2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Review: Not an MPG Lion in Winter

Discussion in 'General' started by cliff leppke, Jul 8, 2021.

  1. cliff leppke

    cliff leppke Cliff Leppke

    2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid: Seasonal Affected Disorder

    By Cliff Leppke

    Milwaukee’s moody, introspective wintry weather can sour your disposition—cabin fever. You get a different kind of sadness driving the venerable Corolla LE sedan with Prius-like hybrid power; it's an icy penalty box.

    With an MSRP less than $25,000, this Corolla has good forward sightlines, padded dashboard top and soft dash face on the right. Otherwise, hard plastics with a two-tone theme rule. Front-seat comfort is fair. Rear head and legroom are adequate. And it rides comfortably—as if this buggy were sprung with bungee cords. New for 2021: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

    That’s the bright side. Arctic weather accentuates its dark side. My chief beef: it assaulted my senses. There’s simply too much engine noise, vibration and harshness transmitted through the center tunnel, shifter, steering, pedals and to your ears. On the highway, the wimpy 1.8-liter engine percolated—not sexy, as in the scene in “Fatal Attraction.” The vehicle’s 121-hp engine/battery/motor affair simply poops out when prodded.

    Fuel economy during my wintry test missed the EPA estimates by 14 mpg. It’s rated 52 mpg combined; I registered 37.7 mpg. Engine management rates quirky—as interior heat and battery charging duties required much engine churning. It often idled at 1,400 rpm. And when slowing down on off ramps, the engine rpm jumped to 4,000 rpm. During my week-long test, this hybrid ambulated in EV mode for a grand total of 45 seconds.

    The Corolla’s forward cabin apes Jane Mansfield; the dashboard protrudes; a real knee knocker. The left foot rest isn’t angled well. Check the manual seat adjustments—if you can; they’re wedged too tightly near the B pillars. Plus, backrest rake isn’t continuously variable.

    The fixed rear headrests on the split-fold rear seatbacks block aft views. You must slide front seats forward in order to drop those cushions. And the center rear armrest simply flops down at an unpleasant angle. Toyota supplies grab assists for all outboard riders.

    Further unfriendly bits include hard door cards. The front ones restrict elbow room. There are few storage bins. An illuminated one in front of the shifter accepts a phone. Push buttons near it select drive modes or turn off wheel-slip control. You can launch the Corolla in eight inches of snow without pressing the latter.

    Drives Better When It’s Worse

    While the Corolla nimbly weaves through traffic, steering feel is weak. The Corolla’s lane-keep assist’s default setting seems over caffeinated—twitchy. After tweaking its settings, it relaxed.

    While I didn’t care for the Corolla’s cacophonous dry roadability, it’s behavior on wintry roads was stellar, even playful. For example, gentle tiller tugs help you deal with rutted slush. And the engine and electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT) setup behaved.

    Brake pedal action is spongy and nonlinear. The stability icon illuminated often when stopping or just moving on snow. Yet, it motors confidently on lousy roads. This Japanese-made car rolls on 15-inch alloy wheels.

    Toyota deleted the trunk’s spare tire, dressed its lid’s bottom but left some items unfinished. A shoulder belt strangles parcels routed through the aperture into the cabin.

    Toyota uses an analogue-style gauge cluster with a dingy video display for speedo. There’s an EV-mode icon. Other data include exterior air temp and drive-mode. The automatic LED high beams are effective.
    The infotainment screen needs a dedicated back function. You must tap a lot in order to reclaim the power-delivery visuals. Yet, you can adjust the tone control while driving or reverse with the driver’s door ajar. Seatbelt warning is intrusive, though.

    Even with gloves off, operating the steering wheel’s switchgear is awkward; some buttons, surrounded by ridges, lack detents. Stab with your fingernails. Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 provides an array of driving assists such as dynamic radar cruise control, lane keeping alert and pedestrian detection. This Corolla has 10 airbags including front knee and rear side protection.

