The most popular nameplate in the automotive industry is the Toyota Corolla, having sold more than 50 million units over its twelve generations since the first Corollla’s introduction in 1966. Toyota capitalized on the Corolla’s name recognition with the debut of the Corolla Cross in 2021, a new entry into the super competitive subcompact crossover segment.

While the Corolla Cross isn’t necessarily a standout in any category, like pretty much every Corolla before it, the Cross is a competent little SUV with broad appeal. For 2023 the Corolla Cross gains a new hybrid powertrain, which Toyota is marketing as both the more efficient and sportier option in the lineup. With a minimal increase in price compared to the regular Corolla Cross, improved dynamics and new features, the Hybrid is easily the Corolla Cross to get.

Quick Stats 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid XSE
Engine: 2.0-liter I4
Output: 196 Horsespower (Total System)
Efficiency: 45 City / 38 Highway / 42 Combined
Base Price: $27,970 + $1,335 Destination
As-Tested Price: $35,565

Gallery: 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid: First Drive

Efficient Adjustments

Toyota changed up the Corolla Cross’ styling for the Hybrid, giving the SUV a unique front end with a large lower grille and a stubby upper nose section where the Toyota badge is located. I think the Hybrid looks better, though it’s still a fairly boring design overall.

To mark its sportier character – Toyota’s emphasis, not mine – the Corolla Cross Hybrid is offered in SE and XSE grades instead of the LE and XLE trims of the regular Corolla Cross. That means the Hybrid also gets different wheel designs, blacked-out badges and exterior trim pieces, available two-tone paint finishes that are paired with a black roof, and an awesome new lime yellow color called Acidic Blast.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid
2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

Changes to the interior are less drastic, mostly amounting to optional blue-trimmed seats. (The fabric seats on the SE look especially cool with the blue accents.) Rear passengers get HVAC vents on every Corolla Cross Hybrid, and the top XSE trim has dual-zone automatic climate control and heated seats up front.

The top XSE model has some nicely padded surfaces and quality is pretty good overall, though the Corolla Cross has a weird mix of nice looking finishes and controls, like the metallic climate buttons and knobs and their associated display panel, and then too-cheap switches like the plastic seat heaters and steering wheel buttons. Cargo space is the same as the regular all-wheel-drive Corolla Cross at 21.5 cubic feet – four cubes less than the gas-powered front-driver, which doesn't need to account for all-wheel-drive mechanicals or the more sophisticated suspension that comes with it – and passenger space remains the same too.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

If you’ve driven an electrified Toyota before, the Corolla Cross’ fifth-generation hybrid powertrain will feel familiar. It uses the same naturally aspirated 2.0-liter I4 as the normal Corolla Cross, though total output from the gas engine is slightly lower at 150 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque versus 169 hp and 150 lb-ft, and the Hybrid uses an electronically controlled CVT instead of a mechanical one. A 4.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack sends juice to an electric motor powering the Hybrid’s rear axle, giving every Corolla Cross Hybrid all-wheel drive.

The Corolla Cross Hybrid makes a total of 196 hp, 27 more than the non-hybrid model, and its 8-second 0-to-60-mph time is more than a second quicker. While it certainly feels peppier overall the engine is still pretty coarse and loud, with most of the drone due to the CVT keeping revs annoyingly high at times around town. But the real point of this new powertrain is fuel economy, and in that regard the Corolla Cross Hybrid impresses.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

Toyota estimates the Corolla Cross Hybrid will achieve 45 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 42 mpg combined, respective increases of 16 mpg, 6 mpg and 12 mpg over the standard AWD Corolla Cross. In mixed driving on the roads around Carlsbad, California, I easily saw 40 mpg without trying to drive efficiently. There is an EV mode button, but like in other Toyota hybrids it can only be activated at low speeds and doesn’t offer a legit electric range, only lasting a brief amount of time or distance before the engine will kick in.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

A re-tuned “sport” suspension is another change for the Hybrid, and while it doesn’t actually feel appreciably sportier compared to the normal Corolla Cross, ride quality and overall comfort is seriously improved. Updated dampers mean the Hybrid feels smoother over rough tarmac, and road noise isn’t as prominent. I even think the Hybrid rides better on the 18-inch wheels that come on the XSE, versus the 17s found on the S and SE trims.

