The top-selling Toyota Corolla has been tweaked both inside and out for 2023.
Highlights include a more powerful petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, updated technology, and some cosmetic changes.
The mid-spec 2023 Corolla SX Hybrid Hatch on test here can be distinguished by the new 16-inch wheels it shares with the entry-level Ascent Sport, as well as the LED front fog lights and privacy glass.
The small SUV segment is also heating up, putting the Corolla against rivals such as the related Toyota Corolla Cross, as well as the GWM Haval Jolion, Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona, and MG ZS in search of economy-minded motoring.
Sure the Corolla may be a top-seller, but is it still convincing in 2023 with this mid-life update?
The Toyota Corolla SX is the mid-spec variant in the range. In hybrid hatch form it’s $34,280 before on-road costs, which is $2500 more expensive than the non-hybrid.
Our tester was finished in Sunstone Orange metallic paint, which is new for 2023 and costs an additional $575, bringing the total to $34,855 before on-road costs.
It’s currently priced at $39,251 drive-away for Victorian buyers (each state has slightly different taxes).
There aren’t many hybrid competitors to the Corolla SX Hybrid in the same bracket.
Two of its closest competitors would be the GWM Haval Jolion Ultra Hybrid and Honda HR-V e:HEV L, which are both an SUVs and are currently priced at $39,990 drive-away and $47,000 drive-away, respectively.
If you’re not desperate for a hybrid, the Corolla also competes against a diminishing number of small passenger vehicles priced similarly.
2023 Toyota Corolla pricing:
- Corolla Ascent Sport hatch: $28,630
- Corolla Ascent Sport sedan: $28,630
- Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid hatch: $31,130
- Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid sedan: $31,680
- Corolla SX hatch: $31,780
- Corolla SX sedan: $31,780
- Corolla SX Hybrid hatch: $34,280
- Corolla SX Hybrid sedan: $34,280
- Corolla ZR hatch: $35,620
- Corolla ZR sedan: $37,120
- Corolla ZR Hybrid hatch: $38,120
- Corolla ZR Hybrid sedan: $39,620
All prices exclude on-road costs
The interior of the Toyota Corolla has historically been viewed as largely functional, yet maybe a little appliance-like.
The updated Corolla SX Hybrid on test here brightens things up in the some of the most-needed areas, despite its dark colour palette.
The cloth seats are inoffensive in terms of design and have some funky-looking inserts, including hexagonal elements on the seat back and base.
The front seats have a sporty look and are manually adjustable. They’re very comfortable to sit in, although the driver’s seat could do with a bit more lumbar support to make it perfect. The wheel is great to hold with its artificial leather trim, and the buttons are logically placed with a nice, tactile click.
Ahead of the driver is a new 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster that’s largely dark and has one main layout consisting a circular charge/eco/power dial that mimics a rev counter. It definitely looks like it could be replaced with a physical dial at first glance.
I primarily had the cluster on the ‘Energy Monitor’ page where it shows the workings of the hybrid system. It’s very interesting to watch how rapidly the high-voltage battery can charge with everyday driving in urban areas.
The digital instrument cluster has a number of other pages, including Eco Score, EV Ratio, radar cruise, fuel economy, and a compass. You can choose between three designs for the cluster, called Casual’, ‘Smart’, and ‘Sporty’.
Moving across to the centre of the dash, the new 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is a huge improvement to thanks in part to its high-resolution display. It’s technically the same size as the pre-update model, but it’s a huge step up in terms of quality.
The display does have large black bezels and a volume knob on the wrong side (for right-hand drive) though, with the physical hot key buttons getting the axe.
The system itself packs a fair amount of processing power, which means pages load quickly and you don’t have to wait long for it to fire up when the car’s switched on.
There are fresh-looking layouts that are obviously inspired by the latest Lexus system, though navigating through them with the beeping feedback that comes with every screen press can get annoying. Thankfully you can switch this off.
The SX receives satellite navigation as standard, which looks and feels up-to-date. It’s extremely easy to search for locations and points of interest.
One new feature every single 2023 model year Corolla receives is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It looks quite sharp on the new screen, and I didn’t experience any major issues or dropouts throughout my time with the car.
There’s also a wireless phone charger that actually worked with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s located in a convenient spot at the front of the centre tunnel with a raised border to keep your phone in place.
If you don’t want to use wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto you can also plug your phone into one of the new USB-C ports. There’s one in the centre console and another hidden on the dashboard near the wireless phone charger.
Under the touchscreen are physical climate control buttons and dials that are unchanged from the pre-update model. To the left of the driver’s knee is an artificial leather-wrapped gear selector, as well as buttons for the ‘EV Mode’, traction control, and drive modes.
This particular section of the centre tunnel is covered in piano black which got really dusty and smudgy over the week we had the car. It even had scratches although the car was virtually brand-new.
Thankfully, the centre console is covered in largely soft plastics, besides the pesky piano black, but you don’t have look far to find some harder plastics – although the front armrests feel spongy and comfortable for any trip.
