The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car in the world, selling 1.12 million units in 2022 and well over 50 million units since its introduction in 1966. These numbers make sense, as you can see the compact size makes for easy parking, parts are relatively cheap, maintenance is low, and, most importantly, it’s affordable.
We had the opportunity to drive a 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE AWD Sedan. This car comes as part of the updated lineup for 2023 which adds new trim lines. The LE base model starts at just $21,700 and the Hybrid SE AWD we have here is priced at $30,388 including delivery, processing, and handling.
Our Corolla Hybrid SE features the higher trim fascia that gives the Corolla a more aggressive appearance that I generally prefer to the base model LE. In the front you’ll find the black mesh sport grille, highlighted blue Toyota Hybrid badge, and automatic LED headlights with daytime running lights. This Corolla is equipped with the sport suspension that also features additional sport rocker trim and a color-keyed spoiler. The Corolla rides on 18-inch graphite alloy wheels with skinny tires which means cheap to replace as the car gets driven. The Corolla maintains its conservative styling, but the increase and wheel size and additional cosmetic options offer a more premium feel for the affordably priced sedan.
Inside is a simple but functional interior with favorable Toyota qualities. The interior features Sport Fabric trimmed seats with a surprising amount of side bolstering, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the dash features a soft touch rubber material that will hold up better with use than standard plastic (which is a plus), and there are a variety of plastics filling in the rest of the interior. The technology is basic, focused on providing the essentials for a daily driver, with a responsive center 8-inch touch screen offering Apple CarPlay and Wireless Android Auto, analog gauges with a digital multi-function display, heated power-adjustable mirrors, Toyota Safety Sense 3.0, power tilt/slide moonroof, and a ton of physical buttons making it easy to operate. For the audio, the standard is a 6-speaker system, but this car features the upgraded 9-speaker JBL Premium Audio with includes a subwoofer and amplifier for just $600. While many of the technology options for the Corolla can be left up to personal preference, such as the driver assists, the JBL audio is a must-buy considering how much time you will be spending in your Corolla.
The Corolla Hybrid is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 with two motor generators producing a combined 138 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque that is paired with an E-CVT transmission which sends power to the front wheels. In addition to the main powertrain, our Corolla is equipped with on-demand-all-wheel-drive made possible by an electric motor that sits on the rear axle and is used when accelerating from a stop or when more traction is needed.
The most important consideration for any hybrid model is always fuel economy. The Corolla Hybrid has an EPA/DOT rating of 47 mpg city / 41 mpg highway and 44 mpg combined. I am happy to say that during our time with the vehicle in Phoenix, the fuel economy never dropped below 41 mpg under mixed driving with the AC on blast (it’s been over 110 degrees for 24 days straight here) and keeping the car in the normal driving mode. I would assume if you were to drive the car more economically and use less AC you could improve on our experience, but it’s always a good sign to see a car that meets or exceeds its fuel economy ratings. That being said, the FWD models see an improvement in fuel economy thanks to less weight and more energy conservation, so that may be something to consider if AWD is not a necessity.
Driving the Corolla is as you would expect. The car is focused as an A-to B-driver, reliably and cheaply getting you from one place to the next. The steering is okay but heavily boosted, the gas pedal suffers from the CVT rubberbanding that may lead to applying more pressure than you need to, and the brake pedal is stiff for hybrid regeneration which can make it hard to brake smoothly, but that it a typical hybrid characteristic. There is less sound deadening in the car, which saves cost and weight, to help with fuel economy but the noise is more apparent on the freeway, which could be offset by the JBL speaker option. I will say that the sport suspension feels good, and you can confidently take this Corolla into turns at speed on the freeway or curvy roads with bucket seats that hold you in place nicely. The car has good visibility and backup cameras making driving a breeze. Ultimately, how we feel about driving a car may vary from what you look for and we always recommend a test drive before a purchase.
You could always improve something on a car but at the cost of more money or other experiences depending on what you want the car to be. The bottom line is this Corolla is affordable, and with the Toyota badge comes reliability. You could purchase the base model for cheaper than the hybrid, but the fuel economy savings do make it more enticing. I would suggest the FWD hybrid model over the AWD unless the additional traction is an absolute necessity for you, likely based on the weather you experience throughout the year. But if you are debating the hybrid Corolla, you should also consider the Toyota Prius which offers more options as a newer car and gets even better fuel economy for not much more. The car is not perfect, but it is the best-selling car in the world for a reason.