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Car Review: 2022 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Only the badge and the fuel economy give away its gas-electric powertrain

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It seems there are two types of hybrid buyers. Some want something that looks unusual and tells the world what’s under the hood, while others prefer to keep it quiet. Those latter folks would be more likely to get into my tester, Toyota’s 2022 Corolla Hybrid, which you likely wouldn’t pick out otherwise if you didn’t notice its discreet little badge.

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It indicates a gas-electric powertrain that sips a small enough amount of fuel, and a price tag sufficiently in line with the conventional models, that I likely wouldn’t buy a Corolla that wasn’t a hybrid.

Regular Corolla models start at $19,450 for the base L trim, and top out at $29,050 for the XSE. The Hybrid comes in a single trim at $25,250. Mine had the only available option, a Premium Package for $2,070, bringing it to $27,320 before freight and taxes. As with all self-charging hybrids, it doesn’t qualify for any federal or provincial “green” rebates, which are limited to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) or electric-only models.

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The 2022 model is virtually unchanged from the 2021 version, but with an important update — whenever you’re driving, the taillights come on. Canada’s had mandatory front daytime running lights since 1989. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been as quick to require the rear lights to come on automatically too, and its recent regulation doesn’t go far enough in lighting up the rear in all conditions. If you’ve ever driven on a grey rainy day, looking at wet grey pavement and you miss the grey car that’s ahead of you, because it doesn’t have its taillights on and it’s hard to tell, you’ll appreciate automakers that are illuminating all four corners all the time.

The Corolla Hybrid uses a 1.8L four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, making 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque. It sends power to the front wheels through an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT). The hybrid battery is under the rear seats, where it doesn’t affect cargo capacity. Both the conventional and hybrid Corolla sedans have a 371-litre trunk, and the 60/40 rear seat can be folded down to carry longer items.

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The car automatically switches between the engine, battery, or the two combined, depending on such factors as driving style, speed, and ambient temperature. There’s an EV Mode button, for Electric Vehicle. Activate it and the car stays on the battery, but only if you’re driving slowly and sufficiently light-footed — and the car will do that anyway if you are. If you exceed the threshold, and it doesn’t take much, the EV Mode clicks off and makes the button seem rather pointless.

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The battery self-charges with regenerative braking — capturing the otherwise-wasted energy when slowing down — or, if needed, by using the gas engine’s power. The hybrid battery is covered by a warranty of 10 years or 240,000 km, while the rest of the hybrid components are for eight years or 160,000 km.

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The car isn’t terribly exciting to drive, but that’s not really the point of it. It’s pleasant enough to pilot, and it’s an everyday commuter car, not a sports machine. There’s next-to-no steering feel, but it corners smoothly and has a very tight turning circle, and the ride is comfortable. It doesn’t feel quick but its acceleration is linear, and the switch from gasoline engine to electric motivation is smooth and usually imperceptible.

The payoff is at the pumps, where the Corolla Hybrid is officially rated at 4.5 L/100 km in combined city/highway driving. I drove it in cold weather and made a few longer highway runs — hybrids get better fuel economy in city driving, where they make more use of electric-only driving — and still got a respectable 5.4 L/100 km. By comparison, depending on its engine, the gas-only Corolla is rated between 6.8 and 7.4 L/100 km.

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The interior might be a little too simple for those who like a higher-tech look, but I’m good with it, since it relies heavily on buttons and dials for the climate controls, and to bring up menus on an eight-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Corolla is spared the 11.6-inch screen available on upper levels of the Prius hybrid, which requires multiple taps for most functions, and washes out entirely when the sun hits it. The Corolla’s infotainment system may look old-school but it’s less distracting, and that’s always an important consideration when you’re trying to adjust something at 100 km/h.

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The seats come wrapped in cloth and the front ones are heated on the standard trim, but my tester’s optional Premium Package outfitted them with good-looking “Softex” fake leather. The package also adds a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, and wireless phone charger. The seats are good for shorter trips, but fell a bit flat after I’d been behind the wheel on a trip for a couple of hours. Slightly longer cushions would provide a bit more support.

Standard driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, lane-departure assist, automatic high-beam headlamps, and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert. That last one was added as standard equipment for the 2021 model year.

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Automakers are increasingly adding electrification to more models, and more options are available, but I believe hybrids will still be the best choice for a lot of buyers. They’re proven and they’re fuel-efficient, and they don’t have the “range anxiety” or charging requirements of a fully electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrids are also an option — they run on electric-only after they’re plugged in and charged, and then revert to gas-electric hybrid operation once that depletes — but they’re also pricier and are often in short supply, especially if most have been allotted to provinces with “green” rebates and you’re not in one of them.

The Corolla Hybrid isn’t a spectacular vehicle, but it’s a solid performer that gets the job done at a reasonable price. If you’re considering the benefits of a hybrid, it’s a must-drive on the shopping list.