New Toyota Corolla 2023 review

Powertrain and tech modifications keep the Toyota Corolla hatch competitive

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

Toyota’s updates to the Corolla are very much worthwhile. It’s a more extensive change than it might look, with a big shift in the battery tech for improved performance with no loss of efficiency, as well as to the infotainment. These boosts have helped the Corolla keep pace with many newer rivals, and while it’s more refined and rides and handles as well as ever, its packaging and practicality limitations are also still apparent. Yet it’s still a sound family hatchback choice.

The Toyota Corolla is a great British motor industry success story. The Japanese family hatchback is built at the brand’s Burnaston factory near Derby, with nearly 500 Corollas of all variants rolling off the production line each day.

The plant is working at a significant rate, too, because the newly updated Corolla has just started progressing down the line – and we’ve had a chance to drive it on UK roads.

The 1.8-litre hybrid we’re driving here – a five-door hatchback in Design trim – will be the biggest seller, so this is very much the heartland of the Corolla line-up (85 per cent of Corollas built at Burnaston are powered by the 1.8 petrol-electric powertrain, which is manufactured in the UK, too, at Toyota’s Deeside engine plant in North Wales).

The changes are significant in the areas that count. Firstly, the electric side of the powertrain has been reviewed, with the old battery replaced by a redesigned, lighter lithium-ion unit that’s more energy dense; it weighs 14 per cent less yet delivers 14 per cent more power. It supplies an electric motor that offers more torque, while the hybrid transaxle gearbox is also lighter.

The result is a new fifth-generation hybrid powertrain that produces a combined 138bhp, resulting in a 1.7-second reduction in the 0-62mph time, down to 9.2 seconds. Despite the boost in performance, there’s no change to CO2 emissions, at 104g/km, while fuel economy is a claimed 61.4mpg for this Design model. You should easily see more than 50mpg in everyday driving.

Toyota claims that up to 80 per cent of trips can be completed on electric power alone, and we can well believe this if your routes are mostly in and around town. Even on our mixed test route, which took in more B-roads and some dual carriageways, the average was still more than 65 per cent, which is a strong performance.

One of the pre-facelift car’s weaker areas – infotainment – has also had an overhaul, with a new system lifted from Toyota’s bZ4X SUV. The screen size now measures 10.5 inches, up from eight inches in the old car, while the Corolla also has a new 12.3-inch digital dash that can be configured with four different settings. Bar the sportier GR-inspired option, they don’t change the feel too much, but it’s nice to have this new tech addition in the Corolla at last, because it’s a big improvement compared with the previous part-digital instruments.

On the move, the car rides and handles as well as it ever has. The TNGA underpinnings feel sophisticated, with the Corolla’s multi-link rear suspension bringing balance to the way the front end absorbs bumps and controls body movements. It’s fluid and comfortable, but is rarely short of control.

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The steering is precise and a great weight, with the Toyota turning into corners well and providing reassuring grip. Despite its hybrid powertrain and CVT automatic gearbox, it’s much sportier than you might think.

It’s also more refined. There’s less of the droning you used to get from older CVTs (although it hasn’t been eradicated completely), and tweaks to the powertrain calibration mean throttle response is much more direct. It gives a better connection to the car, and while it’s not fast, acceleration is brisk enough. However the biggest benefit is the quieter cruising.

The infotainment is a step on as well. The new system is more responsive, offers a higher resolution, and the menus are much simpler to navigate than with the set-up in the previous Corolla. Even with the system offering a useful improvement, many people might prefer to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which work as well as you’d expect.

There are areas that are still limited, however. Given the same underpinnings, the Corolla’s packaging is unchanged, which means it’s tighter in the rear than many rivals in this class. Both leg and headroom are more limited than in the Corolla’s main full-hybrid rival, the all-new Honda Civic, while a Volkswagen Golf also feels more spacious. However, it’s okay, and easily a match for the Peugeot 308.

These packaging drawbacks extend to the load bay, too, because with a 361-litre capacity with the seats up, the boot is much smaller than in the biggest family hatches. Fold the seats down and there’s a lip as well; even though the hybrid battery is lighter, it’s still fitted under the rear bench.

There’s plenty of new safety tech, though, another area where Toyota has gone big, adding its T-Mate system, which combines the brand’s Safety Sense set-up with other active driver-assist systems and advanced parking features. This includes a Safe-Exit Assist system that will trigger a warning to stop passengers opening a door into the path of a vehicle or cyclist.

Other changes for this mid-life refresh include subtly enhanced styling, with tweaks to the headlight units and the front bumper, but the Corolla is still a sharp-looking, handsome machine.

There’s also been a restructure to the trim line-up, with a simplified range that offers more kit on the entry-level version (although it’s also now pricier as a result).

The range starts with Icon, moves up to our £31,780 Design model – which features sat-nav on the larger 10.5-inch screen, over-the-air update capability, smartphone connectivity, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, a reversing camera, Toyota’s Safety Sense tech and wireless smartphone charging, among other features – then to sporty GR Sport trim and the top-spec Excel model.

It’s worth mentioning that our car felt superbly well built, with solid construction and some soft-touch materials. While they don’t feel premium as such, the cabin quality easily eclipses the harsher, plasticky-feeling interior of the current VW Golf.

Model: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid Design
Price: £31,780
Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl + e-motor
Power: 138bhp
Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive 
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 111mph
Economy: 61.4mpg
CO2: 104g/km
On sale: Now

Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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