~ A DriveWays Review ~
by Frank A. Aukofer

In the not too distant past, before they were rescued by an unlikely avatar, hatchbacks like the 2023 Toyota Corolla were the pariahs of the automobile marketplace.

Despite their practicality, they were a hard sell, so much so that some manufacturers dropped them in favor of sedans. Then the avatar showed up in the guise of what came to be called crossover sport utility vehicles.

They resembled the larger SUVs, which originally were spun from pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel or four-wheel drive and a four-door station wagon configuration. But many of the newer crossovers were built with unit bodies, like cars, and came with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Over the last several decades, the crossovers and traditional SUVs have come to account for more than half of global vehicle sales. Many of them make no pretense of off-road capability. Their forte is plenty of interior room for their size, an up-high driving position and, for some of the smaller models, outstanding fuel economy.

For example, a 2023 Kia Niro SX Touring hybrid, reviewed for this column, is classified as a small station wagon by the Environmental Protection Agency, though it is commonly known as a small crossover SUV.

Yet it has a total interior volume of 128 cubic feet, with 105 cubic feet for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo. If it were a sedan, the EPA would classify it as large car, defined as an automobile with more than 120 cubic feet of interior volume. The hybrid Niro has a range of 500-588 miles and delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 53/45/49 mpg.

To some eyes, including these, crossover SUVs, especially the smaller ones, look like little more than jacked up hatchbacks with the option of all-wheel drive. That’s because they offer some of the same people and cargo space and practicality of the crossovers.

As a result, it appears that hatchbacks are making a comeback, and that’s exactly what happened with the Toyota Corolla. A sedan for most of its existence, it received a split personality in 2018 when the company introduced the hatchback version.

For 2023, it is in full bloom, motoring proudly alongside its popular Corolla sedan garage mate. Tested for this review was the XSE version, which had a starting price of $27,535 and, with a short list of options that included giant roof cross bars for even more versatility—a cargo box, bicycle rack or pairs of skis. The bottom line sticker came to $28,613.

For that, you get a nifty, well equipped, good looking and well performing hatchback with comfortable seating for four. There’s a fifth seatbelt in the center-rear but it’s a cramped perch. Though the outboard seats provide enough head and knee room, small door openings make entering and exiting a twisty chore—unless you’re an athletic teenager.

The Corolla Hatchback gets its power from a 169-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 141 pound-feet of torque. That may not sound like much in this era of muscle, but it’s plenty for this 3,060-pound cutie. The zero-to-60 mph acceleration is in the seven-second range.

Power gets to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission, which operates unobtrusively with no shift points. However, if you prefer, you can experience shift pauses with manual operation controlled by steering-wheel paddles. There also are three selectable drive modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. All of this contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 30/38/33 mpg.

One welcome surprise: The tester came with Proactive Driving Assist as part of Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0. Using the onboard camera and radar, it adjusts steering and engages gentle braking into curves and when approaching vehicles ahead or detecting pedestrians or bicyclists.

It’s similar to the sensation with adaptive cruise control but without that feature switched on.

The Corolla XSE Hatchback was equipped with adaptive radar cruise control as well as forward collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist.

Inside, the tester featured comfortable Sof-Tex faux leather trim on seats that had comfortable cloth inserts for the tush and lower back. The center touch screen infotainment system included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, as well as SXM satellite radio and a subscription Wi-Fi hot spot. There also were hard buttons, and rotary volume and tuning knobs, as well as wireless device charging and a premium JBL audio system.

With attractions like this Toyota, it’s Hail to the Hatchbacks.

Specifications

  • Model: 2023 Toyota Corolla XSE four-door Hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 169 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 9 inches
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo space: 85/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,060 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg. Regular gasoline.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,525.
  • Price as tested: $28,613.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review. Photos © Toyota

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