2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Review

Going the distance, sensibly


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: As miserly as the day is long, better interior than the Prius, excellent suite of standard safety features, doesn't make you look like a tree-hugger, more affordable than the cheapest Prius.
Negatives: Numb driving experience, slow pretty much all the time, only one trim level offered, brakes are annoyingly grabby.
Bottom Line: The Corolla Hybrid is a no-frills miser of a sedan. Although it won't excite any drivers based on driving dynamics, it is a champ of a commuter with excellent safety and good looks.
If you're one of the many who have grown tired of the weirdness of the Toyota Prius's looks, but you still love its efficiency, then allow us to introduce you to the Corolla Hybrid. In its second year, it brings the same level of long-haul mpgs and adds only Android Auto smartphone connectivity. While it only comes in only one trim level, it's poised more for sensibility than any kind of visual attention hybrid lovers often crave. Its only real competitors as a small hybrid sedan are the new Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, which gets 56 mpg highway, and the Honda Insight, which matches the Corolla Hybrid's 52 mpg combined. We drove the Corolla Hybrid LE for a week to see if this Prius alternative could win us over. Read our detailed review below.
 

Driving Experience

5.9

 

The gasoline-only version of the Toyota Corolla is actually pretty fun to drive, but the hybrid turns it into something considerably less entertaining. It is easy to drive, but there are some sacrifices to be made.

Ride Quality: The Corolla Hybrid is compliant without being too mushy in the suspension. It manages road surfaces well.

Acceleration: The small-displacement engine doesn't feel aided by much at all, and the ECVT doesn't do it any favors. Acceleration, throttle response, and highway passing occur in tepid fashion.

Braking: This might be the Corolla Hybrid's worst feature. Its regenerative brakes are way too grabby and are hard to modulate. Hopefully, your passengers aren't drinking Mountain Dew Code Red without the protection of lids.

Steering: Steering is good with decent turn in and precision. It just lacks feedback.

Handling: There's definitely some body roll, but the chassis is good enough to keep things composed. There's some understeer, but it's not terrible.

Technology

7.4

 

We like that Toyota tried to update their infotainment system.A Although it is much better than the previous generation, it's still behind the likes of Kia, Hyundai, Ford, and GM when it comes to looks and operation.

Infotainment System: The 8" screen is clearer and better to read than the old Entune system, but it still looks a bit boring. The addition of Android Auto is welcomed.

Controls: The infotainment buttons that flank the screen are too small, as are the climate control buttons. Likewise, audio knobs are too shallow for easy actuation.

Styling

7.6

 

The body shape is pretty much the same as the gas-only Corolla sedan with some minor styling changes that set it apart. As a whole, it's one of the better-looking small sedans, but with the likes of the rakish, new Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, the Corolla disappears into the shadows.

Front: The Hybrid's grille is larger and spans almost the entire width of the lower fascia, giving it a kind of guppy-esque look. The thin headlights look great with thin LED signature elements.

Rear: The taillights have a horizontal split and don't mimic the headights like the hatchback. The faux diffuser and the lip spoiler are nice sporty touches. We think the back end looks great.

Profile: The Corolla sedan is well-proportioned and sporty looking from the side. We just don't like the wheels very much. It cheapens the car's looks, but we're sure they save weight.

Cabin: While it's not as nicely appointed as the Prius's interior, we actually like the lack of inner weirdness. It's conventional but well laid out and easy to operate for the most part. The dash is on the thick side, and there's a lot of plastic, but overall it's a decent place to spend time.

Comfort

8

 

The Corolla has a solid amount of room, and materials quality is pretty good. They did a good job with the Corolla's seats in front and back. It's actually roomier inside than it appears from the exterior.

Front Seats: The seats feel comfortable with the right balance of bolstering and support. The fabric quality is good, as well.

Rear Seats: Rear legroom is good for tall folks. The middle position cushion is too high, compromising headroom for the center passenger.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Overall, the sound deadening is good, however, the droning of the small buzzy engine and the CVT can be heard when the engine is pushed.

Visibility: Sightlines are good out the front and sides. The C-pillars are on the thicker side, but they're not out of control.

Climate: The climate system works well, but the vents are on the small side. It's also a no-go with the lack of heated seats, even as an option, which sucks for chilly days.

Safety

9

 

The Corolla does very well in safety tests, and it comes with a great set of standard safety features that are class-leading.

IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick, just missing the top score due to "marginal" and "acceptable" headlights, depending on trim. It nailed every other category.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 has a full set of great features like Pre-Collision System w/ Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert w/ Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, Road Sign Assist; Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Seatbelt Warning, and an Integrated Backup Camera w/ Projected Path.

Optional Tech: Ours came with the Optional Blind Spot Monitor for an extra $500.

Storage/Cargo

5.3

 

Sometimes styling has to eclipse practicality. Though the Corolla will have plenty of space for most folks, it's only about average when it comes to trunk space and cabin storage.

Storage Space: Aside from the center console's cupholders, the small armrest, and a shallow cubby in front of the shifter, there's not much for gear in the cabin.

Cargo Room: The trunk is only about average with 13 cubic feet of space. The seats fold down but not completely flat, and the hinge setup intrudes on the usable space.

Fuel Economy

9.3

 

The Corolla Hybrid is impressive. It has the Prius's powertrain, which means it's going to be very efficient, no matter who drives it. We gave it the full beans most of the time (which isn't mindblowing), and we eeked out some good numbers.

Observed: 44.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 143 miles.

Audio

6.2

 

Our stock 6-speaker audio system was decent. We didn't notice anything really deficient in our testing. Sound was clear but not especially loud.



Final Thoughts

Toyota did a great job redesigning the Corolla, and it was a smart move to give it the Prius's efficiency. It looks like a conventional sedan, and it's very affordable, coming in at less than the Prius and with the features from the mid-grade Corolla LX. But with the arrival of the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, it's an uphill battle for the Corolla, at least in terms of styling. Sensible commuters who want efficiency, reliability, room, and comfort won't go wrong in the Corolla, but outside of that, you might want to consider the Elantra when it comes out.
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