BOSTON – Earlier this year, I reviewed the Toyota Prius. I said that when it first came out twenty years ago, it was for environmentalist wackos and early-adopter do-gooders who didn't mind driving a weird looking car. In fact, that was the point—to show everyone how green you were.
That new Prius gets terrific fuel economy and still looks a bit weird, but that remains the point if you want to show off how green you are. But what if you don't want to show off? What if you just want a car to get you from point A to point B? A car that is normal and doesn't stand out in a crowd?
In that case, my friend, you want to get yourself a Toyota Corolla. It's the least show-offey car around and, if you buy the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, it's just as fuel efficient as the polarizing Prius. In fact, it's so good that I think it might be the best small car that you can buy today.
The Corolla has always been a top choice for small car buyers. Between it's terrific reliability and reasonable price, it's a car that's easy to recommend (if a little boring). While the Corolla Hybrid won't get any hearts racing, it checks every box and then some.
The powertrain has been transplanted from the Prius, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder unit along with the requisite battery pack. There's no plug (that is kept for the Prius Prime and the new RAV4 Prime), so you drive it just like a regular car and the only hint to the outside world that there's anything different going on is the litany of "Hybrid" badges all over the thing.
The front end is also a bit more aerodynamic than the standard Corolla, but not so much that you'd notice unless you had them side by side. Easy-rolling low-resistance tires are fitted to 15-inch wheels to complete the look — no rolling on dubs here. In other words, it looks basically like every other Corolla you've ever seen. It's inoffensive and vaguely pleasing to look at.
Inside, it's a little more exciting. The floating dash leads to a surprising feeling of spaciousness for the front passengers, with reasonable amounts of storage in the doors and a big pocket for a phone sitting fore of the shifter. That shifter, it's worth noting, is a standard P-R-N-D unit (with an added "B" mode that adds additional engine braking for going down a hill) so it's familiar and easy to use.
The steering wheel allows easy access to volume and media controls, as well as the buttons to control the adaptive cruise control. A big digital display for the driver keeps you apprised of what the hybrid system is doing, including a tachometer which is lets you know what the internal-combustion engine is up to — not that you'll really care.
The center infotainment stack leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you're good to go there, but the buttons surrounding the screen are completely unnecessary and use up valuable real estate that could be a larger screen. It's a nitpick, but I wish Toyota would just give us a bigger touch screen and forget all the hard plastic buttons. There's single-zone climate control which works perfectly well, and gone is the trademark (and weird) center-stack Prius dash cluster.
But the most important part of the Corolla Hybrid is actually made up of two numbers. First is the fuel economy. The EPA estimates it can make 53 miles per gallon city and 52 highway, with 52 combined. And... that's exactly what I got, too. Without particularly trying, and by that I mean I was cruising down the highway in the left lane, quickly pulling away from stop lights in a manner unbecoming a hybrid, etc — basically doing everything I could to not be an economical driver — I still managed 52 mpg. It was astounding.
Then there's the price. There are basically no options to be found on the Corolla Hybrid, aside from some paint protection film ($395) and carpeted floor mats ($249), and it still lands at $24,524. You get out under $25,000 with 52 miles per gallon and a normal looking, easy to drive, friendly car that will probably run forever without any major problems.
After my week with the Corolla Hybrid, I honestly found myself asking "why would anyone buy anything else?"
I haven't come up with a good answer, yet.