The 2020 Toyota Corolla is a surprisingly pleasant ride
The Toyota Corolla has been around since … well, it seems like forever. Way back in 1973, a friend of ours bought a slightly used, battleship-gray 1971 Corolla for $1,700 — about $10,000 in today’s dollars. That little car — and we do mean little — was still on the road 15 years later.
Prices, driven mainly by inflation, expanded standard-feature lists and mandated safety improvements, have gone up quite a bit since then. The sticker price on a new Corolla L, the base model, is $19,600. The version we drove, a top-of-the-line XSE compact sedan with near-luxury accommodations, was priced at $29,189.
Fully redesigned for 2020, the Corolla is much improved in terms of its driving dynamics, technology and engine choices. And it needed to be. Compact hatchbacks and sedans from Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia, in particular, had overtaken the Corolla in many respects in recent years, though only the Honda Civic outsold it in the segment. Suffering from a double whammy — competition in the compact segment, and consumers’ clear preference for SUVs and crossovers — Toyota had seen U.S. sales of the Corolla decline from 363,332 as recently as 2015, to 304,850 last year.
Previous Corolla generations’ major deficiency — bland driving dynamics — has been cured. The Corolla also has improved interior materials quality and technology. The Honda Civic remains the gold standard for compact cars, with the Mazda3 close behind, but the new Corolla puts Toyota solidly in the game.
Ranging in base price from the high teens to $25,450, the Corolla comes in eight trim levels, including a hybrid version of the mid-level LE. Two engine choices are available — a 1.8-liter, 139-horsepower Four, and a 2.0-liter Four producing 169 horsepower. Our XSE came with the more powerful engine. Buyers also can choose between a 6-speed manual transmission and continuously variable automatic.
The hybrid, starting at $23,100, delivers 53 mpg city, 52 highway. Our XSE was rated at 31/38; models with the 1.8-liter engine and CVT, 30/38; and with the dynamic-shift CVT, 31/40.
2020 Toyota Corolla XSE
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 169 horsepower, 151 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,150 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18-in. machined alloy with dark gray accents
Tires: P225/40R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 13.1 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 31 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline
All Corollas come with the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) 2.0 system, which includes pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, road edge detection with sway warning system, automatic high beams, and full-range dynamic radar cruise control. Curiously, TSS does not include a blind-spot monitor, a highly desirable safety feature, but it was standard on our test car and is available on some Corolla trim levels.
We found the Corolla quite livable, with plenty of front-seat leg room and comfortable seats. The back seat was tight, as is usually the case in compact sedans, and head room there was inadequate for tall passengers. The 13.2-cubic-foot trunk was nicely finished. In front, drivers and passengers might wish for more room for small items.
On the road, the Corolla was fairly refined. The most noticeable improvement was in the handling. This test car was the first Toyota we’ve ever driven — including that 1971 model — that was enjoyable to drive.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.