The 21st century people’s car

Throughout history, there have been a number of “people’s cars” — vehicles that offer a great degree of value and utility, making them appealing as basic transportation. Cars like the Ford Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle and Citroen 2CV come to mind. Today, the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid embodies this ethos, as well.

a car parked on the side of a road: The Corolla Hybrid offers 52 mpg and lots of standard tech. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

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The Corolla Hybrid offers 52 mpg and lots of standard tech. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The Corolla Hybrid isn’t quick or fast, but what it lacks in punch it makes up for with efficiency. Power comes from a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that produces just 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Like Toyota’s other hybrid models, the Corolla uses the Atkinson combustion cycle that offers increased efficiency at the expense of power. The engine is paired with a permanent-magnet motor that offers 71 hp, fed by a 600-volt battery. Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a well-behaved continuously variable transmission.

a car parked in a parking lot

© Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

According to the EPA, this basic hybrid drivetrain is good for 53 miles per gallon city, 52 mpg highway and 52 mpg combined which, given the Corolla’s 11.4-gallon fuel tank, makes for seriously impressive cruising range. Over the course of roughly 400 miles, I saw 50.6 mpg — not quite the EPA numbers, but any observed economy over 50 mpg is pretty great in my book.

The Corolla’s chassis isn’t designed for thrills, but it’s perfectly competent for this car’s intended purpose. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts while the rear uses a multi-link design. Toyota could have cheaped out here and used a rear torsion beam, but it didn’t, and the ride quality is better for it. The steering isn’t particularly communicative — not that I’d expect it to be — but it is accurate and well-weighted, which adds to driving pleasure. The brakes are ventilated discs in the front and solid discs in the rear and offer a decent pedal feel with plenty of stopping power.

On the road, the Corolla feels good. It rides well and generally feels solid. It handles well enough to make a twisty road feel fun, if not thrilling, and the cabin is free of egregious squeaks or rattles.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a car: The interior is comfortable and -- more importantly -- durable. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

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The interior is comfortable and — more importantly — durable. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Technology in general, and safety technology in particular, is an increasingly important part of the “people’s car” formula. Just because a vehicle is affordable to buy and run doesn’t mean buyers are willing to sacrifice modern safety features or driver aids. Toyota delivers here as well, with the very robust Safety Sense 2.0 suite as standard equipment. It includes a precollision braking system with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, road sign recognition and an excellent adaptive cruise control system.


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Infotainment technology is also quite good. Toyota’s Entune system isn’t going to win any awards for responsiveness or attractiveness, but it’s plenty functional and I appreciate the 8-inch touchscreen and the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as standard. The lack of a premium stereo option on the Hybrid model is kind of a bummer, but the standard stereo will be totally adequate for most people.

The Corolla Hybrid’s interior is basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpleasant. The fabric seats are comfortable and the material feels durable, like it will put up with years of abuse. Ditto the interior plastics. Nothing is going to make a prospective buyer ooh or ahh, but the cabin looks and feels fine, particularly for the Corolla’s modest asking price. The driver’s seat has six-way adjustability and the front passenger gets four-way movement, though the design of the glovebox cuts into the knee room for taller riders. The rear seat folds down and has a 60/40 split, adding significantly to the Corolla’s practicality. Even with the rear seats up, the 13.1 cubic feet of trunk space is ample. Ikea runs are definitely not outside the Corolla’s purview.

a car parked in a parking lot: Even this base-spec Corolla Hybrid is a good-looking little sedan. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

© Provided by Roadshow
Even this base-spec Corolla Hybrid is a good-looking little sedan. Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The 2021 Corolla Hybrid starts at just $24,595, including $995 for destination, and with an almost nonexistent options list, that’s close to what you’ll pay. My tester features some niceties like paint protection film and a HomeLink rearview mirror and comes to just under $26,000 all in. Not bad at all. Plus, the Corolla Hybrid is a great alternative for folks who want the space and efficiency of a Prius but don’t want, you know, a Prius.

Putting everything together, I feel absolutely justified in placing the 2021 Corolla Hybrid in the same pantheon as the Beetle or the 2CV. It’s a vehicle that’s designed to be ruthlessly efficient and extremely accessible to working-class people. You could pile miles on one of these and drive it into the ground over a long period of time. Would I want to live with one? Happily. The Corolla Hybrid is a great car. 

This was originally published on Roadshow.

Gallery: 2021 Toyota Corolla Review | Feature-packed commuter with many flavors (Autoblog)

a car parked in a parking lot: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

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