I spent a few days in the Florida sunshine this week, behind the wheel of a most basic 2023 Corolla LE. It’s a design that’s been with us for a few years now, a sedan shape so common that it’s totally unnoticeable. Unfortunately, driving it was an experience I don’t care to repeat.
The most notable thing about this particular Corolla: It doesn’t seem to be of the same sturdy stock as Corollas of old. With 6,000 miles on the odometer, the nearly new (and dirty) white sedan had constant condensation inside the rear window above the CHMSL. It wasn’t rainy or even humid and the condensation should have disappeared, but it didn’t. Over five days it never went anywhere.
Quality control also missed the driver’s door window trim. It had already lifted notably at the rear edge of the door. Just below the lifted trim is a rather clumsy door handle design with an incorporated lock cylinder.
While it would look much better as a separate piece of trim (like on most cars), the Corolla’s design is one piece. The entire handle lifts to reveal the unfinished-looking plastic surround and lock cylinder underneath. It’s an unusual choice that could also pinch a finger if you weren’t thinking about it.
Although it looks cheap, the feel of the door handle is more premium than you might expect. The sound of the door opening and closing is nice too. Outside the LE there’s a constant reminder of base trim via some very cheap-looking plastic wheel covers. Not a big negative, but worth a mention.
Equally discounted are the hard materials used on the door panels, and large swaths of the dash. The portion of the dash closer to passengers is a rubberized material, decorated with a metallic look silver plastic trim. Seat fabrics are lightly decorated with a diamond pattern, and the fabric feels durable enough but fairly rough.
At the front, the Corolla has flat seat cushions that are decently wide but offer little in the way of bolstering or lumbar. Simple manual seat controls are readily available. While easy enough to use, there’s unfortunately no rake adjustment on the lower seat cushion. You sit upright with your legs straight in front of you, and the position is less than ideal for long journeys.
Head and legroom are very good for this class of car. At six feet tall, your author has ample headroom and legroom at the front. Rear-seat passengers have less of both, but more than one might expect in the compact class. There’s a fold-out armrest at the rear with a surprising length to it: Often economy cars offer only a small rear armrest as an afterthought.
The Corolla gets points for good forward and front-side visibility with its large windshield and generous side windows. Front windows have smaller fixed vent windows at the corner by the A-pillar. B- and C-pillars are not overly large, and the back window is a good size and unobstructed. A backup camera is standard on all models and has decent clarity and grid lines to indicate how close objects are. Parking sensors are not offered on the LE trim.
Also at the rear is a generously sized trunk which measures 13.1 cubic feet. It’s flat, deep, and decently square, and the rear seats fold down for even more utility and cargo capacity. Maximum cargo fitment in a Corolla comes via the hatchback, which is still available (surprisingly) but is more expensive with the SE as its lowest trim.
A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard on all 2023 Corollas. It’s a good size screen, and comparable with the screens of the next size class. The screen has good resolution and clarity and crucially reacts quickly to inputs. Numerous apps are included, and all new Corollas feature wireless Android and Apple Carplay connectivity via Bluetooth.
However, the menu arrangement of the Toyota infotainment can be a bit confusing. There are more settings accessed through the steering wheel than one might think, and even more settings and options buried in the Toyota “app” on the home screen. The settings gear icon on the screen (where the car’s settings should be) is only for screen brightness controls and similar.
Once the audio controls are located in the Toyota app, the presence of too much bass cannot be corrected. The sound is otherwise not great. Worth reporting: Android Auto sometimes refused to connect to a phone (Google Pixel 6a). Though the phone was on the recognized devices list, it was a crapshoot whether it connected automatically at each startup. Often the phone needed to be manually paired to the car again.
The aforementioned menus in the center of the gauges are easy to read and understand, just like the large gauges themselves. There’s plenty of trip and assistance system information, all of which can be turned on or off as desired. Lane keep assist and collision avoidance is standard on the LE, even though parking sensors are missing.
Lane keep assist is defeatable via steering wheel button, but must be turned off at each restart of the car. That’s annoying, as it’s aggressive in its assistance and tugs the wheel at inappropriate times. It chooses to intervene while merging across a dotted line, or in construction areas with temporary painted lines.
Another annoyance: At the top left corner of the driver’s information screen there’s a speed limit indicator. It’s a white pictorial of a speed sign. Whenever the Corolla crosses the speed limit it immediately turns bright red, and remains red for the entire duration of even a 1 mile-per-hour speeding crime. Don’t nag, car.
In a mix of highway and flat in-town driving the Corolla presents mixed characteristics. The brakes are reasonably strong and easy to learn and modulate almost instantly. The throttle pedal is similar, albeit a bit too softly sprung. Steering via the decent-feeling rubber wheel is incredibly light, with single-finger turning an option even when sitting still.
The Corolla’s 2.0-liter engine manages 169 horsepower but only 151 lb-feet of torque, and it’s just not enough. Equally at fault is the CVT to which it’s paired, which acts like a CVT from a decade ago as it groans and jerks from a standstill. It lags behind throttle inputs consistently and takes a while to “unwind” itself after a foot comes entirely off the throttle. The 2023 Chevy Malibu reviewed recently is a heavier car with a smaller engine and less horsepower, but felt entirely more spritely.
Corolla’s cabin is admirably devoid of most wind noise, but some intrudes from front window seals and around the side mirrors. Tire noise is notable, and present at all speeds. Tires thump over bumps and send shakes through the cabin. Part of that is down to overly soft springs, so the ride feels uncontrolled and unsettled. For the average driver, it should be fine, but there are no sporty or fun intentions here.
While on the topic of noise, the Corolla can’t be driven at any speed with the rear windows down, as the “helicopter” boom kicks in quickly. Front windows don’t cause the same issue. Additionally, a concerning rattle came from the far right area of the dash, and it sounded like there was some broken plastic somewhere underneath the speaker. Could be a one-off, but combined with the aforementioned window condensation and trim flaws, not confidence-inspiring.
The Corolla is decently efficient, however, with an observed 35.8 miles per gallon (the EPA says 31/40 and 34 combined). It will head into 2024 with minimal changes for its sixth model year. But underneath it’s older than you might think.
Though the CVT feels old, both it and the 2.0-liter engine are fairly recent: The Dynamic Force mill arrived in 2016, and the CVT debuted in 2018. But in driving, both feel like they’re out of the prior decade. The $26,600 Corolla Hybrid uses a different powertrain, by the way.
Toyota will provide the 2023 Corolla LE for $22,795, which is very affordable. But there are compacts out there that are more versatile, cheaper, better made, better equipped, more economical, or with a longer warranty for you to pick and mix as you please. For a couple thousand more you’re in a base Mazda 3 2.5 S, with a much nicer interior, 17 more horsepower, 35 more torques, and a transmission and engine that aren’t nearing high school age. With this base LE, Toyota’s living on the Corolla’s legendary name and sort of phoning it in. Look elsewhere.
[Images: Corey Lewis / The Truth About Cars]
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