, and there is no center-stack Prius dash cluster.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid The Corolla Hybrid comes with a standard 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

But the most important part of the Corolla Hybrid is actually made up of two numbers. First is the fuel economy. The EPA estimates it can make 53 miles per gallon city and 52 highway, with 52 combined. And... that's exactly what I got, too. Without particularly trying, and by that I mean I was cruising down the highway in the left lane, quickly pulling away from stop lights in a manner unbecoming a hybrid, etc — basically doing everything I could to not be an economical driver — I still managed 52 mpg. It was astounding.

Then there's the price. There are basically no options to be found on the Corolla Hybrid, aside from some paint protection film ($395) and carpeted floor mats ($249), and it still lands at $24,524. You get out under $25,000 with 52 miles per gallon and a normal looking, easy to drive, friendly car that will probably run forever without any major problems.

After my week with the Corolla Hybrid, I honestly found myself asking "why would anyone buy anything else?"

I haven't come up with a good answer, yet.

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Honda notified dealers of upcoming supply cuts.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Honda, like all major automakers today, is truly a global operation. Though it produces plenty of vehicles here in the United States, many of the components it relies on for manufacturing come from elsewhere in the world. That means Honda, like the other auto giants, needs its global supply chain operating smoothly in order to prevent disruption. Unfortunately for Honda dealers and potential customers, disruption is what's about to happen. The automaker recently sent a letter to its dealers, forecasting reduced vehicle supply in the coming weeks.


2021 Honda Ridgeline No. 19 - Honda Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


The dealer letter, posted to the Civic XI forum and fan site, was dated August 25 and confirmed by a dealer upset with the development, according to Automotive News. In the letter, Honda cites the ongoing pandemic and microchip shortages as major factors impacting its production efforts. Total shipments to dealers could be cut by up to 40 percent, but not all models will be affected to the same degree.

The letter noted that supplies of the Pilot and Passport SUVs will hold steady, and shared that production of the Civic hatchback is on schedule. However, the situation is fluid and could change at any time, so there's a chance that timelines could speed up or slack off as necessary.


2022 Honda Pilot Some models will see more cuts than others.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


Honda is just the latest in a long line of automakers struggling to keep pace with demand in the face of several converging global crises. In an effort to keep vehicles rolling out of factories, General Motors has implemented selective feature cuts in some of its new vehicles, such as the removal of engine start/stop tech from some trucks and SUVs. Earlier this month, Ford Motor Company told Mustang Mach-E buyers to expect delays of at least six weeks as it grapples with the chip shortage, and will temporarily reduce production capacity at a few of its plants.

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Vehicle sales numbers

Toyota has sold over 50 million Corollas

Toyota has sold tens of millions of Corollas over the last 55 years.

Toyota

The Toyota Corolla entered its 12th generation in 2019, after more than 50 years on sale. Now, in 2021, the automaker says the car has reached another benchmark, this time with an almost unbelievable number attached to it. In Today, Toyota says that in July 2021, it sold the 50-millionth Corolla. That's almost one Corolla sold for every six Americans alive today, though the sales total includes international vehicles as well.


1969 Toyota Corolla The Corolla's frugal powertrain helped it grow quickly in the United States.Toyota


The Corolla debuted in 1966 but didn't make its way to our shores until spring 1968. Sold as a 1969 model, the car had a starting price of around $1,700 at a time when the median household income was $7,700. The first cars had a short-stroke 1,077-cc four-cylinder engine, 12-inch wheels, and a four-speed manual transmission. That powertrain produced only 60 horsepower, which was good for the car to (eventually) reach 60 mph in about 17 seconds.

Though the car's quality and design helped, it was the oil crisis in the early 1970s that really pushed it to the top of buyers' lists. Big American cars powered by V8 engines fell out of favor as fuel rationing and higher prices took hold. The early Corolla's fuel economy of over 35 mpg helped it earn a place in many Americans' driveways as a result.


2021 Toyota Corolla Cross 2021 Toyota Corolla Cross Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation


Toyota notes that it was building Corollas in the United States by the mid-1980s and says that the current generation car is built at its manufacturing facility in Mississippi. The automaker's new joint plant with Mazda, which is located in Huntsville, Alabama, will start building the new Corolla Cross this summer.

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