2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Review - Incognito Prius Alternative

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Fast Facts

1.8-liter four-cylinder (121 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 105 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm)
Continuously-variable automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
53 city / 52 highway / 52 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)
4.4 city, 4.5 highway, 4.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$22,950 (U.S) / $24,790 (Canada)
As Tested
$24,467 (U.S.) / $26,883 (Canada)
Prices include $930 destination charge in the United States and $1,770 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2020 toyota corolla hybrid le review incognito prius alternative

Add the Toyota Corolla to the list of nameplates that were accused of losing the plot in recent years, before being righted — at least partially — by a redesign or refresh.

We’ve talked about this with the Nissan Altima (and Sentra, and Versa), as well as other vehicles. Now, it’s the Toyota’s turn.

I got my grubby mitts on a Corolla Hybrid and put it through its paces around Chicago. I’ve been critical of the car before – the last-generation model’s steering felt like it was constantly out to lunch, and the seating position was uncomfortable, especially for a tall, beer-gutted dude like me.

These flaws might’ve been acceptable if the car didn’t also feel downmarket, even accounting for its price point. Honda, Hyundai, and others were offering compact sedans that were even with (or better) than the Corolla for similar money.

Toyota took a step in the right direction with the Corolla hatch, but did the sedan follow? Well, sort of.

It’s better now – but I don’t think Honda or Hyundai execs need to start sweating just yet.

Normally, the best comp for Corolla would be Civic and Elantra, but since this one had the hybrid powertrain, Insight and Ioniq come to mind. The Insight offers a base price that’s close to Corolla Hybrid but also trims that are more upmarket, and priced accordingly; while the Ioniq is comparative in terms of price, while feeling a bit nicer inside.

[Get a price quote for the Toyota Corolla Hybrid here!]

Certainly, you’re not buying this car for power – you’re only getting 121 ponies and 105 lb-ft of twist here. But it’s enough for relatively seamless commuting. I say relatively because most of my driving was in the city – I imagine merging onto the freeway might be a tad stressful with that level of torque on tap.

The overall powertrain experience is standard Toyota hybrid. That means relatively smooth transitions from gas to electric, although not totally unnoticeable. And there’s plenty of instrumentation to check out if you’re curious as to what’s happening under the skin.

There’s three drive modes to choose from: Normal, Eco, and Power, and like many hybrids, this one has regenerative braking.

Ride is a bit on the stiff side, but the steering is much less watered-down than in Corollas past. It’s a fine commuter car, if not a bit anonymous. Driving dynamics are much better than before, but the Corolla is still tuned for the office drone who worries more about payment than performance.

Even the styling is quite bland, though not ugly. You’ll blend. Anonymity appears to be a theme.

Inside, the Corolla is marred by a slapped-on infotainment system and some downmarket materials, but controls are laid out logically and easy to use. The wonky seating position is gone, and comfort is achieved easily enough for most people.

Where this particular Corolla shines best is for those who want a low-cost hybrid without resorting to Prius weirdness – or driving around with the stigma of Prius ownership. EPA-estimated fuel economy is in the 50s for all use cases, and the Corolla is much less visible than the well-known Prius. The driving experience is also far more typical for a commuter compact.

The hybrid is LE-trim only, and standard features included 15-inch wheels, Toyota SafetySense 2.0 (pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams, and road-sigh assist), LED lighting, Bluetooth, multiple USB ports, Apple CarPlay, and automatic climate control.

Options were limited to mudguards, body-side molding, and carpeted mats. The sticker price was $24,467, including fees.

The Corolla is better than what it replaces, but it doesn’t have the sport/charm of a Civic, even accounting for this version being a hybrid. Nor is quite as well-rounded as the Elantra. Compared to hybrids, it feels a tad cheaper than the Ioniq, and it won’t stack up well against a loaded Insight (I haven’t spent time with the base trim, which is closer in price).

What it does best, at least with the hybrid powertrain, is provide an alternative to Toyota’s own Prius. The Prius makes the same power numbers and is only slightly better on gas, depending on the trim.

So if you want to sip fuel, commute in anonymity, and not be pegged to a stereotype as a Prius owner, the Corolla Hybrid might work for you.

Like those other cars that lost the plot, the Corolla is mostly back on track, with still some distance to go.

At least it’s no Prius.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 33 comments
  • MyerShift MyerShift on May 23, 2021

    We need REAL automotive journalists again. I'm so sick of these rag writers claiming things like the bloody Corolla aren't "sporty" enough or even sporty period. It's galling to have the interior of this car called "cheap". I'm disgusted at people like the author acting like mainstream vehicles should be loaded with more and more useless gadgets and technology and that everything should ride like a cement mixer and handle like a Porsche while having the interior of an Audi A8. You apparently don't understand things like that are part of why prices are skyrocketing. Like the refreshed Civic- no manual AND tickling $22K for a base model?! NO, that is NOT "reasonable". You are not clever for your absurd and misplaced snobbishness. This Corolla is a winner and EXACTLY what it should be: reliable as death, nicely to greatly efficient, easy to use, comfortable riding, nice handling, and nicely trimmed interior with a WHOLE soft-touch dash, but let's say it's cheap and dreadful, right? What's dreadful is the tacked on tablet look you plebes seem to claim to love. You are out of touch and poorly written pieces of trash like this are why auto journalism has no credibility and is dying.

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on May 23, 2021

    Seems ideal for the Uber drivers who will likely end up behind the wheel of most of them.

  • Arthur Dailey "Check out the used car market." Late model, low mileage vehicles are in many instance selling for more than you would pay if you put a deposit on a new vehicle. The reason? Supply and demand. You can take the used vehicle home now. Whereas you might have to wait up to 24 months for your new vehicle.
  • VoGhost Matt, you say 'overpriced', but don't you mean 'underpriced'? It's when a manufacturer underprices, that dealers add their markup. If they were overpriced, the dealers would discount.
  • Bobbysirhan I'm surprised by the particular Porsches to make the list, and also by the Cadillac. Most of all, I'm shocked that the 2-door Mini Cooper is on here. I didn't even know they still made them, let alone that anyone was still buying them.
  • Ajla I assume the CT5 is on the list due to the Blackwing variant.It would be interesting to take the incentives that existed in October 2019 and include that in an analysis like this as well. The thing about the used market is that while you'll pay less in total dollars, in some cases the percentage increase from 2019 is even worse than with new cars. Buying a Saturn Relay for $6k isn't exactly a winning move.
  • VoGhost Reminder: dealers exist to line the pockets of millionaires who contribute to local politicians.