REVIEW: Toyota Corolla hybrid hatch combines sharp looks with impressive economy

Published Mar 20, 2023


REVIEW: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Xr hybrid hatch

Pretoria – It wasn’t that long ago that if you mentioned Toyota Corolla the first comment would be words to the tune of boring but reliable. The reliable bit is still very much part of its DNA but the boring bit has been dumped in the design department’s bin and they now attract glances from people who normally wouldn’t give them a second glance.

That was certainly the case when we tested the Corolla 1.8 Xr hybrid hatch. Even a friend who has three variations of Hiluxes in his garage said that it was a car that he would now easily consider, with the bonus of a hybrid powertrain.

Recent upgrades have made it even more eye-catching with a wider front air dam, C-shaped fog lamps at the outer edges and on the Xr version on test chrome accent trimming. At the back the lower bumper diffuser is all black while strategically placed chrome accents and 18-inch alloys give it a bit of flair.

Inside it’s been upgraded with a full 12.3-inch digital display stretching the full width of the panel and, depending on which mode you select, there’s some cool graphics and colours that pop up.

The infotainment system, thank goodness, has been improved substantially and it’s now fitted with an eight-inch soft touch screen with voice recognition, integrated navigation and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

It’s easy and logical to use with both screens, adding an air of sophistication along with the optional interior red and black combination, with leather and suede sport seats fitted to the test unit.

The biggest change, however, is under the bonnet with the previous 1.2-litre turbocharged engine having been ditched in favour of the fifth generation 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid mill.

And you know Toyota does hybrid extremely well, having introduced it in 1997 with the Prius. Fitted with a newly developed and lighter 18.1kW lithium-ion battery the combination produces 103kW and 142Nm of torque sending power to the front wheels via one of the less irritating CVTs.

It may not look like a lot of power but it’s ample to trundle around in town and cruise on the highway. It does have a sport mode but it doesn’t really make a significant impact. In fact, virtually no car fitted with a CVT and sport mode does, but that’s not what the Corolla hybrid hatch is about – its party trick is consumption.

Let’s face it, fuel prices are never going to have a significant decrease that will make a real difference to your pocket and for now full EVs are simply too expensive so Toyota has got it right by focusing much of its attention on hybrid technology.

Driving, or rather inching forward in heavy traffic, it will use only the battery until you accelerate quickly into a gap, using the ICE motor, and then brake which then recoups energy back to the battery.

It was quite amusing seeing jaywalkers and “parking attendants” quickly getting out of the way after a quick hooter beep in the Pretoria CBD as it silently cruised forward in the regular afternoon traffic jam.

You can’t help yourself by constantly keeping your eye on consumption and each drive becomes a challenge to see how low you can go. The best I could do was 2.8l/100km driving from one end of Pretoria through to the N4 highway.

That’s astounding.

When you’re cruising you’re always glancing at the graphic showing power being sent between the engine and the battery to find an optimal speed that doesn’t exclusively use the ICE component, which also means that at every downhill you release the accelerator, allowing the battery to recharge. After a week I managed 5.2l/100km.

Given the nature of the Corolla hybrid hatch, it’s not a car that you’re going to be speeding around in, yet it’s a satisfying drive when you give it a bit of a heavy right foot.

The suspension is slightly on the firm side but not uncomfortably so and it's agile enough on the twisties, ultimately providing a good balance between sportiness and comfort.

Unfortunately, like the high petrol price, potholed roads are here to stay, given local municipalities and national government’s less than enthusiastic response to maintenance and repairs, and on its 18-inch rims potholes are a bit jarring but on the highway it’s an incredibly smooth drive.

Fitted with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 the Toyota Corolla 1.8 Xr hybrid hatch should be a welcome addition to a garage. Not only is it good-looking, it’s frugal too and you have the legendary Corolla reliability to boot.

FACTS: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Xr hybrid

Price: R539 000

Engine: 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid

Gearbox: Continuously variable (CVT)

Power: 103kW

Torque: 142Nm (+163Nm electric)

Fuel use: 5.2 l/100km (tested, mixed use)

Fuel tank capacity: 43 litres

Boot volume: 305 litres

Warranty: 6-service/90 000km

Service plan: 6-service/90 000km