Longtime favorite. The Toyota Corolla has been a mainstay in the compact class for just about forever. And for good reason: it's unexciting in all the ways buyers love. Reliability, modesty, and efficiency are the three primary selling points that the Corolla long ago mastered.

The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid model takes all these traits to a new level of pragmatic appeal.

Mileage champ. Efficiency is the Corolla Hybrid's foremost talent. Introduced last year for both the sedan and hatchback, it trades off performance for gas mileage, but what it can do with a gallon of gas is a performance in itself – 52 miles per gallon combined, anyone?

That figure comes courtesy of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and two electric motors that get fed by a small electric battery. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's the same powertrain found in the Toyota Prius. In the Corolla Hybrid, the whole setup makes 121 horsepower. That makes it about as slow as you'd expect, driven home by the fact that the 0-60 mph sprint is more of a tepid 10-second saunter.

The sense of performance varies depending on which of the four drive modes is selected. Eco neuters things considerably, Power adds a tiny kick in the pants that isn't there in the other modes. EV mode provides some very minimal all-electric driving. We'd just leave ours in Normal mode, which nicely balances powertrain response and fuel economy.

Unlike the non-hybrid models, the Corolla Hybrid runs on smaller 15-inch wheels and uses quieter tires with larger, more cushioned sidewalls. Steering is even lighter and less communicative than the rest of the lineup. The chassis is more compliant. It's the furthest thing from sporty, but its quiet, relaxed demeanor makes it the perfect commuter.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Comfortable interior. The interior of the old Corolla lagged behind the competition with its uninspired design and mediocre materials. The latest Corolla has improved things to the point that it has now achieved parity with the rest of the class, and the Corolla Hybrid, which only comes in LE trimmings, drives that home.

The mid-grade LE is nice without being posh, but materials still feel cheap; this is particularly apparent if you spec the light color interior. The black innards will better conceal the budget nature of the hard plastic that dominates throughout the cabin. Considering the price point, this isn't anything surprising, but other choices like the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Jetta and the Mazda Mazda3 are clearly a step above. They do cost more, however.

The LE designation also means cloth seats that are manually adjustable. They are supportive and firm, and won't scare anyone away for lack of comfort. General ergonomics aren't the best, however, and certain taller folk might struggle to find that just-right seating position.

For anyone coming into the 2021 Corolla from a prior-generation model, the back seat might feel small – leg room has been reduced to 35 inches, down 6 inches from before. Yet that doesn't make the back seat of the current Corolla unusable; it merely brings it in line with the competition. Big windows and good head room provide an airiness that's lacking in some other compacts, such as the high-styled Mazda3.

Capping the interior is an 8-inch touchscreen that mounts on the dash billboard-style. It incorporates standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and also a wi-fi hot spot. Redundant physical controls make it easy to use while driving, but even its touchscreen operation is easy enough to swipe through.

Our biggest complaint? That Toyota limits the Corolla Hybrid to the LE trim. The regular Corolla lineup spans a five-trim hierarchy, and why that isn't the case for the hybrid isn't clear. Though there's likely a sound business decision behind limiting the Corolla Hybrid to a single trim, it's a frustration for buyers who might be intrigued but are dissuaded by the lack of choice.

Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid starts at $24,355, and at that price it's hard to beat. A decent crop of features, 52 mpg combined, and nearly all the safety equipment you could want. It's arguably one of the best values in the compact segment.

If you want to cross-shop, about the only fair comparison is the Honda Insight, which starts at $23,885 and can match the gas mileage and standard safety content of the Corolla Hybrid. Outside the Insight, the Corolla Hybrid finds itself in a lonely niche, but one that's well worth considering – even for those that have been dismissive of hybrid technology.

Check prices for the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid »