by Frank A. Aukofer

When Toyota unveiled the redesigned 2020 Corolla sedan to a group of automotive journalists in November 2018, the shining examples showed like compact luxury cars.

Now that this all-new Corolla has arrived, the emphasis is not on luxury but economy. Instead of top-line trim levels, the spotlight is on the 2020 Corolla Hybrid LE, which among its other attributes gets 52 miles to the gallon of regular gasoline.

Corolla_Hybrid_013_E8752A42C66E156C23136C861E7A6BAF9B59801DMoreover, it has a base price of $23,880, including the destination charge. With a few minor options, the Corolla Hybrid tested for this review had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,524. Get one each for mom and pop.

Where the gasoline-engine model has six variants over five trim levels, the Hybrid comes one way: mid-level LE with a 1.8-liter gasoline engine and a 71-hp electric motor. Together, they make 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Gasoline-engine models are the base L, LE and XLE along with the more sporting SE and XSE. The SE can be ordered with the CVT or a six-speed manual gearbox for those who like to shift for themselves.

Corolla_Hybrid_016_F877FFF1D0CC1E9E62B2B38F35CDC86320654023With more than 43 million sales world-wide, the Corolla is the best-selling nameplate in history, although it has gone through many different versions, including multiple configurations with rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive.

Throughout, however, it has maintained a reputation as among the more durable and reliable cars available. Now with its first hybrid version, it adds stellar fuel economy to the package.

Ironically, its main competitor is Toyota’s own Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world. Unlike the Prius, with its funky controls and instrument displays, the Corolla comes across more like a regular car with familiar surroundings. Both use the same 121-hp hybrid power package and CVT, and compete in similar price brackets.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_015_5FFD7C54695C1A21AE859CADDF038ABAB6B6B57AOther competitors are the Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, as well as a number of hybrid crossover sport utility vehicles, including the Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.

The U.S. government classifies cars by total interior volume, which includes the space for passengers and cargo. By that definition, the Prius is classified as midsize, bordering on full-size, while the Corolla is classified as a compact.

Much of that has to do with the Prius’s hatchback design, which gives it 27 cubic feet for cargo and 93 cubic feet for passengers. The Corolla is a standard sedan design with a trunk of 13 cubic feet and 89 cubic feet for passengers. If extra cargo space is needed, the split rear seatback folds 2/3 and 1/3.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_037_6DFA2E153484B87955A00735E0FC37737A513E2CThe Corolla’s design delivers ample head, leg and knee room for four, though as usual in most vehicles, the center-rear passenger gets squished with limited room, a hard cushion and a big floor hump.  Seats are covered in an attractive, comfortable cloth that looks long-lasting — preferable, in this view, to leather or leatherette.

Equipment on the LE Hybrid — as noted the only trim level — covers full safety equipment, including collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic high headlight beams.

Other equipment: stop-start idle system, pushbutton starting, automatic climate control, hill start assist, electronic parking brake, LED headlights and taillights, and power windows and outside mirrors.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_039_B5761486DC80A4597CAB1C0917650157427F8CD3An eight-inch center touch screen provides access to the audio system and infotainment functions. However, it does not include SXM satellite radio, though it is compatible with Apple Car Play and Siri Eyes Up.

Given its modest power, the Corolla Hybrid gets a good jump off the line, boosted by the electric motor. The CVT has no shift points so delivers uninterrupted acceleration with little or none of that annoying sensation of slipping or roaring that are characteristic of some CVTs.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_059_0198C3BB115B28B00655AF19B368D7D5EE2AF5ADHandling is competent and secure, and the Corolla tracks true in a straight line, requiring few steering corrections. The main downside is road noise. It could use additional sound-deadening insulation, which likely is included in higher trim levels with gasoline engines.

In this era of electrification, a standard hybrid is the best bet. Plug-in hybrids are more expensive with limited electric range, and pure electrics have no backup if batteries are depleted.

Then there’s the matter of money. The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees fuel economy ratings, estimates that a Corolla Hybrid owner will save $3,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

Corolla_Hybrid_008_C12A8DE2AAB24DFD329CCCFB6A2A6CFEEBA9A403Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 horsepower electric motor; total system 121 hp, 105 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 89/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,050 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 53/52/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,880.
  • Price as tested: $24,524.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Corolla_Hybrid_009_7AB3C30F7FDDA2997F5A75013AC0E9623044E8D0Photos (c) Toyota

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