The 2020 Toyota Corolla is all new and boasts an updated, flashy chassis and powertrain that add to the sporty-ness of the Corolla. This particular top-of-the-line XSE is an impressive package, though against today’s in-demand crossovers, is it good enough to remain in the conversation?
The top of the line XSE trim is priced at about $28,500 and carries a unique front and rear fascia, 18-inch wheels, dual-tipped exhaust, and LED lighting all around. Advanced features include adaptive headlights with auto-high beam, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, as well as the dynamic radar cruise control, lane trace, and road sign detection. The impressive feature list continues inside with heated synthetic leather with sport inserts (that really grip!), a really impressive but volume-limited JBL audio system, and an 8-inch touchscreen that could be faster but is simple to navigate.
The 2020 Corolla features most of the latest Toyota-assist and avoidance technology. The notable addition is that of lane-trace which works to keep the vehicle centered within a lane, even within a curve. It works fairly well, but there are still circumstances where it didn’t recognize the correct path ahead. The radar-based active cruise control and low-speed pedestrian detection add significant confidence at high speed in adverse weather and also around the city, surrounded by imprudent electric scooter drivers.
Power and Efficiency
The XSE (and the other sporty but lesser-spec’d, SE trim) receives a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops an adequate 169 horsepower 151 lb-ft of torque – that’s 30 more hp and 25 more lb-ft of torque over the XLE trim which makes do with a smaller engine. Furthermore, its unique transmission is a technological highlight by combining a fixed first gear with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). In the real world, it successfully achieves both, the expected direct feel and rising engine sound that accompany a typical geared system and the efficiency gains and added smoothness of a CVT without a detectable downside. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters add a level of control over the specific ratio and it is very quick to change ratios. The only downside is the CVT’s nature to lurch forward at full throttle simulated “upshifts”. At the pump, I managed a respectable 34 mpg, matching the EPA estimates of 31/38/34 mpg (city/highway/combined).
Ride and Handling
There is a notable difference in noise-vibration-and-harshness (NVH) between the XLE and the XSE. This difference basically comes down to the larger, wider, and lower-profile tires on the XSE. A better sense of the road is felt through the steering wheel on the XSE, but there is also a notable level of road noise. At low parking-lot speeds, the steering effort decreases to a finger-controlled spin and it’s mid 35’ turning diameter is great for maneuverability. As speed increases, the steering feels more natural and the body stays flat around on-ramps and its independent rear suspension easily handles mid-corner bumps. In the mountains, the stability control system admirably keeps things in check while staying behind the scenes. The car provides a high sense of security and confidence in the mountains but ultimately its handling is less-than-thrilling.
Styling and Size
The Corolla gains a much more planted stance courtesy of, yes a lower stance, but also horizontal lines that visually extend the length of the car and also enhance the pushed out wheel arches. A mix of shapes, colors, and textures give the rear end a sportier look. Inside, the Corolla adopts a more modern and slightly minimalist design for the instrument panel. Piano-black accents look good as do the soft-touch surfaces with faux stitching. If only the cabin didn’t punish those over 6-feet tall. Upfront, the standard sunroof limits headroom, though the seat can be lowered and reclined. In back, things are worse and space is notably less than its competitors.
The Corolla introduces more consumers to the brand than anything else in its lineup and that is precisely why this all-new generation car (not crossover) is so important to Toyota. Playing to the sedan’s inherent traits of good efficiency and a lower center of gravity, the Corolla further adds a healthy dose of sport and modern design. If only if were larger inside…