-Los Angeles, California
Back in the late 1900s, I was reading a Car and Driver article over my Saturday morning bowl of Cap’n Crunch, and it cemented an immutable opinion in my pre-teen head. Although perfectly fine in most respects, the Toyota Corolla was the least imaginative automotive decision one could make in a segment where the sixth-generation Honda Civic offered sparkling handling and the then-new Ford Focus promised Teutonic driving manners.
Thus, the compact Toyota was a relentlessly boring choice that should be avoided at all costs, a task I undertook when I hit driving age by buying rusty BMWs and hard-to-repair Suzukis while my friends opted for reliable Corollas. Sheep, that’s what they were (unless, of course, they found themselves in the sharp, 2ZZ-powered XRS trim of the mid-2000s). But today, it’s time for me to eat crow. Even the least enthusiastic Toyota Corolla, like the hybrid I recently spent a week driving, is a great choice thanks to its efficient powertrain, reasonable value, and available all-wheel drive.
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|Quick Stats||2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE|
|Engine||1.8-Liter I4 Hybrid|
|Output||138 Horsepower / 156 Pound-Feet|
|Fuel Economy||47 City / 41 Highway / 44 Combined|
|Cargo Space||13.1 Cubic Feet|
|Price As Tested||$30,388|
Gallery: 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE Review
To be fair to my young self, the Corollas of the late 1990s and early 2000s were far less creatively styled than today’s model. Glowering headlights give today's compact sedan some panache, especially combined with the SE trim’s mesh grille texture, aero-look ground effects, and graphite-painted 18-inch wheels. Compared with the edgy Hyundai Elantra and restrained Honda Civic, the Toyota looks a bit dowdy – check out that stubby hood and high tail – but it’s still an appealing little sedan.
Inside, the SE Hybrid gets cheap-looking black fabric upholstery, but there are some splashes of red to liven up the vibe. A hard plastic center console reeks of cost-cutting, but there are softer materials on the dash, door panels, and armrests. The interior design is a bit dated compared to some of its competitors, but as with the exterior, there aren’t many glaring complaints. It all just works, plain and simple.
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The Toyota Corolla Hybrid’s TNGA-C platform gives it a stiff, robust feel that bodes well for on-road refinement. Ride quality is better than expected for this class of car, with a four-wheel independent suspension in a segment where rear twist beams aren’t uncommon. What’s more, the hybrid powertrain is refined and well-integrated. The engine frequently shuts down, both at stoplights and on the run, but you’d have to stare at the tachometer to know when it restarts thanks to excellent insulation from noise and vibration.
The front seats are a little short on thigh support for taller folks, so the Corolla gave me a numb butt after a couple hours behind the wheel. And overall interior measurements are down a fair amount from the competition. Fitting three folks across the rear seat will be less comfortable than it would be in the airy Hyundai Elantra Hybrid.
|Headroom, Front / Rear||Legroom, Front / Rear||Cargo Space|
|2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid||38.3 / 37.1 Inches||42.3 / 34.8 Inches||13.1 Cubic Feet|
|2023 Honda Civic Sport||39.3 / 37.1 Inches||42.3 / 37.4 Inches||14.8 Cubic Feet|
|2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue||40.6 / 37.3 Inches||42.3 / 38.0 Inches||14.2 Cubic Feet|
|2023 Volkswagen Jetta Sport||38.5 / 37.2 Inches||41.1 / 37.4 Inches||14.1 Cubic Feet|
- Center Display: 8.0-Inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 4.2 Inches
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes
With conventional analog gauges and a smallish 8.0-inch touchscreen perched atop the dash, the Corolla Hybrid SE doesn’t initially blow you away with its extensive technology suite. But wireless charging and smartphone integration make it easy to just jump in and drive without fiddling with a USB cord – looking at you, Elantra. That center display runs Toyota’s newest infotainment system, which is a huge upgrade over its predecessor, though I still wish it had a home button to make jumping between Apple CarPlay and Toyota-native apps easier.
- Engine: 1.8-Liter I4 Hybrid
- Output: 138 Horsepower / 156 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission
Every Corolla Hybrid gets a 1.8-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and a compact, permanent-magnet synchronous motor on the front axle; my all-wheel-drive tester added a second motor to the rear. Combined power is a ho-hum 138 horsepower and 156 pound-feet, and while that all sounds rather joyless – young me would relish in the schadenfreude – the Corolla is a perfectly pleasant commuter, with good off-the-line response coming from the twin electric motors. And even when flogging it up a highway onramp, the hybrid never feels gutless.
The smooth ride I mentioned before doesn’t come at the expense of stable handling, either. The 'Rolla isn’t a thriller in any sense, but neither does it feel like the Novocain I was expecting after years of mentally ragging on the poor thing. The regenerative brakes don’t offer a full one-pedal drive mode, but putting the shifter into “B” cranks them up a bit, which makes slogging through traffic or coasting downhill feel a bit more controlled. The progressive brake pedal has good initial bite that crescendos to a hard chomp when you need it to.
- Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands On)
- NHTSA Rating: Five Stars
- IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick
In a world where even the $120,000 Audi S8 demands extra cash for adaptive cruise control, Toyota gives its whole kit ‘n’ caboodle of safety to the humble Corolla. The company's newest Safety Sense 3.0 is standard, with full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane centering tech, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection. The system also includes Proactive Driving Assist (PDA), which monitors surroundings and either blunts the throttle or applies the brakes slightly to prepare the driver for a sudden stop ahead. PDA can feel too intrusive at times, but overall, the whole suite of features works well together.
|EPA Fuel Economy||City / Highway / Combined||Recommended Fuel|
|2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE||47 / 41 / 44 MPG||Regular|
|2023 Honda Civic Sport||31 / 40 / 35 MPG||Regular|
|2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue||53 / 56 / 54 MPG||Regular|
|2023 Volkswagen Jetta Sport||29 / 40 / 33 MPG||Regular|
With a base price of $27,695 including a $1,095 destination fee, the all-wheel-drive Corolla SE hybrid is priced near the top of the small car class. With a $1,220 SE Premium package (blind spot monitoring, a sunroof, and heated outside mirrors), a $600 JBL audio system, and a few little configurator boxes ticked, my car’s price came to $30,388. Ditch all-wheel drive and the price comes down $1,400 while combined fuel economy goes up to 47 mpg, giving the $25,665 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue a harder run for its money. The 51-mpg, $24,145 Corolla Hybrid LE is cheaper and more efficient still, if that’s important to you.
You could spend similar money for the 2023 Prius, which starts at $28,545 and offers 194 hp and up to 56 mpg combined, though you’ll lose some rear seat room in the trade. If you’re dead set on a four-door sedan, the Corolla and Elantra are the only hybridized options, but if you need all-wheel drive to go with your fuel economy, the Toyota is literally in a class of one. Some cars do certain things better – the Elantra gets excellent fuel economy, and the Civic has mature interior and exterior design – but in my week with the Corolla, I discovered a lot of respect for a car that just nails the basics on every single drive.
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2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE AWD