2020 Toyota Corolla — A good alternative to the poplar CUV

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(May 22, 2020) Totally redesigned, the 2020 Toyota Corolla is the latest iteration of the best-selling nameplate around the globe. First on sale in Japan in 1966, Corolla finally made its way into U.S. showrooms in 1968. This new Corolla is its 12th generation. I've been covering the auto industry for eight of those launches and have probably written at least a dozen Corolla reviews over the years. Last year saw the introduction of the 2020 Toyota Corolla hatchback. This year Toyota released the redesigned 2020 Corolla sedan. Time to write another review!

Despite sedans disappearing from the new-car landscape, Toyota seems disinclined to abandon the four-door car. As proof, recently Toyota has also treated us to updated examples of the Camry and Avalon, Indeed, there is still a place for good sedans – the emphasis on “good.”

I got my first taste of the reimagined Corolla's driving dynamics all the way back in November of 2018, during the national media launch of the 2020 Corolla hatchback in Southern California. Flash forward to the actual 2020 model year and Toyota rounded out the Corolla lineup with a sedan and a hybrid. My most recent Corolla encounter was with the new sedan in its top-of-the-line XSE trim.

During my introduction to Corolla in late 2018, it was obvious that the newest edition isn't simply a place holder in the Toyota lineup. Toyota isn't still building and marketing it to hang on to an entry in the compact segment, nor is it just a vehicle for keeping the Corolla nameplate alive. In the current crossover environment, neither of those possibilities would have been a shocker. Nope, Toyota put everything it's got into the 2020 Corolla, including its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) found in a platoon of its latest products. From its alluring styling, to its impressive mileage, to its mind-blowing value, the new Corolla is positioned to keep the nameplate's popularity rolling.

Toyota has never been shy about slapping big price tags on its products. It has relied on its reputation for reliability and higher-than-average resale values to justify its top-tier pricing. The newest Corolla is somewhat of an outlier in Toyota's traditional pricing model.

You can pick up a base L for $20,555, including the factory destination fee. Included for that price are hill-start assist, air conditioning, full power accessories, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, cloth seats, Toyota Connected Services, Bluetooth connectivity, 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay capability, Wi-Fi hot spot capability, Amazon Alexa, 4.2-inch color-display information cluster, eight airbags, LED headlights/daytime running lights/tail lights, backup camera, 60/40 split fold-down backseat, and a 6-speaker audio system with two USB ports, iPod port, voice recognition and hands-free phone. Also standard on every Corolla is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 with forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, steering assist, lane-departure alert, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, road-sign assist and lane-tracing assist.

Toyota offers Corolla in a total of seven trim levels: L, LE, Hybrid LE, SE, SE 6MT, XLE and XSE. At $26,505, the XSE is still a reasonable deal. By the time you work your way up through the grades to XSE, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, heated outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, upgraded seat upholstery, 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, rear center armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded 7-inch color-display information cluster, smart-key entry system, push-button start, upgraded audio system with satellite-radio capability and blind-spot monitor.

Depending on the grade, Toyota gives you three propulsion choices. L, LE and XLE use a 139-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine to rotate the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy for the L and LE is a government-estimated 30 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg combined. Mileage drops 1 mpg across the board in the XLE.

The SE and XSE trims use a 169-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to, what Toyota calls, a Dynamic Shift CVT. It features an actual first gear for low-speed operation. It adds a bit of oomph to takeoffs from a standstill. The SE 6MT comes with a 6-speed manual tranny with rev matching during downshifts. With the CVT, the SE mileage is 31 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined. In the XSE, fuel economy is down 2 mpg in highway driving, but city and combined mileage remain the same. Estimated fuel economy in the SE 6MT is 29 mpg city/36 mpg highway/32 mpg combined.

Motivating the LE Hybrid is a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine/two electric motor system producing a combined 121 hp. Fuel economy is an estimated 53 mpg city/52 mpg highway/52 mpg combined. Only available as the sedan in the LE trim, the hybrid rings the register at $24,055.

My test Corolla XSE sedan was armed with the 2.0L engine and Dynamic Shift CVT. CVTs aren't particularly fun to drive. Boring wouldn't be an unfair characterization of the experience. But, the physical launch gear incorporated into this smart CVT does somewhat liven the driving experience. It is a noticeable improvement over a standard CVT when accelerating away from a red light. Corolla's steering response requires substantial input to get the front wheels to answer the helm. The overall ride is quite comfy.

Toyota gave Corolla's interior a lot of attention. Soft-touch surfaces and quality materials give the cabin an upmarket feel. Offering decent support, the front seats shouldn't wear you out on longer trips. Stylish in its design the dashboard is uncluttered with easy-to-use controls. Visibility in all directions is excellent. The cabin is roomy and quiet.

In its 2020 Corolla, Toyota has presented shoppers with every reason to opt for a compact sedan. Easy on the eyes and pocketbook, the newest Corolla should give those considering a compact CUV some pause.