The cabin as a whole feels quite dark and almost claustrophobic at times due to everything being 50 shades of black. This isn’t helped by the black headlining.
There’s a new auto-dimming rear-view mirror as part of the 2023 model year update that works as intended and physically shakes when you pump the six-speaker sound system.
Moving to the second row you start to feel like you shouldn’t be there because there are no air vents or USB ports.
At a leggy 182cm I had to splay my legs either side of the seat in front to get settled. I had just enough headroom, as well as a little bit of toe room.
I definitely couldn’t ride in the back for longer trips, though the rear bench seat itself is perfectly adequate, plus the door armrest and fold-down centre armrest are nicely padded.
It’s safe to say the back seat should be reserved for kids, although I’d love to see someone try to put a rear-facing baby seat in and try to sit comfortable in the seat in front.
There are three headrests and three seatbelts on the bench, though I wouldn’t recommend going over two passengers in the back otherwise things will start to get very squishy.
The boot measures in at a tiny 217L due in part to the high-voltage battery and space saver spare tyre.
The boot itself is a little awkwardly shaped with my work backpack unable to sit upright without lifting the parcel shelf. There are deep areas on both sides for loose items though.
One neat feature in the boot is the parcel shelf has a loop in it to help hold the false floor up so you can access the spare tyre. This is very handy for those of you who have experienced changing a tyre.
The updated hybrid range is powered by an upgraded petrol-electric hybrid system consisting of a 1.8-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine, an “enhanced” front axle-mounted electric drive motor, a new high-output motor generator, a revised power control unit, and a downsized hybrid transaxle.
Total system output is 103kW, which is 13kW more than the pre-update version. Toyota doesn’t quote a combined torque figure.
Corolla Hybrid variants now receive a lithium-ion battery, which replaces the old nickel metal hydride unit. This new battery is claimed to reduce weight by 14 per cent, as well as increase both input and output power.
Drive is sent exclusively to the front wheels through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
Claimed combined fuel economy for the Corolla Hybrid hatch is 4.0L/100km, and during our time with our Corolla SX Hybrid hatch tester we saw that exact average fuel consumption figure over 500km of highway and city driving.
All Corolla Hybrid variants come with a 43L fuel tank and can be fuelled with a minimum of 91 RON regular unleaded petrol.
Turning on the Toyota Corolla Hybrid with a push of its bright blue start button is intriguing every time because you expect there to be a surge from its petrol engine, but for the most part there isn’t.
What you get instead is a subtle beep and that’s it. The car is on and ready to go.
There are a few exceptions to this rule as I did experience the petrol engine switching on at startup when it was really cold and when the high-voltage battery was largely depleted.
Even when the car did this the petrol engine wasn’t obnoxiously loud, but it did throw off the zen-like feeling of electric vehicle (EV) silence.
Once you get moving you start to realise the Corolla Hybrid is a bit of a silent operator, especially at low speeds.
From 0-40km/h you’ll be keeping up with (or pulling ahead of) almost all the traffic at the lights. It does the majority of this on electric power only. This is thanks in part to the “enhanced” front axle-mounted electric motor for the 2023 update, as well as the new lithium-ion battery pack.
If you do push the accelerator harder or have the car in “Power Mode”, the petrol engine surges to life and assist the electric motor. This can be a bit intrusive at times because the petrol engine likes to rev quite hard when electric power dwindles.
Even with its relatively small high-voltage battery pack compared to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and full EVs, the Corolla Hybrid likes to keep its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain in EV mode in urban driving scenarios as much as possible.
There’s a dedicated “EV Mode” that locks the Corolla Hybrid into using its electric motor only. This can be easily overridden by pressing the accelerator slightly too hard, or travelling too fast.
During one trip into the office in bad traffic I used the electric motor for 82 per cent of the 45-minute trip. It was like a game trying to keep the car using electric-only power and to score the highest possible “Eco Score”. I was able to achieve this ratio by leveraging regenerative braking as much as possible.
The Corolla Hybrid doesn’t have a one-pedal braking function and instead has a small amount of regenerative braking factored in when you take your foot off the accelerator, and even more when you start to apply the brakes.
For the most part the regenerative braking feels natural, though there were times where it was apparent the physical brakes bit a little too hard when coming to a complete stop.
The regenerative braking also negates that annoying CVT speed creeping you sometimes get when travelling down a hill.
The Corolla Hybrid does have a braking or “B” function that can be activated by moving the gear selector down one notch from “D”. This function is to help the car slow down quicker, but I found it just switched the petrol engine on and made it rev so it could engine brake.
Once you get the Corolla Hybrid on the highway and away from the city, the hybrid system isn’t quite as helpful. It’s obviously geared more towards urban driving but can still do the odd rural stint with no fuss whatsoever.
At higher speeds the petrol engine is on constantly to keep the car going, and the electric motor helps out as the petrol engine’s revs down. It definitely doesn’t feel as rapid as it does from standstill, with 80-100km/h taking a fair while.
