What It's Like Driving A Hybrid To Work And Back Every Day

Image: Gizmodo

Lots and lots of Australians drive to work. We're a country of commuters. But, by and large, we commute in older cars that aren't really made for traffic. The average age of Australian cars is just over 10 years, a long time before stop-start engines and self-driving luxuries. But, if you buy a new car, maybe even a hybrid — which are cheaper than they've ever been — then your commuting experience will change. Dramatically.

Most of the time, I drive my Polo GTI to work — well, actually every day. I'm too lazy and too antisocial to walk to the train station and sit on a train with people taking up space and making noise and being annoying. I'll be honest, though, mine is not a great commuter's car. In the past few years that I've owned it, a few visits to the track and a bunch of mods — bit of suspension work, a few different power tweaks, a heavier clutch and a lighter flywheel — has made it increasingly uncomfortable to drive through the city, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It's okay. But not great.

So for the last month and a half, I've been in a brand new Toyota Corolla Hybrid, a $31,920 four-door petrol-electric hybrid that is the epitome of fuel-efficient, commuter-friendly motoring. And coming from a car that nonetheless isn't terrible as a daily driver, I've nonetheless had my eyes opened to the absolute difference there is between driving an average-aged, manual car and a new, efficient hybrid for the daily rigor of commuting from the suburbs to the city.

Image: Gizmodo

For one, the difference in fuel economy is stark. My Polo, mildly modified and middle-aged as it is, gets around 12 litres per 100km. Driving the Corolla Hybrid lightly and with a bit of mechanical sympathy, but without doing any silly hypermiling or driving like a grandma, I've seen fuel economy figures as low as 3.7 litres per 100km over the course of a morning commute. My average fuel economy over the Corolla's first tank of petrol was a third — 4 litres per 100km — of what I'd been paying before. That's the kind of fuel saving that quickly adds up.

Toyota's little Corolla Hybrid doesn't have any gears — not gears in the traditional sense — but rather a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that dynamically adjusts its gearing to provide a compromise between acceleration and engine RPMs, balancing fuel usage against the haste with which you get around your drive and weave through competing traffic. Three driving modes — EV only, a standard Eco mode, and PWR, which you can guess the meaning of — let you adjust the aggressiveness with which the CVT shifts and with which the petrol engine kicks in to provide some extra acceleration.

The Corolla Hybrid isn't quick, but that CVT means it's not sluggish. And the electric motor gives it a surprising amount of go off the line, more than enough that I'm able to zip away from the traffic lights and slot into Corolla-sized holes in other lanes. As a driving experience, despite the massive difference between my two current cars, I know in a heartbeat which I'd prefer for my commuting, the vast amount of driving that I do every week? For the weekend? For the longer trips down the highway to see my mate that lives fifty kays away? I'll be writing about that soon.

I filled up the Corolla Hybrid for the first time a couple of weeks ago, after getting a hair over four litres per 100km out of its 45 litre tank. Without running it anywhere near dry, filling up just after the petrol reminder light came on, I'd travelled over 800km. That distance would have taken me a couple of trips to the petrol station, for expensive 98 octane, in my own car. If nothing else, I'm noticing the difference to my hip pocket. [Toyota]

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