    Toyota’s Corolla has a well-earned reputation for low-cost operation. Most reviewers say the hybrid version’s carrot is stellar warm-weather fuel economy. Perhaps. I’d rather roll in a year-round mood enhancer such as a six-speed manual hatchback Corolla with more oomph. In contrast, my 89-year-young father, a former professional electrical engineer (Eaton's Cutler Hammer Div.) who designed motor/generator/inverter systems, respects his trusty RAV4 hybrid. My mother also likes it, but finds the steering assist too aggressive. Here's an example of my father's power supply for a submarine. Cool!
    BillLin likes this.
  2. EdwinTheMagnificent

    EdwinTheMagnificent Legend In His Mind

    Cliff , Toyota didn't make this car for you. And ANY car will have poor fuel economy in Midwest winters.
    What was your fuel economy in your daily driver in the winter ?
    BillLin and RedylC94 like this.
  3. BillLin

    BillLin PV solar, geothermal HVAC, hybrids and electrics

    Thanks for reviewing the vehicle, Cliff.

    I knew little about the car other than the good EPA ratings, useful for quick comparisons of multiple vehicles.

    I didn't know till now that the Corolla hybrid only comes in LE trim (I believe, from looking at Toyota's Corolla web site). That and the pricing somewhat limits the quality of the interior and level of sound proofing. The not-too-dissimilar Prius can reach $32k or so for the top-level trim. Car buyers with a lower budget may be enticed to try the hybrid due to its low starting price, relatively speaking.

    This information is a little troubling. If the hybrid system is similar to the Prius', then it sounds like you may have had the car transmission in "B" mode a lot. That's the only way my Prius Prime will rev the engine while decelerating. It would also account for little operation in EV mode. That and the cold weather would have kept the engine running almost continuously, thus the MPG in the 30s.

    Cliff, did the car have a built-in tachometer or did you hook one up? Just curious. I've never seen a built-in tach in a Prius, so this would be something done for the expected buyers of Corollas. I like it if that's the case. I miss the tach on my daily drives.
    RedylC94 and EdwinTheMagnificent like this.
  4. RedylC94

    RedylC94 Well-Known Member

    Prii can also "rev the engine" decelerating in "D", if the battery is full (to the maximum degree allowed). That circumstance should be rare except in mountains.

    I, too, miss having a proper tachometer, and pay attention to the engine speed shown by my ScanGauge. 1280 RPM idle is typical during warm-up---and also during first minute or so even after a hot re-start, which seems ridiculous.
  5. BillLin

    BillLin PV solar, geothermal HVAC, hybrids and electrics

    Thanks, RedylC94.
    EdwinTheMagnificent likes this.
  6. cliff leppke

    cliff leppke Cliff Leppke

    Cliff’s answers:

    1. He drives an eight-valve 1986 VW Scirocco with five-speed manual. He gets about 30 mpg under similar Arctic wintry conditions. There’s a secret: the VW has an electric engine pre-heater. He plugs it in at home and at work. Thus, the VW’s cold start is “warmer” than you’d expect. The Corolla, which uses lightweight motor oil, starts easily.

    Traction: The VW has narrow 13-inch winter tires. Cliff launches in second gear when the pavement is slick. He usually upshifts slightly before the upshift light prompts. Compared with the Toyota, which produces too much engine noise and vibration, the old VW (has good engine mounts) is smoother and doesn’t struggle like the Corolla does in order to climb Milwaukee’s elevated expressways. Cliff’s former Corolla SR5 Liftback, likewise, was a smooth operator. One wonders whether the older cars with cast-iron exhaust manifolds muffle exhaust noise better.

    2. The hybrid Corolla’s instrument cluster (much like the non-hybrid Corolla) has a tachometer. It showed surprisingly high revs at idle (1,400 rpm), when my non-hybrid car churns at 900 rpm. And I didn’t use the Corolla’s “B” mode as it’s not recommended for slippery roads. Likewise, I don’t downshift the manual transmission car for braking, as it can induce unexpected wheel spinning. And yes, the Corolla’s electronic engine management revs it to 4,000 rpm when exiting expressways (often uphill climbs in MKE). This didn’t cause traction trouble as engine speed and road speed vary due to drive line differences. But it helps one understand why this hybrid’s winter fuel economy was much lower than EPA numbers or what Toyota’s engineer, whom I consulted, predicted.

    3. Cliff preferred driving the Prius rather than the Corolla hybrid. He thinks the former is a better package. Both vehicles are underpowered. They struggle noisily, when climbing Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge or tackling Miller Valley.

    4. Cliff’s the son of father who engineered engine/motor/inverter drive systems. Cliff has an undergraduate degree in electronics and studied the history of American technology in graduate school. He respects hybrid drive systems. He prefers hybrids with engines that don’t protest so much. It’s possible.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2021
    EdwinTheMagnificent and BillLin like this.

Share This Page