Toyota's Corolla is the best-selling nameplate in the world, and the 12th-generation model has been given an update for 2023. So, how's it holding up five years after launch?

What is it?

The 2023 Toyota Corolla is one of the most popular small cars on sale in Australia – and, indeed, globally – with it continuing to find customers at a time when sedans and hatchbacks are going out of fashion. In a bumper year for new car sales, the Corolla topped all passenger vehicles with 25,284 units sold during 2022, enough to make it the sixth-best-selling new vehicle overall.

Although the 2023 Corolla lineup is heralded by the arrival of the hotly-anticipated GR performance variant which you can read about by clicking here, we’re focusing on the standard Corolla range in this review, of which the ZR Hybrid Sedan sits atop with its $39,120 price tag before on-road costs. It’s also available in a hatchback body style for $1500 less, while there are also lower Ascent Sport and SX grades available in addition to a non-hybrid petrol drivetrain.

Why are we testing it?

Toyota has upgraded the 2023 Corolla in a big way, particularly when it comes to this top-spec ZR Hybrid variant which is more powerful, adds new interior technology and smartphone connectivity, and incorporates Toyota Connected Services emergency assistance.

How does it look?

Visually, the 2023 Corolla variants are indistinguishable from past model years with this update focusing primarily on its interior and underpinnings, although lower grades score new wheels and tweaked grille designs. The 12th-generation Corolla’s looks are holding up well since its initial launch in 2018, though, with the hatch in particular sporting daringly sporty styling for what was previously a bit of a mundane whitegoods car. This sedan is certainly more restrained than its hatchback sibling, but the ZR model with its 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels looks to be just sporty enough while restrained enough to blend in when you want it to.

What’s the 2023 Toyota Corolla like inside?

It’s inside where the majority of the 2023 Corolla’s changes are detectable, and the most striking addition to the cabin has to be the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster added ahead of the driver in this top-spec variant which offers a crisp display and a good degree of customisability, with trip, phone, navigation, and vehicle information able to be selected as you please, along with the choice of two-dial, one-dial, and no-dial layouts.

There’s also a new infotainment system in the middle of the dashboard, although it’s still situated on a 7.0-inch display which is flanked by a rather large bezel where the old shortcut buttons used to be. However, this new display is much clearer and doesn’t have the grainy, washed-out look of the old one. It’s also running a similar system to what you’ll find in newer Lexuses which means it now offers wireless Apple CarPlay and integrated sat nav in all Corolla variants. It’s also worth noting that you can control some vehicle functions through your smartphone using the Toyota Connect system – the only catch is that you can only access it for free for one year, before having to pay a monthly subscription fee beyond that point.

Other interior highlights in the Corolla ZR include heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, wireless phone charging, and an electric glass sunroof. It does, however, lack a few items you’ll find in the GR Corolla and Corolla Cross such as a heated steering wheel and dual-zone climate control.

ZR Sedan variants are distinguished by their black leather upholstery with white horizontal piping, while ZR Hatch models gain sportier bucket seats with suede and red leather upholstery. There’s also some blue ambient interior lighting throughout the cabin to make it feel a bit brighter at night.

Unlike the hatchback which has a controversially tiny 217-litre boot, the Corolla Sedan fortunately has a sizeable 440-litre boot which easily makes it the more practical of the two. However, the Kia Cerato Sedan does have it beaten with its big 502-litre boot.

Similarly, the Corolla Sedan’s interior is roomier, particularly when it comes to rear legroom. However, whichever Corolla you go for, the interior feels well made in typical Toyota fashion. Lower tier models might not be quite as flashy inside, but the way Toyota bolts a car together is unquestionably solid.

READ MORE: Fancy a Corolla with more oomph? The incredible GR Corolla is the answer.

What’s under the bonnet of the 2023 Toyota Corolla?

