Making a power pact

Hybrid Corolla rocks up for its unplugged gig

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

ARGUABLY one of the most important new models released last year was the Toyota Prius IV. Not for of any hybrid powertrain efficiency breakthroughs (in green-caragnostic Australia Ė are you kidding?), but rather the snappily named Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) platform lurking underneath that ushers in technology that will underpin most transverse-engined vehicles the company is set to introduce.

Australiaís biggest selling brandís future is literally riding on TNGA.

So why is one of 2012ís biggest debutantes, a homely Corolla finished in fetching Wildfire Red, draped across these pages instead?

Basically, we have to wait for our brand-new Prius i-Tech to arrive from Japan. So for the next two months, Toyota has kindly offered us the recently released (in Australia) Hybrid.

Somewhat ironically (considering how utterly unchanged it is visually from your garden-variety Corolla on the outside) the petrol-electric version stumps up something new (for the series) underneath, in the form of a double-wishbone rear suspension layout, turfing out the conventionally powered versionís torsion-beam arrangement. Just like the European-market Auris.

Weighing 55kg more than an equivalently equipped Corolla SX Hatch, the Hybrid employs a variation of the previous Priusís ĎSynergy Driveí system, featuring a highcompression 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre fourcylinder petrol engine and a 650V 60kW electric motor, for a combined total of 100kW. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack resides beneath the back seat and allows for less than 2km of pure electric driving range (at a maximum of 40km/h), so itís best to focus on the reduced fuel consumption this Hybrid offers compared to a regular Corolla.

Officially itís 4.1L/100km (two litres less than its petrol equivalent), but we managed a still-credible 5.5L/100km, and that included heavy city traffic as well as some freeway/ highway driving with the car packed to the rafters with holiday gear, 190kg of humans, and one 26kg Labrador.

Larger (and electronically controlled) four-wheel disc brakes are also fitted, so the $27,530 RRP seems pretty reasonable, particularly as the Hybrid also includes sat-nav, a rear camera, 4.2-inch central touchscreen, auto-levelling bi-LED headlights, dual-zone climate, keyless entry and start, and 16-inch alloys shod with 205/55R16 Michelin Energy tyres.

Metallic paint adds $450, while for MY17, buyers can opt for the newly announced Autonomous Emergency Braking, as part of a $750 Safety Pack that also brings blind-spot monitoring and auto high-beam headlights.

Four weeks in, the Hybridís packaging has surprised by offering decent levels of space up front and sufficient room out back as long as rear occupants arenít too tall, being perched up so high above the aforementioned battery pack.

Speaking of which, the seamless ease in which the series-parallel hybrid system switches between modes is impressive, as well as the general smoothness of the whole powertrain. The Hybridís steering is eager (if a tad artificial), and acceleration is satisfyingly brisk, especially in Power mode.

On the flipside, gripes include grabby brakes (is this a trait in all hybrids?), short-travel and disappointingly unsettled suspension, and the monotonous drone from the CVT under heavy acceleration.

Yet, as My First Hybrid (if the Yaris-based Prius C is too small), this Corolla succeeds in being interesting enough to be a welcome fill-in. With diesels fast falling out of favour, maybe one day every version of Australiaís best-selling passenger car will have some sort of petrol/electric propulsion.

Another reason why Corolla Hybrid is one of 2016ís most important arrivals.

Taking the power trip

The Hybrid bits do add some exotic EV flavour to the Corolla.

The tacho has been swapped over for a CHG/ECO/POWER dial (childhood memories of the old vacuum Ďeconoí gauges in VB Commodores, and the like), there are three driving modes (EV, ECO, PWR) beside unique gear selector joystick, and the very early Prius-style energy monitor (erroneously showing the battery pack sited under the boot floor) can provide hours of entertainment to those who care about how frugal (or otherwise) your motoring is.

Black is back

Our carís interior is black-on-black in the way that Japanese carmakers have specialised in for decades, except the Corolla Hybrid is fussier than usual, with fake carbonfibre dash trim contrasting oddly with the shiny piano-black fascia and mattechrome highlights. Thereís also some stitched leather/vinyl material, heaps of orange-skin hard plastics in the lower console, and speckled white seat faces. So much to take in, although the leather wheel and climate control toggles are lovely to behold.

TOYOTA COROLLA HYBRID

Date acquired: December 2016 Price as tested: $27,980 This month: 1209km @ 5.5L/100km Overall: 1209km @ 5.5L/100km 34 44 3 3 0 0 4 7 0 0 WEEK 4 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY