The compact sedan segment has shrunk as customers have steadily switched to compact SUVs. Undeterred by this trend in the US, Toyota added the 12th generation Corolla to the lineup in 2019. Toyota sells the new Corolla in three models: sedan, hybrid sedan and hatchback. Pricing starts at $19,600 for the Corolla L sedan; the hybrid LE sedan is $23,200. The Corolla SE hatchback is slightly more expensive than the sedan with a base price of $20,290. Enthusiasts should consider the 6-speed manual Corolla SE ($22,750) or the SE CVT ($22,050). Value shoppers will likely prefer the Corolla LE ($20,050), offering a balance of affordable pricing and essential standard equipment. Since the American brands have culled compact sedans from their US product range, the Corolla's primary competition is from Honda and Nissan, as well as Hyundai/Kia.
We tested the Corolla XSE sedan ($25,550), at the top of the eight sedan trim levels. The sole option package was the XSE Connectivity Package ($2,165). Adding in the $955 delivery fee totaled up to $28,670. Notable standard equipment includes LED headlights, adaptive front lights, 18-in. dia. alloy wheels, sunroof, rearview camera, 8-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, 8-in. infotainment display, navigation, 9-speaker JBL audio system, and integrated Verizon Wi-Fi connectivity. Active safety technologies include a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control and vehicle stability control.
Toyota powers the Corolla with the carryover 1.8L or a new 2.0L inline-4 driving the front wheels. Only the SE and XSE get the 2.0L; all other models are powered by the 139-hp 1.8L. The 2.0L is rated at 169-hp @ 6,600 RPM and maximum torque of 151 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 RPM. Direct and port fuel-injection, dual overhead-cams, variable valve-timing and a high 13:1 compression ratio contribute to the high power output. Both the 1.8L and 2.0L are coupled to CVTs (continuously variable transmission), or a 6-speed manual (Corolla SE only). The Dynamic Shift CVT (2.0L only) incorporates a 3.377:1 gearset for first gear; the remaining ratios are variable (2.236-0.447) and are coupled to a 3.788:1 final drive ratio. A multiplate wet clutch shifts power from the gearset to the CVT. In Sport mode the CVT simulates a stepped 10-speed automatic via steering wheel paddles. The EPA estimated fuel consumption rating for the Corolla XSE is 31/38 MPG (city/hwy.). The SE with the CVT is the most fuel-efficient Corolla (aside from the Hybrid) with a 31/40 MPG (city/hwy.) rating. In our tested XSE, we averaged almost 32 MPG in mixed urban and highway driving.
In a departure from previous Corollas, and the general trend for compact cars, Toyota fitted a multi-link independent rear suspension with coil springs, dampers, and a stabilizer bar. The front suspension is the typical MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar. Brakes are all-disc with 10.8 in. dia. front rotors and 10.2 in. dia. rear rotors. The standard 18 in. dia. alloy wheels mount P225/40R18 Yokohama AVID GT all-season tires. Steering is via an electrically-assist rack-and-pinion system. Curb weight ranges from 2,910 lbs. (Corolla L) to 3,150 lbs. (Corolla XSE).
Toyota expended significant effort to upgrade the Corolla's interior materials. Most surfaces are covered in grained soft-touch plastics. A notable exception is the hard plastic on the center console. Matte silver plastic trim accents door panels, steering wheel and dashboard, adding contrast to the gloss black trim on the dash and center console.
Opting for the XSE adds upgraded seats covered in Toyota's Softex artificial leather and fabric. Both front seats provide excellent lateral torso support, along with decent thigh support. The driver benefits from 8-way power adjustments and lumbar support, but the front passenger just has 4-way manual adjustability. Front headroom is acceptable for 5'-10" occupants, although the sunroof cut into available headroom. The rear seats offer decent legroom and comfort, but again headroom is tight for passengers taller than 5'-10" due to the low roofline. Although the Corolla will accommodate a center rear passenger, the hard seatback makes this an uncomfortable proposition for anything more than short trips.
The XSE gets a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated buttons for audio, cruise, phone, and vehicle systems status. Paddles behind the steering wheel enable manual CVT shifts. Gauges consist of a backlit LCD speedometer, analog tachometer, plus smaller fuel and coolant temperature indicators. A multi-function display within the speedometer shows fuel consumption and other vehicle data. Switching the CVT from normal to sport mode changes the speedometer color from blue to red. An 8-in. infotainment display mounted on the dash enables access to the navigation, audio and built-in apps. Dual knobs and buttons on both sides of the display minimize digging through menus for settings and adjustments. Climate controls are readily accessible below the center dash vents. A wireless Qi charging pad on the center console can recharge compatible mobile phones. A USB port and 12V outlet are also available for charging and power.
The new 2.0L inline-4 cranks out more power than the base 1.8L, yet is actually more fuel-efficient, as noted earlier. Coupled to the CVT, the larger displacement four delivers decent torque above 2,000 RPM, and the powerband extends to the 6,600 RPM redline. Using a geared first gear mostly eliminates the annoying droning that is typical of CVTs. In Sport mode, the Corolla accelerates with surprisingly authority from a stop. Using the paddles in Sport mode is fun, as the CVT simulates a 10-speed automatic, but most of the time we just let the transmission manage the shifting.
Building the new sedan on the TNGA platform transforms the Corolla's ride and handling. The previous generation Corolla suffered from a subpar ride that was too stiff for patched roads. Adopting the new independent rear suspension enabled the chassis engineers the tune the chassis for a compliant ride without compromising body control. The suspension effectively deals with winter frost heaves and potholes, while isolating most road impacts from the passenger compartment. Stability and tracking at 80 MPH is exceptional for a mainstream compact sedan. The Corolla turns-in with more sharply than its predecessor, aided by the accurate steering. Wind and tire noise are minimal at highway speeds, so the Corolla is now a decent road trip companion. The all-disc brakes provide decent stopping power, with progressive actuation but slightly spongy pedal feel. During our review period, temperatures hovered near freezing, but the Avid all-season tires provided reassuring dry road grip.
Toyota has really transformed the Corolla into an enjoyable to drive sedan. The new platform and independent rear suspension are directly responsible for the Corolla's superb ride and handling. All these improvements also contribute to the higher sticker price; the Corolla XSE base price exceeds that of a midsize Camry LE. We think the more affordable Corolla LE or SE are superior values in the model range. Current owners should definitely place the new Corolla at the top of their list when it comes time for a replacement.