Every month we receive letters of punishment for pointlessly glorifying impractical, expensive, ridiculously powerful and inefficient cars. Tell me, where are the real cars? Well, here’s one for you: the 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE with AWD. It costs $27,610 and has an EPA-estimated 44 mpg combined, and will probably still be running when the sun is a cold gray ball in the darkest space. It’s also slow, hitting 60 mph in 9.0 seconds, unless its hybrid battery is dead, in which case we’re talking a quicker 10.2 seconds. The Corolla Hybrid’s pleasure is more cerebral than visceral. It’s like the opposite of a Ram TRX. Please continue reading.

While this review is about the all-wheel-drive Corolla Hybrid, which is new, we should also note that the front-wheel-drive Corolla Hybrid is back, and it’s for the stingy folks who find the all-wheel-drive Corolla too indulgent. In LE trim, the 2023 front-wheel-drive hybrid starts at $23,810, $1,250 less than the 2022 model, and gets an EPA combined rating of 50 mpg. By comparison, the all-wheel-drive LE costs $25,210 and gets an EPA combined rating of 48 mpg. Despite the additional engine on the rear axle, an all-wheel drive hybrid is no more powerful than a front-wheel drive car. Both have 134 net horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. That’s up from last year’s 121 horsepower and 105 lb.-ft., but RAV4 Prime it is not so. However, the last Corolla hybrid we tested was much slower, at 10.7 seconds to 60 mph.

Our all-wheel-drive SE test car had the lowest combined fuel economy of any Corolla hybrid, posting an impressive 44 mpg. And on our 75 mph fuel economy loop, the Corolla got 40 mpg, which is very close to the EPA highway figure of 41 mpg. But in the real world, we tended to be more aggressive with the throttle, as it’s hard to practice restraint when, say, it takes 6.4 seconds of Atkinson four-cylinder fury to go from 50 to 70 mph. The 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE four does its best to stay in the background, but acceleration at anything above cool needs revs to meet the CVT for a wicked no-win battle. The Corolla Hybrid runs a reluctant quarter mile in 16.9 seconds at 80 mph.

Peak figures: All-weather traction, 44 mpg combined, great price.

Much better to take it easy and let the Corolla lean as much as possible on the electric side. The lithium-ion battery hidden under the rear seat is new, replacing the previous nickel-metal hydride unit, although it still doesn’t provide much EV range. But the three electric motors (93 horsepower and one unspecified front, 40 horsepower rear) are powerful enough to keep the Corolla Hybrid moving at highway speeds when the battery is sufficiently charged. The long climb up the Natchez Trace Parkway outside of Nashville, Tennessee required all decks on both sides of the powertrain, but the ride down was quiet and smooth as regenerative braking replenished the depleted battery. We hope that the driver of the Corolla Hybrid will enjoy building up energy on the way down the hill, rather than simply warming up the brake rotors (everyone has a different definition of thrill).

In addition to the upgraded transmission, Toyota has made several other tweaks to the 2023 Corolla. The revised front end features headlights that resemble an evil Jack Lantern instead of the Volkswagen GTI, and all trims get an 8.0-inch Toyota Audio multimedia system that includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As with other modern Toyotas, the stereo interface offers a volume knob but no tuning knob. If the touch screen gets in the way of this attempt, you can always shout “Hey Toyota!” and call a voice assistant that will follow your orders. As the cool kid of the Corolla Hybrid lineup, the SE model offers a $600 option to blast your tunes with a nine-speaker, 800-watt JBL system that uses a 10-inch subwoofer.

Cons: Adding a rear engine doesn’t increase net power, acceleration depends on battery charge, SE trim is worth 4 mpg.

The SE also wears 18-inch wheels with 225/40R-18 Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tires, which likely explains why its fuel economy rating is lower than the LE’s modest 16-inch wheels and tires. The SE’s low-profile rubber looks sporty, but doesn’t really do justice to its upgraded sport seats with their prominent bolsters—we measured 0.80g on the pad. Non-hybrid 2020 Corolla XSE the sedan returned 0.82g, so if you want more, you’ll need it Crown grade GR.


By the way, the Corolla line is now really surprising: sedan and hatchback, hybrid and conventional transmissions, front or all-wheel drive, LE, SE, XLE and XSE configurations. Then there’s the GR, SE Hybrid Infrared Edition, and probably some regional niche models yet to come (Ray Bourque Is a National Treasure Boston Edition, DB Cooper Northwest Value Pack). So let us make a suggestion for those considering an all-wheel-drive Corolla hybrid: Go for the base LE over our $28,615 SE.

The blown-up SE is handsome, but the LE is honest: 16-inch steel wheels and enough frills to satisfy. Winter isn’t here yet, but we can already picture a Corolla Hybrid with its wheel wells taped to a slot, whizzing past a gas station because it doesn’t need to stop. Every time you turn the metal key in the push-button ignition, you’ll be reminded of the extremely low cost per mile. Hey, if you’re pragmatic, go all the way.

Technical characteristics

Technical characteristics

2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SE with AWD
Vehicle type: front engine, front and rear engine, four-wheel drive, 5-seat, 4-door sedan

Base/as tested: $27,610 / $28,615
Options: JBL audio, $600; Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425

DOHC, 16-valve 1.8-liter inline-4 Atkinson cycle engine, 134 hp, 156 lb-ft + 3 AC motors, 93, 40 and unspecified hp. (total power: 134 hp; lithium-ion battery)
Transmission: stepless automatic

Suspension Front/Front: Strut/Multilink
Brakes, front/rear: 10.8-inch ventilated disc/10.2-inch disc
Tires: Dunlop SP Sport 5000
225/40R-18 88V M+S

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Height: 56.5 inches
Passenger volume: 89 feet3
Trunk volume: 13 feet3
Curb weight: 3,218 lbs

60 mph: 9.0 sec
1/4 mile: 16.9 sec at 80 mph
100 mph: 38.7 sec
The results above are omitted 1 foot deployment 0.3 sec.
Start from 5 to 60 mph: 9.7 seconds
Top Gear, 30–50mph: 4.3s
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 6.4 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 107 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 181 feet
Road grip, 300-foot pad: 0.80g

Highway driving at 75 mph: 40 mpg
Highway distance at 75 mph: 450 miles

Combined/city/highway: 44/47/41 mpg


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