You grip the chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel and push down on the accelerator. The car quickly and effortlessly gets up to speed. With a turn of the wheel, you throw it into the tight hairpin bend, the car staying impressively flat. A smile grows on your face.
Ok, ok. So this isn’t exactly a Volkswagen Golf R. Nevertheless, you’re actually having some fun… in a Toyota Corolla. And not just any Corolla, one with a hybrid powertrain and a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
What happened? Didn’t Corollas become deathly dull appliances years ago, once the old GTIs and rear-wheel drive Sprinters ceased to exist?
It’s true that for many years, the Corolla name was hardly synonymous with fun. But then Akio Toyoda became CEO of Toyota and issued a decree: Make Toyotas Fun Again.
And so, the Corolla is suddenly enjoyable to drive again after years of automotive journalists carping about how uninspiring it was. That’s great news for consumers, who continue to make the Corolla Australia’s best-selling small car. Unfortunately, Toyota has taken two steps forward but one big step back.
How much does the Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid cost?
The Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid costs $29,735 before on-road costs, regardless of whether you choose the hatch or sedan. That’s $1500 more than the regular SX.
You won’t find any other hybrids under the $30k mark, with the cheapest Hyundai Ioniq and Subaru XV hybrids costing around $5000 more.
You also won’t find any hybrid variants, period, of Australia’s other three best-selling small cars: the Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato and Mazda 3.
Metallic paint is a $500 option. Our tester’s Oxide Bronze is a classy shade but Eclectic Blue is easily the most eye-catching of the Corolla’s palette.
The bold blue also better complements the twelfth-generation Corolla’s styling, which is curvaceous and expressive. It’s also got a pert little rear, though there’s not much to grab onto – more on that later.
What do you get?
The SX is the mid-range trim level in the Corolla range, bookended by the Ascent Sport and ZR. All three trim levels are available with either a regular petrol or a hybrid powertrain.
Toyota is hardly skimping on features, either. The base Ascent Sport already offers an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, and automatic bi-LED headlights.
The SX adds satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, a leatherette-wrapped steering wheel and a wireless charging pad inside. There’s also proximity entry with push-button start, plus LED fog lights and front and rear parking sensors.
Even more importantly, there’s standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Unless you’re really keen on leather trim and want a better sound system than the SX’s six-speaker unit, the ZR’s $3900 premium arguably isn’t worth it.
For such a well-equipped car, though, there’s one baffling omission from the SX: rear air vents. To get them, you’ll need to choose the range-topping ZR.
In terms of standard equipment, the SX Hybrid lines up nicely with the Mazda3 G20 Touring, Kia Cerato Sport+ and Hyundai i30 Elite, all of which cost between $28,000 and $31,000 before on-road costs when equipped with automatic transmissions.
The Mazda3 and the i30 have standard leather upholstery and the Cerato boasts heated front seats, but none of them have a powertrain as efficient as the Corolla Hybrid’s.
Is the Toyota Corolla safe?
When the Toyota Corolla was tested by ANCAP in 2018, it received a rating of five stars. That was based on an impressive 96 per cent score for adult occupant protection, as well as scores of 83 per cent in child occupant protection, 86 per cent in vulnerable road user protection, and 76 per cent in safety assist.
All 2020 Toyota Corollas feature autonomous emergency braking with forward-collision warning and pedestrian and cyclist detection. The warning and the emergency braking work at speeds between 10 and 180km/h for other vehicles and 10 to 80km/h for pedestrians and cyclists.
You’ll also find blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, seven airbags (front, front-side, curtain and driver’s knee) plus lane-keeping assist.
What is the Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid like on the inside?
The Corolla’s dashboard design is funky and fresh yet satisfyingly ergonomic.
Tactile soft-touch plastics are used on much of the dashboard, though harder material is used on the centre console and the door trims. That’s hardly unusual for the class and everything is still assembled with the high standard of build quality you’d expect from a Toyota.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is situated nice and high and features some redundant buttons on either side for switching between screens.
It’s a pretty straightforward system and there are some nice touches, like four programmable contact shortcuts on the home screen – a modern-day speed dial, if you will. The navigation system’s graphics are a bit cluttered, as is common on many vehicles, but the recent addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto renders that a moot issue.
Below the touchscreen and air vents is a row of nicely-damped, metal-look buttons for the dual-zone climate control, bracketed by two tactile knobs.
The design is so attractively minimalist, it has you wondering how other cars’ switchgear takes up so much real estate. The Corolla’s interior would also lend itself to a funkier colourway but, alas, the SX is only available in black-on-black. The ZR is available with some red accenting, though.