2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Sedan Review by David Colman +VIDEO
It's basic...you'll basically love it
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
On paper, the Corolla hybrid doesn't look too exciting. Just 121hp in a 2,850lb. vehicle yields a power-to-weight ratio of 23.55lb/hp, which promises really sluggish acceleration. The other gas powered Corollas Toyota sells offer either 139hp from a 1.8 liter motor or 169hp from a 2.0 liter engine. If you opt for the 2.0 liter motor in the new-for-2021 Apex Corolla, you get to play with 16.86hp for each pound of curb weight. So why would anyone but a fuel miser opt for the underpowered Hybrid? Because it's plenty fast enough. In fact we had a hard time keeping the Hybrid running at legal speed limits on the freeway because it always felt so comfortable at 80mph. At that velocity there's no wind noise, no engine noise, no tire noise. In fact nothing but the speedometer needle alerts you to the fact that the Hybrid is running over the speed limit. This is not the kind of performance we anticipated when we first pushed the start button of this incredibly efficient travel package.
The savings start with the Hybrid's very modest base price of $23,400. The reason that price is so low is attributable to the fact that Toyota offers the Hybrid Corolla in only one (low) trim level called "LE." Of course, you can select any number of other, more luxurious Corollas, but the Hybrid isn't one of them. In fact, this Corolla is the least expensive Hybrid in the entire Toyota model line. It utilizes the Prius power train in a stripper shell that does not offer heated or leather clad seats, or a leather wrapped and heated steering wheel. Rather, you sit on manually operated fabric seats front and rear, surrounded by inconspicuous matte and piano black interior paneling. The only option offered is the $500 Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and heated power adjustable outside rear view mirrors which were fitted to our test Hybrid.
The cabin is functional rather than pretty, but the Hybrid is designed to save curb weight and dispense its store of generated electric energy wisely. That it does in spades, with a 52MPG overall economy rating. Given the 11.4 gallon fuel tank, the Hybrid is good for close to 600 miles of travel before requiring a fill-up. And it doesn't matter whether you're covering highway miles at 52MPG or city streets at 53MPG. The inline 4 connects to the front wheels through an electrically controlled ECVT transmission that dials out the necessary juice so judiciously that the whole powertrain operates like a rheostat. The only time the TFT tachometer needle moves off the zero mark is when you floor the throttle, and even then the pointer rarely exceeds 3000rpm. The Hybrid is just quick enough for freeway mergers. On the open road, momentum takes over for fast lane acquisitions.
The Hybrid glides effortlessly through urban traffic patterns, secure in its lane change maneuvers thanks to a well balanced chassis. The TGNA platform which Toyota first utilized for the 2019 Corolla hatchback has finally matriculated to the Hybrid sedan version. This layout utilizes classic sports sedan architecture, with a MacPherson strut front suspension and anti-sway bar working in consort with a multilink independent rear suspension to provide nimble handling. In an automotive world that has gone nuts for 18, 19 and 20 inch diameter wheels and ultra low profile tires, it was refreshing indeed to discover a vehicle that does just fine on standard 15 inch alloy rims mounting excellent Yokohama Avid GT radials (195/65R15). These tires carry a rather sporty treadwear rating of TW 280, which is quite unusual for Hybrids usually consigned to rock hard "Eco" rubber with a TW 500 rating. As a result of the suspension tuning, the petite Corolla handles surprisingly well, with accurate tracking, nimble cornering, and good city maneuverability thanks to a turning circle of just 35.6 feet.
Just because the Hybrid isn't festooned with such amenities as deviated stitching and leather wrapped chairs doesn't mean it isn't well equipped with the basics. Android Auto is new for 2021, to complement previously available Apple CarPlay. The Hybrid features a power control knob that allows you to dial any setting you like into your rheostat. We left the dial in "Power" because even that setting proved barely adequate for some squirt requirements. The dash features a very legible 7 inch color TFT multi-information display screen, and the infotainment needs are covered by an equally vivid and easy to decipher 8 inch color touchscreen. These are items you would not expect to find on a vehicle with such a low base price. Our only reservations about the accommodations were limited to the rather crude manual positioning levers attached to the front seats, and the cheesy texture of the steering wheel's vinyl rim. If you can live with those niggles, then you will learn to love this Corolla.
2021 TOYOTA COROLLA HYBRID LE SEDAN
ENGINE: 1.8 liter inline 4, dual VVT-i plus Hybrid power
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 53MPG City/52MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $24,855
HYPES: Drives Forever Between Fills
GRIPES: Would Like XSE Grade Availability
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10