First Drive Review of the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross-Hybrid: Cozy, Mildly Fun, and Ready for Everyday Use

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid First Drive Review: Comfy, Mildly Fun, Ready To Daily

Toyota debuted the new 2023 Corolla Cross Hybrid to a market that’s already a bit cozy—nobody would say the competition is lacking in this arena. But what sets the taller ‘Rolla apart is the unique styling of the Japanese brand, great base infotainment and driver assistance tech, a surprisingly fun ride, and the added zest of hybridization to help drop its trap speed. Not that anyone’s going to ever drag race one, though good on ’em if they do.

It’s really taken the qualities of an inexpensive hybrid to heart, too, as it starts at a reasonable price. As far as how much raw material is used in its production, Toyota says it can build almost 13 Corolla Cross Hybrids for every Prius Prime. Interest-piquing for sure, especially for environmentally-conscious consumers.

Here’s why the Corolla Cross Hybrid is worth taking a look at as an economical, entry-level, and spacious hybrid.

The Basics

The 2023 Corolla Cross Hybrid represents Toyota’s latest entry-level hybrid offering in the compact crossover class, a field with no shortage of stiff competition. Starting at less than $30,000, it’s a compelling option. It’s a plucky, well-rounded hybrid with solid tech even in the base model, stylish color combinations, sporty looks, and great hauling ability—the mid-level SE trim comes standard with sturdy roof rails for anyone looking to tie down a canoe, surfboard, extra cargo, or whatever, to optimize weekend fun.

While the naming might be a bit confusing—it looks nothing like the standard Corolla sedan or hatch—it’s a generally sporty-looking little crossover that won’t offend anyone.  It also possesses a lot of Toyota’s current design cues, particularly in its standard LED headlights, grille, and rear end. Two-tone paint is optional on SE and XSE trims, while 17-inch wheels are standard on the base S and SE, whereas XSE gets 18s.

Climbing into the SE was a bit of a surprise at first: my tall stature fit in it quite well. My tester’s cloth seats were comfortable for the spec and had good manual adjustment, though lacked any real tilt. Rear bench seating was similar, and there was even a reasonable amount of legroom behind my driver’s seat, which was a pleasant surprise given how dimensionally small the car is overall.

My tester’s latest Toyota multimedia UI wirelessly connected to Apple CarPlay amply quickly, and even the voice controls understood me well, which made changing SiriusXM stations a breeze. Cranking up the volume put its Audio Plus with JBL sound system to the test. Pun completely intended, it’s a sound $800 upgrade for buyers inclined to have good audio quality and clarity during their everyday commute.

Popping the hatch revealed another pleasant surprise: up to 61.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat bench dropped, which will pique the interest of anyone making frequent Target and Ikea runs, or putting in trips for an apartment-to-apartment move. The shape of the cargo area was great, too, as it’ll be easy to load and unload one’s earthly possessions. This was a tad surprising as the Corolla Cross’s chassis mate, the Lexus UX, had a comparably smaller and more awkwardly shaped cargo area.

Driving Experience

Toyota says the 2023 Corolla Cross Hybrid is equipped with sport-tuned suspension, but that might be a bit of a stretch—its damping is quite soft, though since this car is based on the torsionally rigid TNGA-C platform, it’s still a lot of fun to huck around.

Its soft ride soaked up all degrees of road imperfections quite well, and there was plenty of body roll, but it still felt well-controlled and reasonably sure-footed. Case-in-point: I sailed it through an intersection while careening off of a highway exit to make a right turn before a yellow light gave way to red. This was on a particularly rainy San Diego County morning, and the car just leaned over a tad and gripped. Later, some quick, evasive maneuvering with the steering wheel revealed plenty of wallow, but the car still maintained grip just fine.

The Corolla Cross’s ride and handling are great for folks blessed with living with our nation’s tremendously worn-out urban roadways; it’ll deal with the BS but still feel agile and easy to position anywhere on a tight street shared with surly city drivers. By that same token, the steering was very light in all drive modes—normal, eco, and sport—which added to its chuck-ability and ease of maneuvering around San Diego County’s winding suburban roads.

Supporting this is the Corolla Cross Hybrid’s output, which reaches 196 horsepower, 139 internal combustion lb-ft of torque, and up to 152 electron-sourced lb-ft. Toyota reports that it’ll hit 60 mph in eight seconds, which is accurate, but it also feels ready to pounce in any scenario. The hybrid powertrain always felt like it had plenty of power to perform a quick, clean pass on the highway, turn onto fast local streets without upsetting the flow of traffic, as well as combating SD’s hilly landscape.

Then, when not moving with too much intent, the Corolla Cross Hybrid calmed down quite a bit and felt easy to hyper-mile around in EV mode. While there wasn’t any real discernable difference in steering weight between its drive modes, its more lethargic character in eco wasn’t too lethargic and was happy to find every excuse to source its propulsion from the tiny battery pack sitting near its rear axle. Toyota rates its mileage at 45 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 42 combined, but I bet the former could be stretched even further.

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Features, Options, Competition

The Corolla Cross Hybrid’s trims are fairly simple with just an S, SE, and XSE trim. Starting out at $29,305, the S comes equipped with Toyota’s comprehensive array of advanced driver assistance tech, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, an eight-inch touch screen, and smart key access.

All Corolla Cross Hybrid trims come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0 suite of advanced driver assistance, including blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, as well as collision and pedestrian alert.

Moving up the SE and XSE mostly leads to more color choices, roof rails, 18-inch wheels on the XSE, fog lights, and what Toyota calls Premium LED headlights. Then, heated Softex faux-leather seats are standard on XSE, as is a powered driver’s seat. The SE starts at $30,625, and the XSE at $32,400. The only available option on the S is an expanded exterior color palette, while a JBL sound system is optional on the higher trims, as is a two-tone roof, sunroof, and some other minor aesthetic upgrades.

As far as how the stilted-up ‘Rolla Hybrid compares to other automakers’ models, there’s no shortage of options. For gas-only options, the Mazda CX-30 comes to mind first starting at $24,225, as does the Nissan Kicks which commands $21,775. Then, closer competitors are the $35,335 Ford Escape Hybrid, and the non-hybrid Hyundai Kona SE AWD at $24,975. For the adventure-minded consumer, the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid blows all of them out of the water commanding a $38,070 base price, but that’s the OG and probably best-equipped for non-paved-road action.

Value and Verdict

While it may not be the sort of car one necessarily yearns to drive, I was pleasantly surprised by how fun the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid was to toss around once I got behind the wheel. It had good enough power to play with, as well as an assured ability to get out of the way when necessary, plus a good ride that soaked up every fine bit of roadway topography. Body roll wasn’t too wallowy, either. Inside, it was pleasantly roomy, especially up front, and its tech was easy to quickly configure.

As I learned recently, the new 2023 Prius and Prius Prime are masterworks of the badge, but their one lacking area is back seat room—I’m not sure it’ll be the default rideshare and taxi sled of the future. However, as I hinted at in my review of the Prime, the Corolla Cross Hybrid has a shot at the title. It has the right amount of cargo room, even with the rear bench up, it gets great gas mileage, and its assuring ride quality, handling, and power would make it impervious to whatever our nation’s metropolitan areas can throw at it.

For anyone after a fuel-sipping little hauler that’s nicely appointed for the price, and even a joy to drive, the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid belongs on their shortlist.

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