While the launch of a new Toyota Corolla sedan variant might not seem like anything to really shout about, this is a car truly worth paying attention to. With the Corolla being the best-selling passenger car in Australia, it’s almost impossible to ignore the expansion of its range and the inevitable flood of new three-box models that are starting to hit our streets.
Although the surprisingly funky hatch variant launched back in the latter half of 2018 and this new sedan variant won’t be quite so new to some given it arrived in markets like the US early last year, it’s only just landed on our shores a couple of months ago, perhaps too late to capitalise on the buzz that surrounded the most popular small car sold here.
To see whether its a case of too little too late, I spent some time behind the wheel of the mid-range SX model with the optional hybrid drivetrain to find out.
The Corolla hatch, I must say, I still find to be an eye-catching and fab-looking thing, particularly the higher spec’d models with bigger wheels on them, but while the sedan shares a similarly aggressive front-end design with its five-door sibling, the rest of it is, well, about as interesting as you’d expect a new Corolla sedan to be. That is to say, not very.
It’s certainly inoffensive and flies under the radar more than the quirky hatch, but if you’re looking for a looker that’s the height of style, look elsewhere.
What this new sedan does offer over the hatch, however, is far more practicality, and while you might not think that would be the case as a hatch inherently seems more practical than a sedan, I can assure you this four-door is the way to go.
With it being longer overall – adding 60mm to its wheelbase and 255mm overall – the rear legroom is perfectly ample, while in the stubby hatch it’s practically non-existent, and while all hatch variants with a spare wheel have a pathetically small 217 litres (growing to 333 litres only in the ZR Hybrid that does without a spare wheel) the sedan’s is more than double the capacity at 470 litres.
Of course, you’re sacrificing style for that added space, so you’ll have to consider which you’re more willing to sacrifice, but I’ll simply say that if I were an Uber driver, constantly needing to ferry passengers and their things, this is clearly the one I’d be going for.
With the bulk of the changes being in the back, the dashboard and front half of the cabin will be fairly familiar to anyone who’s driven the hatch before. The perfectly-sized steering wheel, crystal-clear semi-digital instrument cluster, and big infotainment screen are all essentially identical, as are the incredibly comfortable and supportive cloth bucket seats.
The most notable change you’ll find, and it’s one the hatch now boasts for 2020 as well, is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to Toyota’s new infotainment system – something that was certainly well overdue when sizing it up against the competition.
However, it’s worth noting that there are some odd specification differences between the sedan and hatch models – one such thing being dual-zone climate control which is absent in this mid-range sedan despite being available in a base hybrid hatch.
Power-folding mirrors and rain-sensing wipers are two other oddities to see missing, despite this SX offering up features like keyless entry, a wireless phone charger, and automatic headlights.
Plus, while a hybrid drivetrain – something seeing an increasingly high take-up rate here in Australia – is available across the hatchback range, the top-spec ZR sedan is only available with the 2.0-litre petrol engine, making the SX you see here the best-equipped electrified sedan available, making those omissions all the more puzzling.
However, it’s the hybrid that I do have on test here, and it’s worth mentioning that while petrolheads like myself are meant to have a downer on hybrids, I’ve actually thought it’s a great idea to sell a hybrid version of Toyota’s most popular passenger car since the last-gen hybrid Corolla first launched.
While for the average person buying a vastly more economical electrified car not only lightens their carbon footprint (theoretically) and the burden on their wallet, buying a hybrid previously meant buying a car like a Prius that looked weird and made you look seriously uncool driving it, but with completely normal cars in Toyota’s lineup like the RAV4 and of course this Corolla, having a hybrid and saving big time when it comes to fuel economy is now something you, the average person, can actually do without sticking out in traffic like a sore thumb.
Although the sort of buyer who should buy a Corolla hybrid won’t ever really care about what’s going on under the bonnet, for those that are interested there’s a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine running the Atkinson combustion cycle that makes 72kW and 142Nm, which is paired to an electric motor and 6.5aH nickel-metal hydride battery that produces another 53kW and 163Nm. Combined, the two are able to produce a maximum system output of 90kW, which is sent to the front wheels through a CVT automatic.
