We test all three to find out.
Not so long ago, the Corolla was amongst the most boring vehicles you could buy. It was a basic means of transportation that could get you from Point A to Point B, and that's about it. Today, the Corolla is more exciting than ever, and Toyota offers a wider variety than ever before. The model lineup includes the youthful 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the tried and true 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan, and the frugal 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Each offers unique benefits over the others, and to find out which is best for you, CarBuzz tested all three in succession. We drove a Hatchback XSE model with the continuously variable transmission, the special edition Apex sedan with a six-speed manual, and the hybrid in the once-choice-only LE trim. Here is what we liked and disliked about each.
With its youthful body style, the Corolla Hatchback is the most stylish of the bunch. The hatchback looks mostly the same as its sedan counterpart in the front, but we think the addition of a rear hatch design makes the Corolla look more vibrant, especially when finished in an exciting color like Blue Flame or Supersonic Red.
Aside from the styling, the Corolla Hatchback excels in offering more trunk space than its siblings. The rear hatch contains 17.8 cubic feet of trunk space compared to 13 cubic feet in the sedan. For 2021, Toyota offers a spare tire delete option that lowers the floor, opening the space to 23 cubic feet. Though it isn't currently available with any optional engines, the hatchback body style should be the one chosen to receive a hot GR variant in the US market, which is exciting.
Though the Corolla Hatchback offers the most trunk space, it offers the least rear passenger space. Both the sedan and hybrid versions give rear occupants 34.8 inches of legroom, but you only get 29.9 inches in the hatchback. Those nearly five inches of legroom make the sedan and hybrid far more comfortable during long journeys. As a slight consolation, the hatchback adds two rear cupholders on the doors.
We tested our hatchback with the optional CVT, which is better than expected thanks to a new launch gear. The transmission is smooth and delivers a quick response without the annoying drone associated with this gearbox type. However, we still prefer the six-speed manual option, which is also available.
As we've already mentioned, the Corolla Sedan offers more rear legroom (34.8 inches) but less trunk space (13 cubic feet) than the Corolla Hatchback. If passenger space is more important to you than cargo capacity, the sedan is the model you should choose. While we prefer how the hatchback looks overall, the sporty Apex Edition model dials up the aggression with black badging, black wheels, and bronze accents.
At $19,825 to start, the sedan costs a bit less than the equivalent hatchback at $20,465. The sedan is also slightly more frugal on the highway, achieving 40 mpg while the hatchback tops out at 38 mpg.
The Corolla Sedan is easily the most well-rounded of the three options, so it doesn't possess any glaring weaknesses. If we did have a complaint, it would veer towards the overly stiff Apex Edition. Created as a special variant geared for enthusiasts, the Apex Edition completely ruins the Corolla's pleasant ride with lowered coil spring suspension. The benefits in handling aren't worth the trade-off in comfort or the price.
Toyota will charge around $26,000 to $30,000 for the Apex Edition, which is limited to 6,000 units. Though the rarity might be a selling point for some, we'd skip this special edition and wait for the Corolla GR Hatchback with a more powerful engine under the hood.
If fuel economy is your main concern, the Corolla Hybrid is easily your best option. It uses the same drivetrain as the Prius, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder paired with a hybrid system. This combination yields stellar fuel economy ratings of 53/52/52 mpg city/highway/combined. In our real-world testing, we found these numbers to be conservative. We averaged over 55 mpg over a week of driving and even saw over 60 mpg on the highway.
At $23,400, the Corolla Hybrid carries the highest starting price of the three variants. The increased fuel economy should pay for itself after enough miles, but unlike the other Corolla models, the hybrid only comes in one trim level, leaving it with a slightly basic interior. We'd like to see Toyota offer a higher trim level with larger wheels and a nicer interior, but those options would drive up the price and hurt the fuel economy due to their weight.
That stellar fuel economy also comes at the expense of speed. Whereas the other Corolla models have 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter engine, the hybrid makes do with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder producing just 121 hp. Instead of 0-60 mph in around eight seconds, the hybrid takes more than 10 seconds.