The steering is overly light and twitchy, and the brake pedal is squishy with a fairly big initial deadzone, though neither of those qualities should matter much to the Corolla Cross’ intended buyer. I do wish the three drive modes were more distinct; switching into Sport or Eco makes little difference to the driving experience.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

More Than Just A Powertrain Change

The Corolla Cross Hybrid is the latest model to receive Toyota’s hugely improved new infotainment system. An 8.0-inch touchscreen with attractive graphics and snappy operation is standard across all trims, and it’s got a real volume knob too. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included, and two Bluetooth devices can be paired at once. A 4G data connection with a WiFi hotspot is available, as are services like HD Radio, SiriusXM, Apple Music and Amazon Music streaming.

The system can receive over-the-air updates, and Toyota’s new voice assistant works well. The Corolla Cross Hybrid also has up to four USB-C ports and an available wireless charging pad, and the optional $800 nine-speaker JBL sound system is definitely worth the money. Less appealing is the XSE’s standard 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster, which can display a lot of useful information but has low-res graphics that look straight out of 2004.

Like with other Toyota models, every version of the Corolla Cross Hybrid comes with the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 package of safety features. This includes adaptive cruise control with four follow distance settings, lane departure warning and lane centering with steering assist, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, hill start assist, automatic high beams and road sign recognition. All of the features work well, especially the radar cruise control and associated systems, but Toyota’s backup camera is one of the worst in the business with crappy resolution and picture quality.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

Efficiency Doesn’t Cost Much

The base Corolla Cross Hybrid S starts at $29,305 including $1,335 for destination, an increase of $3,610 compared to the non-hybrid 2023 Corolla Cross L AWD. That price gets you LED headlights and taillights, keyless entry and the Hybrid’s other aforementioned standard features, while the SE adds roof rails, tinted rear windows, paddle shifters, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert for $30,625, a $2,600 premium over the non-hybrid LE AWD.

The range-topping XSE adds fog lights, LED turn signals and daytime running lights, leatherette upholstery, a power driver’s seat, and heated front seats for $32,400, also $2,600 more than the regular XLE AWD. The sunroof can be had as a standalone option on the SE for $940, or bundled together with a powered tailgate on the XSE for $1,250.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid
2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

Toyota says the Corolla Cross Hybrid will reach dealerships this June, with the brand expecting to sell 14,000 units this year and 34,000 in 2024; Toyota sold 71,000 standard Corolla Crosses last year and has the capacity to build up to 150,000 per year at its Huntsville, Alabama plant.

The addition of the new hybrid powertrain makes the Corolla Cross a lot more appealing, especially as it doesn’t have any direct hybrid competitors. The Subaru Crosstrek PHEV is dead for that car’s new generation, and the Kia Niro is even smaller and doesn’t come with all-wheel drive.

The Corolla Cross Hybrid’s biggest rival might come from within the Toyota lineup itself. For only a few grand more to start, the RAV4 Hybrid has a more powerful engine and fuel economy that’s only a couple mpg behind the Corolla Cross, plus it’s larger and better looking, and it has a nicer interior. But the Corolla Cross Hybrid operates in a class where small differences in value and size really are important, so it will surely win over plenty of buyers with its efficiency and fresh features.

Corolla Cross Competitor Reviews:

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid XSE

Engine 2.0-liter I4
Motor Permanent Magnet Synchronous
Output 196 Horsepower
Transmission E-CVT
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Battery 4.1-Kilowatt-Hour Lithium-Ion
Efficiency 45 City / 38 Highway / 42 Combined
Weight 3,340 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 21.5 / 40.3 / 61.8 Cubic Feet
Base Price $27,970 + $1,335 Destination
Trim Base Price $32,400
As-Tested Price $35,565
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