- I tested a 2020 $US29,189 ToyotaCorolla XSE, the 12th generation of a car that’s been on sale in the US since the 1960s.
- The Corolla has long been thought of as great, affordable, entry-level transportation, but this four-door has actually become more than that.
- My test car combined excellent fuel-economy with peppy driving and decent interior appointments.
- The bottom line is that the Corolla is still a tough sedan to beat.
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We take the Toyota Corolla for granted.
For decades, the sedan has furnished reliable transportation. Sure, it could also be called staid, vanilla, basic, boring.
But decades of execution – not to mention millions of satisfied owners – should count for something.
And as I recently discovered when Toyota let me borrow a 2020 Corolla XSE for a week, the car maker isn’t resting on its many accolades. It’s keeping the Corolla fresh.
Read on to find out why:
Behold! The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE, in “Celestite Grey Metallic” livery. “Celestite,” for the record, is a mineral that’s admired for its delicate blue colour — it’s also the most poetic automotive paint tone that I’ve come across in a while.
Toyota has been selling the Corolla in the US since 1968. It’s been around almost as long as the Ford Mustang (1965)! The Corolla’s most recent US sales peak was 2007, when over 370,000 units were sold. Last year, that number was a still-impressive 280,000.
The base Corolla starts at just under $US20,000. Our tester was the top-level XSE trim, priced at $US25,450 before the addition of a few thousand dollars in extras took the sticker to $US29,189.
Alongside the Camry, Toyota’s stalwart midsize sedan, the Corolla has been jazzed-up, design-wise. The 12th generation car debuted for the 2018 model year and brought much more slashing, aggressive lines to styling that to many eyes had grown staid.
That said, the Corolla continues to fill a middle-of-the-road (Sorry!) spot in the compact four-door market. It looks sharp — not wild.
The options for my Toyota Corolla XSE added up to $US1,715 and in total represented a bargain for owners wanting to upscale an already well-equipped car.
My test Corolla had Texas plates, but it was actually built in Japan, at the factory that assembled the first Corollas. Most Corollas for the US market are built in Mississippi.
The XSE had a teensy little decklid spoiler on the trunk.
The Corolla has a trunk with average capacity for the segment: 13.1 cubic feet. It’s more than enough for grocery store runs and weekend getaways.
So what’s under the hood?
A rock-solid, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine — with no turbocharger! It makes a 169 horsepower with 151 pound-feet of torque. The fuel economy is fabulous! A whopping 31 mpg city/38 highway/34 combined. I drove the car a lot and barely dented the fuel supply.
The power it piped to the front wheels through a CVT transmission, which helps with the sterling MPGs.
Toyotas aren’t noted for premium interiors — that’s more Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. However, the Corolla XSE was, I thought, rather nice. The seats were predictably comfy, yet not not too soft, with good bolstering. And the plastics were too plastick-y.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel was adorned with the usual bevy of buttons, to control numerous vehicle and infotainment functions. The gauges were old-school analogue. This trim level has paddle shifters, but they were sort of useless, given the CVT transmission.
The infotainment system runs off an eight-inch central touchscreen. I’m not a huge fan of the setup, and I say this as the owner of two Toyota vehicles. It does, however, get the job done.
Bluetooth device pairing is easy and there are USB ports for your devices. Navigation worked as advertised, and the nine-speaker JBL audio system sounded quite good.
The system also has Apple CarPlay available, so you can override the Toyota setup and use your iPhone.
My tester had wireless charging, a feature that I’ve come to appreciate as it’s shown up on more and more new vehicles.
The back seat was relatively roomy, but the Corolla is a compact sedan, so adults could be a tad cramped.
Overall, the Toyota Corolla XSE’s interior was a rather pleasant place to pass the time.
The moonroof was welcome, given the mostly black interior.
So what’s the verdict?
We tend to think of the Toyota Corolla as basic transportation, but after spending a week with the 2020 version, I’d have to say that, as with the excellent midsize Camry, Toyota as upped its compact game.
The Corolla is a damn good car. So good that I’d like to sample the available six-speed manual transmission, just to see if the engine – optimised for MPGs in my XSE tester, with its CVT box – could serve up some spirited fun for drivers who like to change their own gears.
OK, so everybody already knows the Corolla is a damn good car. It’s been a damn good car for five decades.
What’s impressive is how little time Toyota is spending resting on its laurels with the vehicle. It definitely could; Corolla sales have been declining relative to RAV4 crossovers. They remain strong, but since 2007, the sales total for the sedan has slipped in the US by 100,000 units. If Toyota wanted to, it could phone the Corolla in a bit more.
It most definitely hasn’t. So while the Corolla remains excellent basic transportation and a fine entry point to the brand, if you move up to the XSE from the base L trim, you’re getting a staggering amount of car for the money. You’ll also spend only about $US100 a month of gas – less if you don’t drive 15,000 miles per year on average.
Is the Corolla XSE fun to drive? Sort of. Nobody really looks to a Corolla for sporty handing, although the “S” trim from the previous generation had those pretensions. My XSE tester was of course held back by the CVT, and the steering was vague, while braking wasn’t anything I’d want to test under stress. But the motor has some punch for a no-turbo four, with nicely linear power application. A Honda Civic is tighter overall, but compared with other Corollas I’ve driven, including one I briefly owned, my tester felt peppy.
The interior wasn’t exactly ritzy, but it was better than I expected – slightly nicer than what I have in my Prius and my RAV4 hybrid. Versatility is also good. But if you want better cargo capacity, then a RAV4 is a superior Toyota for you. Ditto all-wheel-drive, although there have been rumours that the Corolla could get four-wheel traction in the future.
The bottom line here is that the Corolla is a terrific choice – and a classic no-brainer if you don’t want to think about your set of wheels. Legendary Toyota reliability means that a Corolla is unlikely to give you many problems, if any. The latest generation is also premium enough, the upmarket (yet still sub-$US30,000) trim, to make a strong case for buyers who aren’t in their twenties and who don’t feel the need to look at Audis and BMWs.
That’s what the Corolla has going for it: credibility. This car has a splendid reputation. And that’s always worth investing in.
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