Frugal and fit at 50

Half a century in, the Corolla makes most sense as a hybrid

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

IN JUNE 1967, Toyota launched the Corolla in Australia. Three months later I was born.

And almost to the day 30 years after that, the first production series-parallel hybrid system debuted internationally wearing a Prius badge.

Now all three of us coalesce to this Ė my final report on a model that was quietly released in mid 2016 as Japanís first petrolelectric alternative to the increasingly onthe- nose Euro turbo-diesels.

Honestly, however, I wasnít sure Iíd enjoy three months of Corolla Hybrid stewardship.

Previous experiences with the regular 11thgen hatch out since 2012 left me thinking that Toyota dialled it in. Distinctive design and total reliability are both fine and good, but sub-par refinement, comfort and driver appeal against over-achievers like the Volkswagen Golf and (latest) Subaru Impreza reeks of complacency. In our recent base petrol auto small-car megatest (January 2017), Australiaís number one selling passenger car could only manage a measly tenth.

What happened to the successors of that original Corolla KE10 1100 that, in its first comparo (Wheels, October 1967), was declared ďthe nicest overall to useĒ? Well, nearly 3800km later, the Hybrid isnít your garden variety Corolla.

To recap, it ditches the ageing 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre four-pot petrol lump for a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle unit married to a 650V 60kW electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack (for 100kW combined and just under 2km of pure electric range at up to 40km/h.) It also bins the torsion beam rear for a pair of double wishbones.

What I discovered was that while the regular Corollaís tyre noise intrusion largely remained, the suspension was less busy and bouncy, particularly with four people on board. Secondly, despite numb steering, the Hybrid handles with more composure and control, especially at speed and/or over bumpier roads. Thirdly, this thing really hustles. And, lastly, it averaged just hustles. And, lastly, it averaged just 5.4L/100km. Yes, thatís wide of the 4.1L/100km claim, but not bad for real world devil-maycare driving.

Here, then, is the first Corolla in generations that is genuinely innovative, without compromising half a century of functionality and reliability. For the money the Hybrid represents outstanding value against far more expensive Euro diesels while delivering palpably better economy, handling and ride qualities than its normal petrol siblings. The Hybrid is the pick.

Respect, then, to that other 50-year-old.

I hope Iím as fit and efficient come this October. Meanwhile, next month, itís the allnew Prius i-Techís turn. At just 20, will it also win us over?

Whoís fuelling who?

Whether itís an instantaneous figure or an average, generally you canít trust your carís fuel-consumption readout. Ever. Like most speedometers, they tend to be on the optimistic side Ė and sometimes to the tune of 20 percent or more. But our Hybridís three-month average of 5.2L/100km is on the money, since in 3767km we managed 5.4L/100km. Astounding! Most of it was urban commuting, though there was plenty of highway driving as well. And all but one tankful was using 98 RON premium unleaded.

TOYOTA COROLLA HYBRID

Date acquired: December 2016 Price as tested: $27,980 This month: 1218km @ 5.8L/100km Overall: 3808km @ 5.9L/100km Da Pri Th Ov 34 3 3 WEEK 12 34 44 3 0 0 7 2 9 9 3 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY