2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review: Stylish Practicality Without Penalty


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Jun 26, 2023

2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Review: Stylish Practicality Without Penalty

Dependable, quiet, comfortable, nice looking, and economical. There isn’t much more you can ask of a commuter car. chrishasacamera chrishasacamera I remember the days when Corollas were dull, gray

Dependable, quiet, comfortable, nice looking, and economical. There isn’t much more you can ask of a commuter car.



I remember the days when Corollas were dull, gray transportation. There wasn’t really any passion or interest, just a dash of overengineering along with a lot of generic. There’s nothing really wrong with that and in a lot of ways I miss the honesty of it. So when the metallic red 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE started looking rather good to my weary eyes, I began to wonder if we have finally reached Peak Corolla.

With a light facelift (that I truthfully didn’t notice until a few minutes of staring at the car through my camera’s viewfinder), I realized that the once-boring compact car from Toyota has reached a real stride. It looks good and is not overstyled, but it is also a genuinely nice thing to drive every day, while also having some of that unplaceable fashion and elevation that makes a car desirable.

It’s not spicy, and despite it now sharing a page in Toyota’s portfolio with the manic GR Corolla, it is not a corner carver. No, this is what the Volkswagen Golf used to be: comfortable transportation that makes you feel good about yourself.

This Corolla has been serving admirably since its debut in 2018 and hasn’t changed much in those five years. For 2023, it gets a very light facelift in the shape of a new front fascia, a slightly different rear bumper, a new full-LCD gauge cluster in the XSE that replaces the partial LCD, a new eight-inch infotainment display, and the updated Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 advanced driver’s assistance suite.

Nothing much has changed on the trim breakdown either, with the hatchback only available in SE and XSE trims. The real tragedy is that Toyota killed the manual transmission option for 2023 but retains the novel CVT with the physical first gear that helps with efficiency. If there was ever a car that could represent the cliché of “don’t fix what isn’t broken,” it would be the Toyota Corolla. And there is nothing broken to be fixed.

Drivetrain-wise, it’s the same 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. It also achieves an impressive 40% thermal efficiency. Basically, that means more fuel goes to doing actual work rather than as wasteful heat, which means the Corolla has extremely good real-world fuel economy.

Underneath the quite handsome body of the Corolla is a fairly standard suspension setup with MacPherson strut fronts in front and semi-trailing arms at the rear, all suspended by passive dampers with a comfort focus.

Back to the handsome sheet metal—the hatchback has always been the looker of the Corolla family, but those slight revisions have brought it another step in the direction of looking expensive. The new front fascia is less fussy than before, and the body has generally been shaved of random protrusions and details. The first iteration of this-gen Corolla hatchback was always good-looking but somewhat busy. This facelift is a great example of small changes making a big difference. To my eyes, it looks convincingly good.

Inside, that trend continues. It’s the little things such as the full-LCD gauge cluster and contrast stitching that sells the interior space as a nice place to be. The seats are comfortable and pillow-soft, build quality is high with minimal squeaks and loose interior panels, and the new infotainment screen finally addresses the low-resolution complaint Toyota’s old displays had to endure. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent, with a high and commanding seating position.

Storage space is very good, with a huge cargo area even before folding the seats down. The door pockets can hold a big plastic water bottle, but not a thick insulated water bottle. Rear seat room is actually decent for passengers, with my average-sized (read: an insecure way of saying short) frame leaving a comfortable amount of legroom.

In terms of gadgetry, two-mode heated cloth/leather seats are standard on the XSE, there’s an excellent set of driver’s assistance tech that can handle stop-go traffic with minimal driver input, and an eight-speaker JBL stereo that screams through its tweeters and woofers but lacks bass. It gets the basics right too, with buttons for all major functions, and has the critical volume knob.

It was wonderful to sink into the Corolla’s soft seats and prepare myself for a nice, relaxing week of normal driving. Ultimately, that’s all you have to expect it to be: a comfortable, quiet, and unobtrusive everyday runabout.

Every bit of the Corolla is geared towards lowering blood pressure and kicking back, at least as much as you can while you’re driving down a highway. It is impressively quiet, almost as quiet as its bigger Camry sibling. Noises in all directions are well controlled; wind noise is minimal and almost imperceptible, the engine and drivetrain are a distant murmur with only the slightest hint of vibration at idle, and road noise remains at a low background white noise at all speeds.

It’s not quick, like at all. The Corolla is just about adequate for merging on the highway, but it does hold highway speeds with decent ease. Just don’t expect it to overtake without a lot of huffing and puffing. That distant engine at a cruise becomes a little more present during hard acceleration. There isn’t much annoying vibration, but the tone of the engine near redline is thrashy and unrefined. Otherwise, it stays in the background and positively sips fuel. Also, the CVT is extremely well-tuned with convincing fake shifts.

Ride quality is good but does sometimes get a little firm. The Corolla is surefooted yet well cushioned from the road, but it doesn’t quite float luxuriously. XSE is Toyota’s nomenclature for a top-level sport-leaning trim, and the suspension certainly feels like comfortable suspension with sport sprinkled in hastily. Cracks and sharp imperfections are pillowed away nicely, though when the potholes get a little too big, the suspension runs out of travel and bottoms out on what feels like hard bump stops. There’s also a decent bit of initial stiffness on bumps that gives way to a soft, breathy suspension attitude. Not quite the slam dunk of the Camry Hybrid I drove a little while ago.

But that initial stiffness does help handling, with the Corolla feeling composed and tossable through most types of corners. There was a hint of fun to the hustle, with the car always feeling far from rotation but extremely confident. The steering was a similar story, being incredibly light and free of inertia, but still building up weight as cornering loads increased. It never got heavy, but there was the echo of communication through the wheel and a pleasantly precise ball-bearing feeling to the steering.

It all just worked. It was zero fuss, zero hassle, zero annoyance motoring. You get in, start the thing, and drive. All of the tech worked well, with Apple CarPlay being impressively bug-free during my week and the ADAS features like lane keep and adaptive cruise control rarely getting confused by concrete seams and disappearing road lines. It is supremely well-rounded and nicely executed for its purpose.

The Corolla is just good, and not just good transportation. It’s a thoroughly engineered car that is almost wrinkle-free while also being quite nice and fashionable. It feels like a far cry from the boring option it used to be, without becoming a sporting monster. It’s simply a wonderful, economical, comfortable small car that can still fit a lot of things and people.

But there’s some work to be done in terms of ultimate ride quality and powertrain. The ride is good but not great and could stand to be softer while still retaining some sporting character. And the engine, while decently refined, doesn’t have much power to speak of. It will definitely leave folks wanting for passing power in this era of turbocharged torque-beast commuter engines.

The $30,000 hatchback segment has been in a slight state of flux. The regular Volkswagen Golf is dead, with only the more expensive, mild-performance GTI available, and the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback is also dead. The only two competitors left in this arena are the five-door Mazda 3 and the Honda Civic. The Civic hatchback is its stiffest competition, though the Corolla has a decent bit less road noise.

There isn’t much room for creativity when speccing a Corolla Hatchback. There are two trim levels—SE and XSE—the manual gearbox option is gone, and there are almost zero optional extras for either trim. My XSE tester had the optional $925 black-roofed two-tone paint, which is the only option besides a zero-cost enhanced cargo space option that removes the spare tire in favor of extra storage pockets.

It comes with a good array of standard equipment, with the base SE getting the full ADAS suite and the eight-inch infotainment screen with wireless CarPlay. The XSE adds mixed-material heated seats, that JBL stereo, larger wheels, and the full-LCD gauge cluster.

The Corolla sips fuel exceptionally well, even compared to others in its segment. It scores a few mpg better than both the base, naturally aspirated Mazda 3 and base Honda Civic.

Observed fuel economy during my 400 miles with the Corolla was about 36 mpg over a variety of conditions, with a majority of highway driving, some canyon driving, and some city driving.

The 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback isn’t the sportiest, most interesting, or scintillating thing for a driving enthusiast, but it does just enough to be admirable and shouldn’t be overlooked as mildly interesting transportation. Emphasis on mildly.

It does a lot for not a lot of money. It gets great real-world fuel economy, is positively cavernous inside, and has most of the quietness and comfort of a larger sedan, but is also externally small and maneuverable. It’s a genuinely nice, semi-luxurious car wrapped in a practical hatchback body.

It’s probably the best normal Corolla ever. All it needs now are folks to buy it over a Corolla Cross.

Got questions about the Corolla Hatchback? Contact me at [email protected]

2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SpecsBase price (as tested): Powertrain: Horsepower: Torque: Seating capacity:Curb weight: Cargo Volume: EPA estimated fuel economy: Quick take:Score: The Basics Driving the Toyota Corolla HatchbackThe Highs and LowsToyota Corolla Hatchback Features, Options, and CompetitionFuel EconomyValue and Verdict