Corolla hybrid long overdue arrival here

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When Toyota recently launched a hybrid version of its top-selling Corolla here, my immediate reaction was why has it taken so long?
Of all the Toyota’s models on our market, this one with its huge popularity had the biggest potential to drive the company’s hybrid technology and sales aspirations to the next level in New Zealand. More models from the company will be heading down the hybrid highway and the next is expected to be the popular RAV4 SUV.
Hybrids, which run a conventional engine and electric motors, are really a halfway house between a conventional petrol powered car and a totally electric one. In a hybrid, the petrol engine does the majority of the work and the electric motors generally only come in to play on flat terrain, in low-speed urban situations.
– Hybrids, which run a conventional engine and electric motors, are really a halfway house between a conventional petrol powered car and a totally electric one –
Apart from the powertrain, the other mechanical changes to the Corolla hybrid compared to the GLX model it is based on include larger front brakes, to assist regenerative braking; low rolling resistance tyres, to improve fuel efficiency; and double wishbone rear suspension with a stabiliser bar.
Visually, it differs from the standard GLX with its bi-LED headlights and LED daytime running lights with automatic levelling and cleaners. These are normally exclusive to the flagship Corolla Levin ZR.
Then there is the most obvious identifier, the prominent hybrid badges applied at either end of the car, so you can tell the rest of the automotive world you are saving money, fuel and the environment.
With a competitive $38,450 price tag, Toyota is offering every incentive to coax buyers into the Corolla hybrid. You pay a modest $1000 premium over the equivalent petrol version, making it a very appealing buy.
This newcomer to the Corolla family is powered by Toyota’s tried and proven Hybrid Synergy Drive system, that has a combined output of 100kW from the 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine and the electric motor. The petrol is by far the biggest contributor, making near 75% of those kilowatts.
At a cursory glance it seems to have enough toe on tap to provide a willing and enjoyable drive, although the extra weight of the on-board batteries means performance is not in the ‘‘livewire’’ category, more in the honest and earnest camp. You cannot fault this petrol/electric combo for its endeavour, as it displays plenty. At low speeds, on ultraflat surfaces, the electric motor charges into action under light throttle opening and takes over from the petrol engine. Having the ability to run for extended period on fully electric mode brings some meaningful drops in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
Gear-changing is managed with clinical efficiency by a constantly variable transmission.
A rather compact cabin compartment is far from best in class. Despite this, it does an adequate job in seating four adults, although things space wise are a bit cosy and snug for taller rear seat occupants. In the cabin a hybrid drive economy meter replaces the tachometer and a 4.2-inch colour multi-information display screen has been added. There is also smart entry and push button start, normally reserved for the high spec Levin ZR petrol.
Owners get the same comprehensive safety package as the rest of the Corolla range, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle stability control, traction control and a brake override system.
Crisp road holding, together with a supple ride, makes negotiating the sometimes bumpy and uneven surfaces encountered on our roads much less of a chore. The suspension reacts quickly and smoothly to unexpected changes in direction by the driver, or those provoked by the likes of a poorly cambered road. Another improvement is steering that provides an accurate read on the action unfolding between the front wheels and the road surface. One of the benefits of the extra weight of the hybrid is that it gives the car a far more planted feel on the road than the lighter petrol Corolla.