2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Review

Finally, a Corolla to get excited about


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Model looks great for the first time, great chassis, serious interior improvements, excellent overall execution.
Negatives: Engine needs more power, transmission needs refinement, infotainment still needs work.
Bottom Line: The Corolla has been almost totally transformed into a desirable vehicle. Not only does it look great, it handles remarkably well, and has an interior that hits at least a price point above it. It's too bad that the infotainment didn't get significantly better, nor the power. And there's still that CVT.
The Corolla has been very unexciting for a very long time, but it's hard to blame Toyota because the thing's just been so danged reliable. Nobody bought the Corolla because they found it attractive or fancy, but with the new generation, all that's changing. This latest 2020 Corolla is a paradigm shift in many ways, and it can now actually turn heads instead of passing totally unnoticed. Toyota fully redesigned it for the 2020 model year, following up the terrific hatchback. We drove the top trim XSE for a week to see if we could actually get excited about a Corolla. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

7.3

 

Though we would stop short of calling the new Corolla dynamic, it's almost a complete 180-degree shift from the outgoing model. It's not vague, spongy, numbing, or boring. It's just too bad it's not faster.

Ride Quality: It's definitely firmer than the old car, but it's not rough. And the new car that rides on the TNGA platform feels smoother but also more connected to the road surface.

Acceleration: Even though the XSE gets the more powerful engine (169 hp versus 139), it still gets a CVT and lacks verve despite having an actual physical first gear built in. The paddle shifters feel like a slap in the face because they're trying to simulate a sequential manual, but they're almost pointless. 0-60 comes in a little over 8 seconds.

Braking: The Corolla's stopping distances are about average, and the pedal has good progression. There's a little bit of nosedive under hard braking, unfortunately.

Steering: The electrically assisted power steering is light on effort but responsive, making it way better than the old Corolla.

Handling: The handling is the biggest change next to the car's steering. Though we wouldn't take it to an autocross, it's actually kind of fun to toss.

Technology

7.3

 

Tech hasn't been Toyota's strong point for a long time, if ever. Though their safety tech, which we'll discuss later, is impressive, their in-car tech lags. They had a chance to knock the new Entune system out of the park and failed. It's better, but just by a hair.

Infotainment System: The screen is clear, but the system could use better graphics and menus. At least there's Apple CarPlay, which works better and looks better than Entune.

Controls: The silver buttons that flank the screen are hard to press while driving, and audio knobs are also tough to use because they're shallow.

Styling

8.8

 

Though the Corolla sedan and the hatchback share some similarities in the front, the sedan looks more mature, and that's a very good thing. We're happy Toyota really spent time on the Corolla's looks inside and out because it paid off.

Front: Though the headlights are the same as the Corolla Hatchback's, the grille is different. It's still clad in black and spans the width of the lower fascia, but it's shaped slightly different with three sections and a black frame, versus the Hatcbhack's metallic-like plastic. It's sporty but less dramatic than the hatch.

Rear: The taillights have a horizontal split and don't mimic the headights like the hatchback. The faux diffuser and the lip spoiler are nice sporty touches. We think the back end looks great.

Profile: The Corolla sedan is well-proportioned and sporty looking from the side. The lack of chrome and the black window trim add to the sporty appearance.

Cabin: The inside of the Corolla is dramatically different than the old sedan. Plastics quality is better, and the overall design no longer looks like it's seriously dated and drab. Even with dark coloring, the cabin looks good.

Comfort

8

 

The Corolla sedan is roomier in back than the hatchback, and it manages to be just about right for four adults, even tall ones. Everything looks and feels better inside compared to the old car.

Front Seats: The seats feel comfortable with the right balance of bolstering and support.

Rear Seats: There's almost five more inches of rear legroom in the sedan, making it much better for two passengers. The middle position cushion is too high, compromising headroom for the center passenger.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Like all Toyotas, the sedan is well-built with no noise problems. The droning of the CVT can be heard when the engine is pushed.

Visibility: Sightlines are good, and the back isn't too bad even though the pillars are on the thicker side. The sloping nose in front helps place the car in tight spaces.

Climate: The climate system works well, but the vents should be upsized for a bit better airflow.

Safety

9

 

The Corolla does very well in safety tests, and it comes with a great set of standard safety features that are class-leading.

IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick, just missing the top score due to "marginal" and "acceptable" headlights, depending on trim. It nailed every other category.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 has a full set of great features like Pre-Collision System w/ Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert w/ Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, Road Sign Assist; Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Seatbelt Warning, and an Integrated Backup Camera w/ Projected Path.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

5.3

 

Sometimes styling has to eclipse practicality. Though the Corolla will have plenty of space for most folks, it's only about average when it comes to trunk space and cabin storage.

Storage Space: Aside from the center console's cupholders, the small armrest, and a shallow cubby in front of the shifter, there's not much for gear in the cabin.

Cargo Room: The trunk is only about average with 13 cubic feet of space. The seats fold down but not completely flat, and the hinge setup intrudes on the usable space.

Fuel Economy

7.9

 

The Corolla's small engine and CVT help with the mileage. We just wish there was an option for turbocharging, which would help with the power without damaging the EPA rating much. Our numbers were on the low side because we drove it in a spirited fashion most of the time.

Observed: 24.7 mpg.

Distance Driven: 93 miles.

Audio

8

 

Our tester came with the upgrade JBL audio system, and it's very good. You get a lot with the system (including navigation) with the $1,795 package, and it's worth it. The sound system has good bass, clarity, and there was no distortion.



Final Thoughts

The new Corolla is a huge leap for the brand and the model. The fact that it looks great, drives well, and has better tech and refinement than ever before equates to the best Corolla ever. It doesn't drive as well as the Mazda3 sedan, but it's good enough to be way better than the old car. The reliability and safety are Toyota-good, and the rest of the Corolla make the outgoing car a distant memory. It can now be categorized as an attractive consideration for compact sedan shoppers, along with the Mazda3, Kia Forte, and the Volkswagen Jetta.
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