2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid: Building a Better Prius

Overview

A funny thing happened to the Toyota Corolla on the way to the assembly line. Someone switched it’s regular chassis and powertrain with one from the Toyota Prius. The result? Well, they built a better Prius.

First, some quick history. The Toyota Corolla dates way back to 1966 and by 1974 was the best selling car in the world! The first generation E10 was part of the glorious fender-mirror era in Japan and came with an 1100 cc pushrod engine.

Fast forward to the the twelfth generation Corolla which first went on sale here in North America in hatchback layout for 2019. This 2020 that we have been driving represents the first of the Corolla sedan linup.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

Specifically, the car we’ve been driving is the Corolla Hybrid LE, which fits in somewhere around the middle of the ‘rolla lineup. Here, see for yourself.

Click to see a larger version.

The Hybrid LE starts at a very reasonable $23,100 which is about a grand cheaper than the 2020 Prius’ cheapest model, the L Eco. The Corolla Hybrid LE gets you features like:

  • 53 MPG City
  • Smart Key System
  • 8-in. touch-screen
  • 7-in. Driver’s Display
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • Hybrid Power Mode

So, on paper the Corolla is a pretty strong competitor against Toyota’s own Prius. Let’s look a little deeper though.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

Exterior

The Corolla has never really been an example of great design in the automotive world. It was always way more utilitarian than exotic or attractive, and that’s OK. The 2020 has a gaping maw up front and an aggressive headlight pattern that sweeps across the middle. I dig it, I know we live in an era of massive grilles, but the new Corolla pulls it off pretty well.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

From the back, things are a bit less interesting. Aside from the inset lighting towards the bottom, there isn’t much to say. It’s unoffensive and safe. Which is tough to say about the Prius, which has evolved into a bit of a wild looking car. I like elements of it, but it’s likely polarizing to many.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

The same can be said for the side profile, safe and normal. Nothing much to see here, overall it’s a decent looking car.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

Interior

Generally, the same can be said for the inside. It was comfortable and ergonomically solid. There are few interesting angles across the dash and the materials are screwed together well.

From a usability standpoint, Apple CarPlay still infuriates me at times. Every time I was listening to SirusXM or an FM station and plugged in my iPhone in via USB, the system said “ah cool, he wants to listen to music via his phone”. While that was occasionally true, it wasn’t always true. So what some engineer or usability expert thought was convenient means that I have to press a few extra buttons to return to what I was doing every time. This isn’t necessarily Toyota’s fault, and I’ve dinged a bunch of other vehicles from other automakers for this same issue.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

Elsewhere, I had minor gripes overall. I like to leave the key in my pocket and walk up to unlock the car by placing my hand near inside the handle. That worked fine, but my kids all stood around waiting for me to reach in and press the unlock button so they could get in. It’s a bit annoying that the unlock function only works for the driver side. As I said, minor gripe. Unless it’s raining.

It also does not have those zone climate control, but that’s not a massive surprise since the LE is not one of the top trim levels. But really, it’s a small cars and I’m not sure it’s really needed.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE

Summary

I normally include a section on driving, but I’ll cover it here. It drives like a Prius, which is to say kinda slow. Still, as a daily driver it gets the job done. I never quite had that “OMG go” feeling while merging onto a highway. If you’ve driving a Prius, the 2020 Hybrid Corolla will feel pretty familiar.

This highlights an interesting thing that is happening to fuel efficient cars. With a few supercar exceptions, hybrids are still slow and dull, but electric cars are becoming fast and interesting. Instant torque and blistering acceleration combined with no need for gas whatsoever is going to likely make the hybrid a dying breed. Or at least cut into sales a bit as people who once chose hybrids solely for fuel efficiency will move on to all-electrics.

Regardless, if you are in the market for a fuel efficient compact car, the new 2020 Corolla Hybrid is worth checking out. It can’t quite match the hatchback practicality of the Prius. And It’s not fast or fun, or especially interesting. But as a car it’s a better Prius.