New car review: Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid Sedan

Hybrid power is now available in Toyota’s enduringly popular Corolla sedan.

Toyota’s Corolla is a car that never seems to go out of fashion.

First launched in Japan in 1966, the nameplate has been sold here continuously since 1967, when Australia became the first country to receive export models. 

By 1968 we were assembling Corollas locally and the popular Toyota compact has gone on to become a mainstay of our new car sales ever since. 

Now in its 12th generation, the Corolla just keeps on keeping on and regularly tops passenger car sales charts here, with just over 30,000 sold in 2019 and some 17,000 sold so far this year. 

With more than 25% of Toyota’s Australian sales and 53% of Corolla sales being hybrids, it’s no surprise that Toyota has made a hybrid powertrain available to sedan buyers, where previously the petrol-electric technology was restricted to the hatch.

In addition to powertrains, the sedan shares many of its features with the latest generation hatch, which launched here in August 2019. 

For most of the range pricing of the hatch and sedan are matched, grade for grade and powertrain for powertrain, with the exception being the ZR hybrid hatch which has no sedan equivalent.

For this reason the top-spec ZR sedan is a whisker cheaper than the slightly better-equipped ZR hatch, but elsewhere in the range the hybrid powertrain carries a $2000 premium over a 2.0-litre petrol equivalent.

2020 Toyota Corolla sedan.

Despite being an entry-level model, the Ascent Sport is hardly a “stripper” in terms of standard kit. 

Standard features include bi-LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, single-zone climate control, 8.0-inch colour touch-screen, steering wheel controls for audio and phone, a 4.2-inch multi-information display, reversing camera, 60/40 split fold rear seat, keyless start and entry, and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Its latest generation multi-media system now incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, with satnav and DAB+ radio available as a $1000 option pack. However, while the Ascent Sport petrol sedan scores a full-size spare wheel, all other sedans, including this one, make do with a less practical space saver.

On the safety equipment front, check off seven airbags, lane departure alert with steering assist, speed sign recognition, auto high beam, all-speed active cruise control, hill-start assist, pre-collision safety system/AEB with pedestrian (day/night) and cyclist (day) detection, plus lane trace and active cornering assist. However, you need to step up to the mid-range Corolla SX to enjoy the benefits of rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. 

Sharing the current hatch’s smaller, lighter and more efficient hybrid drive system, the Corolla sedan feels nicely responsive off the line and has no trouble keeping pace with the herd in city and urban driving.

It’s likewise capable enough when cruising on the open road, but overtaking needs a bit of forward planning and steep hills test the hybrid’s mettle more than petrol-only rivals. On the plus side, the transition between electric power and assistance from the hybrid’s petrol engine is fairly seamless and unobtrusive.

The Corolla hybrid’s 1.8-litre petrol engine combines with a pair of electric motor generators for a maximum combined power output of 90kW/142Nm and delivers an impressively frugal official combined cycle consumption of 3.5 litres/100km.

That makes it one of the most economical models in the current Toyota line-up, 0.7L/100km better even than its hybrid hatch sibling. By comparison, the petrol CVT auto consumes 6.0 litres/100km.

2020 Toyota Corolla sedan.

For many Aussies, the range of a full-electric vehicle remains a lingering concern, and improved range courtesy of a bigger battery capacity comes at a significant cost. 

For this reason, the Corolla hybrid’s relative fuel efficiency and lower CO₂ emissions, delivered without range anxiety, make it a more practical, affordable option for many buyers. Being a mild hybrid it doesn’t need plugging in to charge; with the flipside being it has very limited electric-only range.  

The sedan might not look quite as smart as the hatch, but it has the edge practicality-wise courtesy of its longer wheelbase. That translates into significantly better rear leg room and a bigger cargo area. 

Frankly, the hatch’s quoted 217 litres of boot space is below par, and less than that available in micro cars such as the Kia Picanto (255L) and Mitsubishi Mirage (235L). The Corolla sedan offers a more user-friendly 470L, although the boot’s old-fashioned goose-neck hinges intrude somewhat into the load area.

The sedan is easy to drive and to park, though a lack of park sensors is a notable omission for a city car.

The brakes have a more natural and progressive feel than many hybrids we’ve sampled, the pedals of which can feel “wooden” under foot.

The blend of comfortable ride and stable, competent road manners make the Corolla sedan a pleasant all-rounder that will meet most small-car buyer expectations.

Toyota’s own sales figures indicate that hybrids are growing in popularity in Australia. But other than Toyota’s own Prius and the $35k-plus Hyundai Ioniq, there’s a distinct lack of small car competitors offering a hybrid powertrain, a fact which should do the Corolla’s enduring popularity no harm at all. 

Key stats

Make/model: Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid Sedan.  
MLP: $27,395.
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol/twin electric drive-motor/generators. 
ANCAP crash rating:  5 stars (2018).
Fuel consumption: 3.5L/100km (81 g/km CO2). 

For

Popular easy to drive small car, relative fuel efficiency without EV range worries, more space than hatch version.

Against

Base models miss out on some key driver assistance features, sedan stying less edgy than hatch, space saver spare.