Corolla Hybrid variants score a power boost for 2023, with the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine now paired to a new high-output motor generator, power control unit, and more compact hybrid transaxle, with the maximum system output now 103kW, marking a 13kW boost. No maximum torque output is claimed due to the nature of this system. All Hybrid variants use an e-CVT automatic and are front-wheel drive.

In addition to the new drivetrain, there’s also a new lithium-ion battery pack which is 14 percent lighter than the old nickel-metal hydride unit, while also increasing input and output power.

As for petrol variants, they utilise a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 126kW/202Nm in the hatch with 1Nm extra in the sedan for some reason, while its CVT features a fixed launch gear and 10-speed manual mode.

What’s it like to drive?

While this upgraded hybrid drivetrain does deliver some extra power, it’s not what you’d call a powerhouse. Certainly, there’s a detectable difference off the line where the electric motor’s extra oomph can be felt, but like before, its petrol engine can feel a bit weedy if you try to push it.

But it’s city streets that this drivetrain was designed for, not backroads, and in it’s natural habitat it feels ideally-suited. Here, you feel the greatest benefits of the electric motor’s extra power, and the transition between electric and petrol power is almost entirely undetectable when the latter kicks in. The e-CVT is quite well behaved as well, and it helps the Corolla Hybrid feel even smoother to drive.

As you’d expect for a car this size, the Corolla’s steering is quick and light, making it a breeze for whipping it into tight parking spots and between narrow city streets. It doesn’t exactly offer much in the way of feel, but it doesn’t need to.

Ride quality is good with it absorbing most bumps very well, although the big alloys and skinny tyre sidewalls mean some road imperfections can be detected. The suspension does keep it fairly level through corners at lower speeds, although if you throw it into a bend too quickly you will feel a hint of body roll accompanied by some squealing from the tyres.

It’s also worth mentioning that at freeway speeds, there is quite a noticeable amount of road noise to be heard in the cabin, and having the sunroof cover open will amplify its boominess. However, its petrol engine does remain quite muted when it is called upon.

For the most part, then, the Corolla drives a lot like, well, a Corolla. It’s not going to blow you away with its performance or dynamic abilities, but it doesn’t really put a foot wrong in any major regard. It’s best-suited to city streets, but it’ll still be perfectly fine for those with a freeway commute.

How do the numbers add up?

Toyota claims fuel consumption of just 3.9L/100km for the Corolla Hybrid Sedan, which is an impressively low figure. However, I was only able to manage 5.2L/100km during my 379km of testing. This is likely due to my tester being brand new with just 120km on the odometer when I picked it up; once broken in, I’d bet on that figure dropping. Hybrid variants feature a smaller 43-litre fuel tank, while petrol models score a 50-litre tank.

As with all Toyota models, the 2023 Corolla is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and so long as you service it properly, Toyota will also extend the engine and drivetrain warranty to seven years and hybrid battery warranty to 10 years. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km with the first five services capped to a cost of $245 each.

So, what’s the verdict?

If there’s one word that best describes the Corolla Sedan, it’s conventional. It might not have the most daring styling, the fanciest interior, or the most enthralling performance, but it does a bit of just about everything well, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Well-made, well-equipped, reliable, and straightforward, it’s the sort of car you could easily recommend to anyone.

With the price tag having grown over the years, I’m unsure just how many people will be prepared to drop the required $39k on the ZR Hybrid Sedan tested here, but ultimately any hybrid variant in the range is a good option given the upgraded tech the 2023 Corolla has received.

Don’t expect to be blown away by it, but if you’re after a dependable and economical daily driver with enough creature comforts, a Corolla is hard to look past.

2023 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid Sedan List Price: $39,120
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Updated interior tech makes a big difference, the extra low-end pickup from the new electric motor is also welcome, interior feels well-made and fitting for the price point, should be cheap to run
Cons: The best part of $40k is a lot for a Corolla, not as dynamic to drive as it looks like it might be, noticeable cabin noise at freeway speeds

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for five days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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