2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid AWD is a delightfully capable miser


The Toyota Corolla is the bestselling car of all time, and it remains as relevant in the new vehicle market as it ever was. 

That’s because in terms of value for money, the Corolla still has the market cornered. For around $25,000 you can get a comfortable compact sedan with all-wheel drive and an EPA rating near 50 mpg. If you have those three targets on your shopping list, and you live in an apartment, rent, or deal with a parking situation that doesn’t allow enough charging access, no other model comes close. 

It’s one of just a handful of hybrids that offer AWD, top 40 mpg, and cost less than $30,000. 

In a week with a 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, in SE AWD form, I found this compact sedan to be simple yet delightful, and found that it transcended what I expected given the price tag. 

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

Toyota Corolla Hybrid AWD: Real-world mpg

First off, this is one very efficient sedan in real-world driving—even putting aside for the moment that it has all-wheel drive. 

Over my 53-mile round-trip route that includes 700 feet of elevation change plus a near-equal mix of under-65-mph freeways, suburban boulevards, and rural rolling-hill backroads—a route that tends to bring out the best in hybrids—I averaged 55 mpg. This was with an ambient temperature around 66 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Then separately, over about 140 other miles representing a series of suburban errands in more congested commute-style conditions, I averaged nearly 49 mpg. 

Those check-ins on mileage far exceeded the car’s window-sticker EPA ratings of 44 mpg combined (47 mpg city, 41 highway), prompting me to include an odometer calibration and found it close enough not to skew any of the numbers I’ve reported. 

It’s not quite the 65 mpg I saw in the front-wheel-drive 2023 Toyota Prius on the same route, in similar conditions but, to bring back the full picture, this was with all-wheel drive—and without the back-seat packaging sacrifices made by the Prius. 

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

Corolla Hybrid performance: Nimble, not quick

The Corolla Hybrid doesn’t offer up the same kind of sporty ride and handling as the latest Prius. Although the two models do share a nimble feeling in lower-speed backroad corners that’s far better than what you might expect from an eco-tuned Toyota compact.

The Corolla Hybrid AWD uses a 1.8-liter inline-4, with a front traction motor making 93 hp and a rear traction motor making 40 hp. The system makes a combined 138 hp. As such, the rear motor and rear wheels don’t essentially help the Corolla Hybrid accelerate any more quickly, but they will help it gain confidence and traction on snowy driveways. 

If the Corolla Hybrid has a downside, it’s flat-out acceleration. As with other Toyota hybrids with the planetary setup, off-the-line acceleration from stoplights doesn’t show off the instant torque of electric motors. But step abruptly into the accelerator at moderate speeds of maybe 10-50 mph and the Corolla feels predictably perky enough to dart into a gap in faster-moving traffic. 

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

Overall, the current Corollas drive around town with a quiet sophistication that bely the price, and the Hybrid makes the most of this upscale impression. It might have the best steering of any vehicle in the U.S. Toyota lineup except for the 86 sports car, with a combination of relaxed tracking, light-but-near-perfect weighting, and a pretty balanced, nimble attitude even when you push it hard. Brake blending is neat, too. 

Its cabin felt quieter overall than that of the latest Prius—especially less boomy on the freeway. That said, I wouldn’t stretch to call it a little Lexus.

My tested 2023 Corolla Hybrid was an SE AWD, starting at $26,600, and it was optioned with JBL audio, including nine speakers and subwoofer, the SE Premium Package, adding a sunroof, heated side mirrors, and blind-spot monitors and cross-traffic warnings. Including a few other items it added up to $30,388, including the $1,095 destination fee.

After a week with the Corolla, I had newfound respect for the simplicity built into this machine—as well as its tremendous value. Whether you map that value out in features, in space and comfort, or in refinement, the Corolla Hybrid AWD delivered way more than I expected to get in a compact sedan with that $30k sticker price.

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE

Corolla Hybrid pros and cons

To meet the price—even at hundreds of thousands sold per year—Toyota goes cheap in some respects, and the one I noticed most pointedly is its front seating. The front perches just don’t include enough thigh support. I’m 6-foot-6, and oddly enough, it’s one of the few compact sedans for which I then tested the back seat and found it nearly as comfortable as being in front. Bookmark this, Uber drivers. 

The Corolla’s interface feels refreshingly simple, and the soft-touch dash material felt like a serious advance in the general ambience of the cabin versus past Corollas. The one exception to that—and big disappointment—is Toyota’s 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Voice commands are better and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are well supported, but screen real estate is squandered, there’s no longer a split-screen view, and some typical daily tasks, like channel-flipping while following CarPlay navigation, turn into clumsy back-and-forth tasks. 

The Corolla’s most direct rival at present is the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, which starts at a higher price, makes an edgier design statement, and isn’t offered with all-wheel drive. Honda hasn’t abandoned this segment completely either; there’s a Honda Civic Hybrid due to return next year, in place of the discontinued Insight sedan. 

Toyota Corolla lineup

Toyota Corolla lineup

What’s missing in the Corolla Hybrid lineup? Other non-hybrid versions of the Corolla are offered in hatchback form, but there’s no such version of the Hybrid. For that, take a serious look at the Toyota Prius—which is also offered with all-wheel drive, albeit with its lower roofline that affects back-seat space. 

If you want more back-seat and cargo space, plus maybe a little more ground clearance, there’s also the 2024 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid, which is now offered in a Nightshade Edition. But it doesn’t measure as high in fuel economy at an EPA-rated 42 mpg. 

The Corolla became the bestselling car in the world a half-century ago, and since its U.S. introduction several years before that it’s always signified great value for the money. 

The latest Corolla is no exception. It’s still a miser, as it’s better than ever at making more from less.

2023 Toyota Corolla SE AWD
Base price: $27,695 including $1,095 destination
Price as tested: $30,388
Powertrain: 138-hp, 1.8-liter inline-4 gasoline engine, 40-hp rear traction motor, planetary hybrid system including 93-hp front traction motor, combined total of 138 hp
EPA fuel economy (city/highway/combined): 47/41/44 mpg
The pros: Overdelivers on mpg, back seat space, rides and handles above its pay grade
The cons: Poor infotainment interface, unsupportive front seats, staid styling

Related post

    Leave a Comment