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The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car of all time, and for good reason: it's a no-nonsense, straightforward compact sedan that oozes value. The 12th-generation Corolla keeps that tradition alive, but this time around it packs character that has been sorely missing in previous generations to great effect.
When the Toyota Corolla Hatchback first debuted, I praised its styling, saying it gave the formerly staid nameplate some visual vigor. The sedan adaptation is just as good, ditching the insectoid front fascia of its forebear in favor of something far more interesting. My XSE tester's sporty trim means this Corolla has more aggressive bumpers than the usual model. While it's heavy on grille up front, it's not as overwrought as some of Toyota's other cars, like the Avalon. The twee little diffuser on the back bumper is a cute little nod to the trim's livelier aspirations, too.
While it might not be as capacious as its hatchback sibling, the 2020 Corolla sedan's trunk isn't too bad. At 13.1 cubic feet, it's more than enough to handle a family's worth of groceries or a box's worth of flowers and mulch. That's great in a bubble, but the Corolla's capacity actually lags behind competitors like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta.
The Corolla is a compact sedan, but there's nothing compact about its interior volume. The dashboard doesn't jut out too far from the firewall, leaving the cabin feeling plenty roomy for both driver and passenger. The story is even better in the second row, where a 6-foot-tall passenger will have no problem sitting behind a 6-foot-tall driver. Even with the front seat slid way back, my knees still fail to touch the seatback in the second row. In terms of headroom, there's plenty. The seats themselves are comfortable on long trips, and my XSE tester has sportier seats with attractive blue cloth inserts.
The interior follows the same formula as other new Toyota models, like the RAV4. The dashboard makes interesting use of layering, and the whole thing feels very well bolted together. The materials aren't the most premium feeling, but the plastics aren't so hard that I worry about scuffing them with a strong glance. Visibility is great, in part because Toyota moved the side mirrors to the door panels, making space for an extra quarter-window within the door frame. That excellent vantage point applies to the side and rear views, as well, leaving me to rely less on blind-spot monitoring than I might otherwise need to.
While it's not exactly fair to harp on a mass-market sedan for lacking dynamic appeal, the Corolla has long lagged behind competition like the Civic and Mazda3 when it comes to fun factor. However, the 12th-generation Corolla has four little letters that help it make up some of that ground: TNGA.
The Toyota New Global Architecture is a flexible vehicle platform that underpins all matter of new Toyotas, from Camry to RAV4. It gives the new Corolla a solidity that it lacked in prior iterations, especially in conjunction with my XSE tester's sportier suspension tuning. The 225/40R18 Yokohama Avid GT all-season tires don't have a lot of sidewall to absorb road inconsistencies, yet on a 700-mile round trip between Detroit and Milwaukee, I never grew tired of the ride quality, as the suspension still translated little annoyance into the cabin.
While the suspension doesn't contribute much to interior noise, the wind and tires most certainly do. Like the RAV4 I recently reviewed, I think Toyota scrimped a bit too hard on the noise-mitigation material, as I find the wind and road noise in the cabin to be above average, occasionally requiring an extra dose of stereo volume to drown it out.
Lower Corolla trims make do with a 139-horsepower, 1.8-liter I4, but the SE and XSE models offer a bit more enthusiasm. My tester sports the same 2.0-liter I4 as found in the Corolla Hatchback, putting out 169 hp and 151 lb-ft. While it may not emit the most pleasant note on the planet, it pulls strongly and smoothly enough to let a person kick back and have a little fun after dropping the kids at school.
Some of that comes from Toyota's clever Direct Shift CVT technology. This continuously variable transmission uses an actual first gear, bypassing the "rubber band effect" found in many CVTs for more direct acceleration away from stop lights. Once first gear is done, it acts like a traditional CVT, and I prefer its preference for smoother, more traditional action over the simulated gear changes I find in a number of other new cars with similar drivetrains.
It's a weird world when the more powerful engine option is the more efficient one, as well, but that's the case with the 2020 Corolla. My front-wheel-drive XSE tester is rated at 31 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway, but on my long road trip, I'm able to keep highway economy at 40 or above. In the city, a light touch on the gas pedal delivers about 33 mpg.
The XSE is the 2020 Corolla's highest non-hybrid trim, and as a result, this 'Rolla is loaded with just about all the tech available in the lineup The only tech option is a $1,715 package that adds a 9-speaker JBL sound system and embedded navigation, which my tester lacks, but that's not to say I feel like I'm missing anything as-is.
As with other new Toyota models, my tester packs a 7-inch display in the gauge cluster that shows a large analog speedometer with music and vehicle information tucked under its graphical arch. It offers a less distracting way to keep up on various vehicle goings-on, and I'm always appreciative of that.
Lower trims make do with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, but my tester rocks an 8-inch screen. It has Apple CarPlay, but even though Toyota has started introducing Android Auto on certain 2020-model-year vehicles, it's still notably absent here. However, the Corolla packs plenty of other tricks, like HD radio and Amazon Alexa compatibility. Without the embedded navigation available as an option, I'm using Apple CarPlay to get around, but there's a standalone Toyota app available that offers turn-by-turn directions, as well.
On the whole, Toyota's Entune software is fine. The screen responds relatively quickly to my inputs, and I appreciate the additional physical buttons on either side of the display for fast navigation between corners of the system. The USB ports charge my devices with haste, but the under-dash mounting position of the sole port that enables CarPlay means cords will often be left dangling, dragging itself through whatever gunk is left on the passenger-side floormat. Putting both USB outlets in the center console would be a better way of doing it.
Toyota's keen on democratizing its suite of safety systems and driver aids, and that remains the case on Corolla; all trims (including the base L) come equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. This group includes automatic braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring and automatic high beam headlights. The adaptive cruise control takes much of the drudgery out of my long trip to Milwaukee, never jarring the cabin with sudden movements. The lane-keep assist only offers a gossamer touch on the wheel, avoiding heavy-handed swerves to center.
Wearing just a set of $249 floor mats and no additional options, my XSE tester clocks in at a palatable $26,629 including $930 for destination. Considering this Corolla has everything I could ask for with a price tag that's still about $10,000 below the average transaction price for a new car in 2019, this is the trim I'd stick with. I prefer embedded navigation, though, so I'll opt for the $1,715 package that adds it. That brings my out-the-door total to $28,095 including destination, which isn't bad, but once you've experienced the materials and telematics in the latest (and similarly priced) Mazda3, the Corolla's value pales a bit.
The Corolla is more compelling for 2020, sure, but it's not perfect. If you prioritize driving dynamics over everything else, the Mazda3 will be your best bet, with the Honda Civic hot on its heels, and both offer more cargo capacity. The Hyundai Elantra is probably the closest car to the Corolla, offering great trim packaging and a decent drive at a good price. If you really want to get a deal in this segment, the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus aren't long for this planet, so there's probably a fair bit of wiggle room on their window stickers, but I find neither car to be all that great.
While it's usually treated as the automotive equivalent of a toaster, Toyota has once again given the Corolla some character to bolster its credentials as a perennially safe choice in the compact segment. It drives well, it's not too shabby to look at and, perhaps most importantly, it's priced aggressively for what it brings to the table. You can never go wrong with a Corolla, but now, it might actually stir up an emotion or two.