Toyota Corolla Hatchback — Fun and affordable family transportation

By Jim Meachen editor

(June 11, 2023) We tend to discount the Toyota Corolla when discussing compact cars even though the Corolla is historically the best selling vehicle in the world. At the top of our list are the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra with a nod to the Mazda3 and acknowledgement of the outgoing Volkswagen Golf. Perhaps it's time to get our mind wrapped around the Corolla and give it the attention it deserves in 2023 — particularly in hatchback configuration. This conclusion was reached after a week behind the wheel of a Corolla Hatchback in top XSE trim.

The Corolla hatch has a fetching design with all elements of its curvaceous exterior expertly blending from front to back. From its familiar Toyota face to its shapely hatch the car catches the eye. It would look good in any driveway. And it would give its owner, who more than likely can't afford a small BMW or Lexus, bragging rights.

But more importantly, we simply enjoyed the driving experience, looking forward to each time we had the occasion to head out on a household chore or take it for a test drive on our favorite  curving road "test track."

The Corolla hatchback in its current form has been in showrooms since its 2019 debut and hasn’t changed much. For 2023, it gets a 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.

The heart and soul of any vehicle is the drivetrain and Corolla comes with a 2.0-liter inline-4 with direct injection and variable valve timing. Horsepower is an adequate 169 @ 6,600 rpm with151 pound-feet of torque.. While these numbers are respectable, they do not, however, make the Corolla a "hot hatch" such as the Honda Civic Si or the Volkswagen Golf GTI. For comparison, the new hatchback has been clocked from 0-to-60 in 8.7 seconds and at 16.7 seconds in a quarter mile.

For most of us who enjoy saving some dollars at the gas pump, the hatchback is frugal rated at 30 mpg city, 38 highway and 33 combined. And it happily uses the least expensive regular gas.

Although the 2.0-liter is adequate, we wish Toyota would offer an optional engine to give the hatchback a bit more forward momentum — even at the expense of slightly less gas mileage.

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the only transmission now available, which is unfortunate for those few people who relish driving a manual transmission. Toyota says the take rate is just too small to continue offering the stick shift.

While we prefer a standard geared automatic, Toyota has used its ingenuity to make the CVT more effective by adding a physical gear in addition to the belt and pulleys. It's effectively a first gear for better off-the-line acceleration after which the transmission transitions to the CVT pulleys to continue the work. Toyota says this approach gives the hatch a broad ratio range while keeping the CVT portion of the transmission in its most efficient range — and it works seamlessly. 

We found the five-door hatchback surprisingly entertaining to drive, thanks to its crisp, sure-footed handling with quick steering response, and minimum body roll. Ride comfort takes a bit of a backseat to sporty handling, and interior noise levels are a bit high at highway speeds. But with its agile maneuverability, well-laid-out passenger compartment and comfortable front seating, along with above average driving dynamics, it scores high on the “fun to drive” scale.

Inside, the Corolla hatchback has a streamlined dashboard with soft-touch materials. The XSE we drove had ambient interior lighting, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats. The hatchback has a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM capability and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot. The 8.0-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard, but its numerous hard buttons and rotary volume and tuning knobs help keep the driver's eyes on the road during use. Top options include wireless charging and an upgraded JBL audio system.

A cautionary note for those those who regularly carry back-seat passengers. They should test drive the car with a couple of adults in the rear to determine if there is adequate legroom. We carried a 4-foot-11 individual in the second row who said she had enough room. But taller people might find the accommodations too tight.

The hatchback has 18 cubic feet of cargo space behind its back seat — five more cubic feet than the sedan. Where the hatch comes in handy is when you fold the second-row seats down to reveal more cargo space. And there is a new no-cost Enhanced Cargo Space option expands that area by six cubic feet (23 total) by replacing the spare tire with a tire-repair kit.

For 2023, all Corolla hatchbacks now come with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 that includes adaptive cruise control (adjusts speed to maintain a constant distance between the vehicle and the car in front and can also react to speed limit signs),  forward collision warning with automatic braking (warns you of an impending collision and applies the brakes in certain scenarios), lane departurewarning (alerts you if the vehicle begins to drift out of its lane), lane keeping system (makes minor steering corrections to help keep the vehicle centered in its lane), and automatic high-beam headlights.

The hatch comes in just two trim levels — SE and XSE. The SE starts at $24,060, but we recommend the XSE, which offers considerable additional equipment that most people want these days making its $27,525 starting price definitely worth the money. The XSE brings features not found in the SE such as 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a bigger driver information display, simulated leather seats with fabric inserts, power-adjustable driver's seat, wireless charging pad, upgraded JPL sound system and blindspot warning with cross traffic alert. (We think blindspot warning should be standard and bundled into Safety Sense 3.0).

Our test vehicle with a couple of low-cost options carried a bottom line of $28,292 including a $1,095 destination charge,

Ted Biedeman contributed to this review

2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback


Base price: $24,060; as driven, $28,292
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 169 @ 6,600 rpm
Toque: 151 pound-feet @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 172 inches
Curb weight: 3,150 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 city, 38 highway, 33 combined
0-60: 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mazda3, Honda Civic Hatchback, Mini Hardtop

The Good
• Excellent gas mileage
• Fetching exterior design
• Confident handling
• Large number of standard safety features

The Bad
• Blindspot warning is optional equipment

The Ugly
• Cries out for more horsepower