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The Toyota Corolla, one of the founding members of the cheap, but no-so-cheerful compacts that found its way into the American market back in the early 80’s when gas was soring, and Americans were dropping their V8 power family station wagons for something more economical. An ideology that continues nearly 40 years later. The problem is, when it comes to fuel economy, sacrifices must be made, things like “fun-to-drive” usually is one of them. However, with the newest version of the Corolla Hybrid, Toyota has a different objective…allegedly.

The Corolla is no stranger to the hybrid system having debuted its first go-around back in 2019. I even did a one-tank challenge driving it over 600-miles on a single tank and averaging nearly 60-mpg’s. But now there’s a new hybrid and an optional e-All-Wheel Drive system, and while this one is much better on performance, and slightly better to drive, it’s just not quite the same on fuel economy.

New for 2023, the Corolla gets a minor refresh, those who can spot the difference don’t get a prize. But being that the hybrid system has been revamped, it also comes with its own slurry of new trim options, an entry level LE returns, a top trim XLE has been added. But for those that want a little spice of life, they have also added the sportier SE and a saucy SE Infrared trim, ooooh.  Featured in this article, we have the SE that starts out in life for a semi-reasonable $25,665. In the grand scheme it doesn’t sound half bad, right? I mean, just look at it, its banging good-looking with big 18-inch graphite wheels, an aggressive front end sporty design with LED accent light, and a back end that looks like its ready to take on the latest Fast and Furious movie, whatever number they’re on now.  

But there is a little something new up its powertrain beside its standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor that makes good on a combined 138-horsepower and 105lb-ft of torque. The Corolla Hybrid now offers a new all-wheel drive option that mounts an electric motor on the rear axle. Unfortunately, this doesn’t add any horsepower, but it does increase the price by about $1400. This isn’t a usual kind of AWD, this system is mostly used for the initial acceleration portion to help the Corolla pick up the pace when it comes to streamlining its acceleration. However, with a full battery pack, from the regenerative-ness nature, the rear electric motor can also activate when the vehicle determines slippage during harsh weather conditions like snow or rain.

Adding in the all-wheel drive makes the Corolla Hybrid slightly quicker, but not by much. Without all-wheel drive, it takes a lazy 10.5-seconds to achieve 60-mph – the AWD knocks off about .5-seconds of that time. But its when we get behind the wheel and start to drive that the Corolla Hybrid has an oddly satisfying sensation… it actually feels, kind of sporty. The car is nicely balanced with nicely tuned steering and crisp responsiveness. The suspension is comfortably tuned for a sporty ability with a firmness that we see more from premium branded vehicles – it’s comfortable without being obnoxiously firm.

Really the only drawback comes down to the hybrid powertrain and its need to be a constant drone of noise every time the accelerator is pressed. And because this is the sportier hybrid version, fuel economy is affected to a mere 42-mpg. Which to you may seem like, wow, that’s pretty good, but to us, we expected better. Especially given that we averaged 41-mpg’s in the non-hybrid Toyota Corolla XSE a couple of years ago.

Inside, the Corolla takes things back to a simpler time, the SE featured here incorporated upgraded cloth seats and red stitching on the dash. The Corolla also has been upgraded to feature the latest suite from Toyota with wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 with optional blind spot monitoring and JBL audio system as part of two separate packages.

All in, our Corolla came out to $30,388, minus the JBL audio upgrade. But yikes, when did compact cars get so expensive? Taking out the all-wheel drive and going for a lower trim version will most definitely save you some bank on the front and back end, but there you go, another sacrifice being made. Considering that the Corolla Hybrid even offers AWD on a compact is the first of this current generation of compact sedans. Paired with its sporty styling and confident driving demeanor, the Toyota Corolla SE Hybrid AWD is a hardy package, if you don’t mind taking a hit to the wallet.

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