2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid: The Other Prius? by Cliff Leppke At the 2011 North American International Auto Show, Toyota asked us to think Prius plural. Prii became the name for Toyota’s multiple-car Prius family—a lineup of hybrid Sci-Fi fantasy econopods meant to take over American highways. It didn’t pan out. Toyota axed the smaller Prius C and the larger Prius V. Toyota still builds hybrids, however. Toyota hatched a batch donning non-Prius nameplates--to wit: there’s the Corolla hybrid. It’s a hybrid bargain: $24,467 MSRP. Let’s return to plurals. According to Consumer Reports, there are two types of satisfied car buyers: those who love high-mpg vehicles and conversely those who crave high-mph rides. You, dear reader, probably want the MVP of mpg. There’s nothing wrong with lower tailpipe emissions. Thrifty is virtuous especially when it tickles your inner Mark Donahue. Driven a go kart lately? Then, you’re on my motoring wavelength. The Corolla hybrid promises high fuel economy—an EPA rating of 52 mpg highway and 53 city. Ultimately, it came up short during my winter tryout—42 mpg. My inner Donahue wasn’t satisfied, either. Taxing and Taxing Another plural is taxes and taxing. Many states charge extra to license a hybrid; driving this one also taxes one’s senses. Wisconsin slaps a $75 surcharge on this car. That extra fee pays for maintaining roadway infrastructure. Lawmakers did this because hybrid drivers, as a rule, don’t pay as much gas tax as gas-only vehicles. Unfair! During my late-December motoring trek from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, this Corolla aped TV’s TMZ; it was buzzy. The trip computer predicted about 550 miles to empty, but cried uncle at 364 miles. Blame cold weather, traveling at 70 mph, a low-frequency rumble and tepid hill-climbing ability. My round-trip experience meant 10 hours piloting a vehicle with a cacophonous combination of engine drone, wind noise, and road thrash. I resorted to ear plugs, but couldn’t banish the 1.8-liter efficiency-oriented Atkinson-cycle engine’s bad vibrations. It reminded me of a jiggling Walton Belt Vibrator. The smooth cycling of the mill between 1,800 rpm and 3,000 rpm aped Procter and Gamble instructions: lather, rinse and repeat. Add a rattling glove box and you’ll understand why driving this hybrid isn’t quality time. Forward vision, however, is good with an expansive windshield. Generous front-door windows help, too. Aft views are poor due to non-removable rear headrests. Blind spot detection should be standard. It’s not available. But you get Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 with pre-collision detection, radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, auto high beams and road-sign detection. Toyota knows compact car shoppers are price-sensitive. It offsets the Corolla’s cheapness with a spiffy upholstered dashboard and fascia. Lincolnesque drivers beware; a protruding dashboard knocks knees; front seats lack support. The under-dash hardware is covered, though. This vehicle's human interface is annoying. The info/instrument screen is large enough but the digital speedo and driver-assist icons are tiny. They are wash-day dingy in sunlight. Instrument brightness went berserk in the Cities flashing bright or blacking out, foiled by numerous overpasses. The panel’s brightness control is simple; it doesn’t work in tandem with the touchscreen‘s illumination. Toyota’s safety nannies pester those who lift their own garage doors or back out of long ribbon-type driveways. You must fasten seat belts in order to select, say, brake auto hold. If you open the driver’s door to gauge tire placement or manipulate a parking structure’s entry keypad (required when side windows are frozen), settings change. This isn't a defect. Yet, Toyota seems assertive about some items and nonchalant about others. The interior is serviceable. Stowage options are meager and unlined. The unlit USB or 12-Volt sockets aren’t portable GPS-device friendly. As a highway cruiser, driving the Corolla is like playing Pong. The vehicle’s low resistance tires don’t bite. Add some wind and the car waddles. Lane-keep assist intrudes. It’s effective in fog, seeing road lines better than I could. Brakes pause momentarily before clamping down when fully summoned. In contrast, the Corolla fares better as an urban runabout. During my eight-mile trek to work, it ambulated as an EV for several blocks at a time—after the engine warmed up. If you play nicely with the go pedal and coast as much as possible, other motorists will honk in disapproval. Lead foots should sit on their hands. A Corolla hybrid lets you drive a Prius-like vehicle for a tad less dough than a Prius. It works best as a commuter appliance. If it were my coin, I’d pony up for the hatchback-style Prius or a competitor without the yo-yo power train.