The refinement of Toyota’s hybrid systems is truly outstanding at this point, as if you aren’t paying attention to the little green ‘EV’ light in the gauge cluster or the power supply diagram in the centre screen, you’d honestly never have any idea when you’re running on petrol power, electricity, or a combination of the two.
It’s almost impossible to catch it off guard – stab the throttle, and the petrol engine is incredibly quick to burst back into life – and although the wheezy petrol engine sounds like my MacBook struggling while trying to upload a big video file to YouTube, it isn’t actually much of a struggle to get it up to speed or to stay there despite the low total power output, although once you’re nearing triple-digit speeds, the power curve feels to fall right down a cliff.
Off the line, though, the instantaneous electric torque is most impressive, and around town you are able to rely on it running electric-only a fair amount if you adjust your driving style and learn the tricks of how a hybrid system like this works if you’re new to them, learning to be gentle and precise with the throttle as you get into that hypermiling mindset.
Speaking of hypermiling, it’s worth noting that the electrified Corolla sedan claims fuel consumption of merely 3.5L/100km despite the equivalent hatch citing use of 4.2L/100km. In reality, after 620km of driving, I saw an indicated return of 4.3L/100km which is still remarkably impressive.
It’s also only a tenth more than I’ve previously managed in a hybrid hatch before, for the record, although the hatch’s slightly better fuel economy comes despite it not featuring the exclusive 15-inch wheels all hybrid sedan models are fitted with that feature a plastic aero cover over the standard alloy to reduce drag.
When it comes to general Corolla stuff though, be it this new sedan or the hatch, it’s a car that feels perfectly suited to a city environment. The steering is nice and light, the turning circle is remarkably tight, and it absorbs hits from potholes with the utmost ease.
Yet despite how boring it may appear to be, it’s a fairly rewarding drive if you pit it against a backroad. Sure, the eco tyres lead to a fair amount of road noise at higher speeds and start to squeal and lose grip fairly quickly in tighter, faster bends, leading to a touch of understeer when you approach the limit, but it does feel to have a good chassis with responsive steering and decent body control.
But while you may be tempted by the slightly more potent petrol drivetrain with its manual gearbox in base spec or ‘direct shift’ CVT with a fixed launch gear available on all variants, I’d be going for the hybrid any day of the week. At only $1500 more and with clearly obvious savings that will add up in the long-run, it’s a no brainer.
At $29,735 for an SX Hybrid like you see here – pricing is identical for both sedan and hatch variants for 2020 – it’s incredibly well priced anyway given the decent amount of kit you’re getting, even with a few odd omissions. The warranty is commendable, too – five years with no mileage cap for the whole car, with seven years coverage for the engine and 10 for the battery if you stick to servicing it through a Toyota dealer.
Sure, it might be about as soulful as a dishwasher or a fridge, but it’s honestly the perfect A-to-B car – comfortable, cheap, fairly well-equipped, and economical – and for the average person, it’s honestly exactly what they would look for in a car materialised.
I know as an enthusiast I’m not really meant to care about this thing, but a car of the Corolla sedan’s kind done as well as it is gets me excited. If people are going to buy ‘boring’ cars, at least let them be objectively good and remarkably fuel efficient, and not actually all that boring in reality. The hybrid Corolla sedan, I would argue, is objectively great, and far more interesting than I was originally prepared to give it credit for.
2020 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid Sedan List Price: $29,735 | As Tested: $30,255
Pros: Incredibly refined and efficient hybrid drivetrain, far more practical than the compromised hatch, nicely balanced ride, perfectly suited to city commuting
Cons: Odd spec omissions for sedan models, dull styling, hybrid drivetrain not available in top-spec sedan
In a nutshell: If you’re not after a car that steals your heart but instead one that simply works and makes commuting easy, the Corolla hybrid sedan is that car.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for 10 days with fuel costs covered.