Regardless of where you’re driving though you’ll also be getting fantastic fuel economy.
Throughout my 500km of testing on different urban and rural trips I was able to get the Corolla Hybrid’s fuel consumption as low as 3.1L/100km and no higher than 5.1L/100km.
As noted earlier, I averaged around 4.0L/100km over 500km of driving. Using this average fuel economy as a guide you can get roughly 1000km on a tank.
Toyota has done a great job dialling in the suspension tune for the Corolla Hybrid, as it strikes a nice balance between feeling compliant and controlled over all the lumps and bumps of both urban and rural driving.
This is helped by the relatively small 16-inch alloy wheels with chubby tyres that can help soak up the imperfections.
Despite being heavier than petrol-only models due to its high-voltage battery, the Corolla Hybrid still manages to feel lively on the road. It feels extremely nimble and almost encourages you to drive quicker.
At higher speeds this translates to feeling planted, predicable, and controllable. Once you’re at highway speeds the Corolla Hybrid feels like it could stay there forever.
The adaptive cruise control system in the Corolla Hybrid for the most part works well. For 2023 the cruise control can now apply the brakes when you’re travelling too fast to keep you at your set speed. Previously the car would go over the set cruise control and play an annoying chime to tell you to slow down.
The radar cruise system likes to brake early which can be both helpful and frustrating when navigating peak-hour traffic.
Lastly, the lane-keeping and emergency steering assists work quite well. There were only a couple of times the car got a bit confused where the lane markings were and tried to steer me in the wrong direction.
Corolla SX hatch highlights:
- 16-inch alloy wheels
- Temporary spare wheel
- Automatic LED headlights
- Automatic high-beam
- LED daytime running lights
- LED tail lights
- LED front fog lamps
- LED rear fog lamp
- Rain-sensing window wipers
- Auto-retracting door mirrors
- Heated door mirrors
- Privacy glass
- 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- DAB+ digital radio
- Satellite navigation
- 6-speaker sound system
- Wireless phone charger
- 2 x USB-C ports
- Dual-zone climate control
- Keyless entry
- Push-button start
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Leatherette-wrapped steering wheel
- Leatherette-wrapped gear lever
- Paddle shifters (excludes hybrid)
- Electric park brake
- Fabric upholstery
- Toyota Connected Services with Remote Connect (12 months)
The Corolla SX Sedan receives single-zone climate control instead of dual-zone climate control.
Corolla ZR hatch adds:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- ‘High-grade’ LED headlights
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- Head-up display
- 8-speaker JBL sound system
- Interior ambient lighting
- Leather accented and faux suede upholstery
- Heated front sport seats
- 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat
- Driver’s seat lumbar support
The Corolla ZR sedan receives a nine-speaker JBL sound system instead, as well as leatherette upholstery.
The Toyota Corolla has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2018.
It received scores of 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, 83 per cent for child occupant protection, 86 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 76 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features for the hatch range include:
- Seven airbags
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian detection
- Cyclist detection
- Motorcycle detection
- Junction assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Safe exit assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert (optional on Ascent Sport)
- Lane Trace Assist
- Lane departure warning
- Emergency steering assist
- Emergency Driving Stop System
- Speed sign recognition
- Adaptive cruise control
- Reversing camera
- Front, rear parking sensors (optional on Ascent Sport)
- Seatbelt warning
The Corolla Sedan range doesn’t have any parking sensors, plus blind-spot monitoring with safe exit assist and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the Ascent Sport and Ascent Sport Hybrid.
The Corolla Hybrid, like all Toyota models, is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that can be extended another two years if you service within the Toyota dealer network.
The high-voltage lithium-ion battery is also covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that can be extended to 10 years if you service within the Toyota dealer network and have the annual hybrid health checks.
Logbook servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with the first five services capped at $245 each. This equates to $1225 over five years.
The Toyota Corolla is a great car – it’s no wonder it has been the top-selling passenger car for 10 years running.
Toyota has done a good job sprucing up the Corolla both inside and out with the 2023 model-year update. The new infotainment system was desperately needed.
Despite all the positives, the Corolla Hatch’s second row is still cramped with barely any amenities, and the boot is genuinely small. It’s fine for just one or two people.
The Corolla SX Hybrid hatchback guise shapes as the pick of the Corolla range if you want to get the genuine fuel-saving benefits of the petrol-electric hybrid system, as well as all the available safety features as standard.
Sure the mid-range Corolla SX mightn’t look as flash or sporty as the Corolla ZR hatch, but its smaller 16-inch alloy wheels help with ride quality, and it has durable fabric upholstery instead of leather and faux suede upholstery.
If you’re budget-minded you could opt for the entry-level Corolla Ascent Sport hatch, but you’ll have to pay extra for an option pack that gets you features such as rear-cross traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors.
Also if you’re after a bit more interior space, you could choose a similarly-priced Corolla Sedan, Corolla Cross crossover, or Camry instead.
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