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!