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First drive: 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. Image by Toyota.

First drive: 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
The updated Corolla gets fresh tech and a new entry-level powertrain, but will that keep it among the best in the class?


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The Toyota Corolla is, by quite a wide margin, the best-selling car ever. It passed the 50-million sales mark in 2021, and shows no signs of stopping. Some have accused it of making a success out of being a dull and safe choice, but does that still hold true? We've driven the latest, updated, hybrid version to find out...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid Hatchback Excel
Pricing: From £30,210 (£33,400 as tested)
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with 70kW electric motor
Transmission: eCVT automatic, front-wheel drive
Power: 140hp
Torque: 142Nm (petrol engine only)
Emissions: 102g/km
Economy: 64.2mpg
0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
Boot space: 361-735 litres


The current Corolla has only been around since 2019, so its sharp-edged styling hasn't had much time to go stale. Not surprisingly, then, Toyota hasn't changed it all that much. There are new headlights (actually just new internals within the same overall shape), new bumpers, a new grille, and some new paint options including the rather nice 'Juniper Blue' of our test car. You also get some new alloy wheel options in 16-, 17-, and 18-inch sizes. Not much in the way of change, but the Corolla still looks pretty fresh so that's probably OK really. Once again, you can have it as a five-door hatchback or a (arguably more handsome) five-door estate. The UK doesn't get the four-door saloon version that's sold in some other markets, including Ireland and Turkey.


A quick glance suggests nothing much has changed inside the Corolla either, but actually that’s not quite right. The overall style is the same as before (with the same jutting dashboard design that, annoyingly, eats into front passengers’ knee space) and, more thankfully, the same rock-solid built quality. But while the 2019 Corolla came with an instrument panel that mixed digital and analogue displays that looked a bit dated even when new, that has mercifully been binned. Instead you now get a standard-fit 12.3-inch fully digital instrument panel that looks sharp, smart, and actually quite expensive. You can change the layout and the information panels to your liking, but there is a slightly confusing menu system for the display, which can only be accessed when the car is parked up.

In the centre of the dash, there’s a new 10.5-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system which — praise deity of choice — does away with the awful, clunky old Toyota infotainment software. The system, which is already available in the Yaris Cross, looks slick and is easy to find your way around. There’s a new navigation system, too, and you can also access some of the car’s functions from a smartphone app, including one that pre-heats or pre-cools the cabin.


How practical your Corolla is depends on which model you choose. If it’s this hatchback, then the answer is ‘not very’. The hatch is built with a wheelbase that’s almost 100mm shorter than that of the estate, and so there’s a distinct lack of rear legroom. Squeezing four adults in is a bit too much of a chore. The hatch’s boot is pretty small, too — just 361 litres, which even Toyota itself admits is far from class-leading. The front of the cabin feels a touch hemmed-in too, and storage space in the doors and centre console seems less generous than that of some rivals, notably the new Vauxhall Astra.

Much of that is cured by switching to the Touring Sports estate. Now, you’ll have rear legroom that’s at least adequate, if not quite the limo-like space you’ll find in a Skoda Octavia. The boot is very good too, albeit still smaller than that of the Skoda.


The Corolla’s performance has definitely improved. Changes to the 1.8-litre engine’s hybrid system — it gets a bigger electric motor and a more efficient battery — lifts peak power from 122hp to 140hp, while there’s more torque from that electric motor too. The result is that the Corolla 1.8 will now sprint to 62mph in 9.1 seconds, down from 10.9.

The only problem is that you won’t really feel the extra power all that much unless you’re driving in Sport mode, which seems a tiny bit pointless in a fuel-saving hybrid. The good news is that the mods to the hybrid system have also improved refinement and have reduced the speed at which the engine runs on the motorway, which helps with economy. Toyota claims you’ll squeeze 64mpg out of the 1.8 Corolla, and that seems entirely believable.

If you really need more grunt, the 2.0-litre engine has also been improved. It switches from an old-style nickel battery to a more modern lithium-ion unit, and it gets more power too — up to 195hp now, which brings the 0-62mph sprint down to a junior-hot-hatch-like 7.4 seconds.

Ride & Handling

Would you be surprised if we told you that the Corolla is actually quite good fun to drive? Honest, it’s true. Yes, it lacks the ultimate driver reward of, say, a Ford Focus or a Mazda 3, but the gap is pretty well wafer thin. The steering is light, but it’s very direct and there’s lots of front-end grip, so if a corner suddenly and unexpectedly tightens up, you’ll find that the Corolla can tuck its nose in tighter without any fuss. The setup feels pleasantly agile and engaging, and the ride quality — although firm — is well-damped and comfortable enough.

Toyota has also added a new safety system called Predictive Driving Assistant. This uses the cruise control’s forward-facing camera to tell if there’s a slower moving car in front of you, or a corner coming up. If you lift off the throttle, it then adds a little extra braking effect from the electric motor. While this is clearly designed as a safety feature, it’s also helpful when cornering enthusiastically, as you can use the extra little bit of braking energy to help balance the Corolla on turn-in. All in all, it’s a polished performer.

The only blight on the horizon is that there’s a bit too much tyre noise on coarse surfaces (more noticeable in the estate than in the hatch) and that the optional 18-inch alloys of the GR Sport spec put too much bump-thump into the ride quality. Oh, and even though the hybrid system and eCVT transmission have been tuned to feel and sound a bit more ‘normal’ it will still drone on a bit at high rpm on a long, uphill drag.


The Corolla’s not quite cheap — the base price is £30,210 and a top-spec estate in Excel spec will set you back £36,850 — but it is well-equipped (both screens are standard, as is automatic transmission, wireless phone charging, dual-zone climate, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, and a bevvy of safety equipment) and it does undercut its biggest rival, the Honda Civic Hybrid, by a couple of thousand pounds.


Think a Toyota Corolla can’t be fun? Take this one — even the humble 1.8 hybrid — on a twisty mountain road and you’ll think again. It’s surprisingly sharp to drive, and hugely economical when you’re taking things easy. It’s also really well built, and it should be exceptionally reliable in the long term. Skip around this hatchback’s lack of rear seat and boot space and get the handsome Touring Sports estate instead.

Neil Briscoe - 26 Feb 2023    - Toyota road tests
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- Corolla images

2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.

2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.2023 Toyota Corolla hatchback. Image by Toyota.


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