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2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Review by Dan Poler

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Dan Poler
Senior Editor
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

For a while, it seemed that in the Corolla Toyota was coasting on its reputation. The Corolla had a long history in the segment, but over time it became merely acceptable - a reliable choice for getting from point A to point B, but, well, bland. Boring to drive, and behind its competitors in creature comforts.

For 2020, Toyota has brought a completely redesigned Corolla to market. This is the 12th generation of the Corolla, and what a difference. The Corolla no longer just blends in - it’s new bodywork is modern and stylish, with a low, dark grille and large 18 inch alloy wheels providing a subtle hint of aggressiveness not previously associated with the Corolla line.

The test model carried the XSE trim and was fully loaded with features such as a partially digital instrument panel, 18-inch wheels, faux-leather seating, and a sunroof. The test model also carried even options for premium audio and navigation, and adaptive headlights; the latter were excellent and really helped to illuminate in the curves on dark mountain roads. All these options add up: A base Corolla L starts at $19,600; ours clocked in at a whopping $29,168 - nearly $10,000 in packages and options.

The interior is attractive, if a little snug. Front seats are short and lack adequate thigh support, which does impact comfort somewhat; back seats are more than usable and adults will be comfortable for midrange rides. Materials are clearly a step up from the prior generation Corolla, with nice touches like blue contrast stitching and black-and-blue horizontal striped seat inserts, and generous storage throughout. Because of the smaller scale of the vehicle, controls are easily accessible; particularly nice is the short reach to the infotainment display. Small nitpicks can be found in the armrest’s blocking of the rear cupholder when extended, and the busy instrument panel which presents a great deal of information all at the same time.

Most trims of the Corolla come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 139 hp; The XSE trim (along with the SE) gets an upgrade to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for 169 hp and mated to an also-upgraded continuously-variable transmission that does feel like it “shifts”. The additional power is much appreciated - acceleration from a stop is smooth, although highway acceleration for passing can take a brief moment longer than is comfortable. Under heavy acceleration, the engine does get a little raucous and unrefined, with feedback present in the gas pedal. While the engine is good overall and feels well-suited to the size and weight of the car, the Corolla shouldn’t be mistaken for a sports car. Steering effort is light and a bit vague, and the car has some lean around corners. Observed fuel economy was a very good 34 mpg for a mix of highway and city driving.

Of course as a Toyota, the Corolla comes equipped with a host of standard safety features, including pre-collision braking -- capable even of detecting pedestrians and cyclists -- lane-departure alert, eight airbags, whiplash-reducing seats up front, and electronic brakeforce distribution. Note that every single one of these features are standard for all trims of the Corolla, whether you opt for the option-laden XSE or for a lower trim. The Corolla is an IIHS Top Safety Pick when equipped with those adaptive headlights.

The corolla can be had in lower level trims as basic transportation, or significantly upgraded - which to choose is an exercise best left to the reader.

In sum, the Toyota Corolla XSE is an excellent choice for those seeking a little more than just basic transportation; those packages and options do add up quickly. Whether to opt for a more basic trim and save some money, or to splurge, is an exercise best left to the reader.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE
Engine Type: 4-Cylinder DOHC 16-Valve
Engine Size: 2.0-liter
Horsepower: 169 @ 6,600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 151 @ 4,400 RPM
Transmission: Dynamically-Shifting CVT with physical first gear
Wheelbase / Length (in): 106.3 / 182.5
Curb Weight: 3,150
Pounds per HP: 18.64
Fuel Capacity (gal): 13.2
Fuel Requirement: Regular Unleaded
Tires: Yokohama Avid GT 225/40R18 88V
Brakes, front / rear: Ventilated 10.8-in. disc / Solid 10.2-in. disc
Suspension, front / rear: MacPherson strut / Multi-link
Ground clearance (in): 5.1
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG - city / highway / combined / observed: 31 / 38 / 34 / 34
Base Price: $19,600
Base Trim Price: $25,450
Options and Charges
Option: JBL Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation - $1,715
Option: Adaptive front lighting system - $450
Option: Door sill protector - $179
Option: Protection package (floor and trump mats, rear bumper protector, cargo net) - $377
Option: Alloy wheel locks - $67
Delivery: $930
Price as tested: $29.168