Corolla sedan finally gets Hybrid Synergy Drive
Look out, Honda Insight, Toyota is bringing some compact sedan hybrid hurt your way with its 2020 Corolla Hybrid. That’s right, folks who want an affordable, small-footprint (normal-looking) hybrid with a trunk will soon have a second option when the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid hits the market in the spring of 2019, becoming the first hybrid Corolla and the most efficient Corolla in the nameplate’s 53-year, 12-generation history.
The engineering sounds about as simple as a Roadkill engine swap—yank the ZR-FAE 1.8-liter and its Dynamic-Shift belt-and-pulleys CVT out of a high-line Corolla and drop in the Prius’ 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter and Hybrid Synergy Drive two-motor planetary e-CVT into the hole. With both cars sharing the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), this job sounds way simpler than, say, jamming a Cummins diesel into a Cadillac.
There was, of course, perhaps a bit more to it. For one thing, there’s the battery pack to consider—and the Corolla Hybrid’s sounds a lot like the one in the new Prius AWD-e, which was introduced at the same Los Angeles International Auto Show press conference. The Corolla press release touts this new Hyper-Prime Nickel technology as a means of boosting battery performance in a smaller and lighter package—presumably at a lower price than lithium-ion chemistry, which is also generally lighter and smaller than old-school NiMH technology. The Prius AWD-e release announced its new NiMH battery’s high performance in cold weather. (Might we infer that choosing this battery makes it easier to add a Corolla Hybrid AWD-e in a few months or years? That’d be one heckuva unique selling proposition!)
In any case, the battery fits under the rear seat, leaving the gasser Corolla’s trunk volume intact. Toyota has not yet divulged the energy capacity of either of these new batteries. Total system power output is rated at 121 horsepower in both the Prius and Corolla Hybrid. EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy figures have not yet been released for the less aero-slick Corolla, but Prius ratings range from 54/50/52 mpg (4.4/4.7/4.5 L/100km) for uplevel models to 58/52/56 mpg (4.1/126.96.36.199 L/100km) for the stripper L Eco grade.
An EV mode will allow short periods of electric operation, complete with “vehicle proximity notification”—a tone that alerts pedestrians of your stealthy approach. Other selectable driving modes include the usual Eco and Normal plus a Sport mode, which assigns extra electrons to acceleration duty. By way of managing your sporting expectations, however, note that the standard 15-inch aluminum wheels come shod in low-rolling-resistance tires that may not corner like a Supra. The brake system is also all Prius, with synthetic feedback and computers allocating the retardation duties between the motor-generators that recharge the batteries, and the friction brakes. Toyota also provides an auto-brake-hold feature.
The Prius’ S-Flow climate-control system saves energy by only conditioning the air around occupied seats and according to environmental conditions like sun load. The heater and the engine both warm up more quickly thanks to use of the Prius’ exhaust-heat-recovery heat-exchanger. The new Corolla’s up-level 7.0-inch multi-information instrumentcluster display provides all the expected hybrid status reporting, helpful eco-driving hints, etc. Petrol-heads can alternatively choose to look at a tachometer.
Because the 2020 Corolla rides on a slightly newer TNGA iteration, it gets the very latest Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of features, which include all the Prius’ TSS-P items (pre-collision warning and braking, auto high-beams, etc.) and adds nighttime pedestrian and daytime bicycle detection, lane-departure alert with driver-selectable steering assist or lane-trace assist (lane centering), and adaptive cruise that adds full stop-and-go capability.
We will be intrigued to see how Toyota prices the 2020 Corolla Hybrid relative to the Prius. Our expectation is that it will be slightly lower, to align with the Honda Insight ($23,725 to $28,090 USD), which slots below the ’18 Prius range ($24,395 to $31,485 USD USD). We promise to report on the pricing and assess its value proposition closer to the spring on-sale date.