LOS ANGELES, California—Here’s the bottom line on the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE right up front: For about, oh, three-quarters of the driving public, Toyota’s all-new version of its iconic compact four-door sedan will fit their every driving need. Sure, you can have more fun behind the wheel of a VW Golf or a Honda Civic or a Mazda 3, but “fun” is a priority only for weirdo driving enthusiasts like you and me. Most people just want a solid, reliable, safe, and affordable vehicle to get them where they need to go. And on that score, especially with the savvy updates Toyota has incorporated into the 2020 car, the new Corolla sedan is just about perfect.
There’s a reason the Corolla—on sale stateside since 1966—is the bestselling automobile of all time. I mean, here in Los Angeles alone there’s at least 2.7 billion of them on the road. (I’ve counted.) See, Corollas are like roaches that have skittered through the fuel rods of a nuclear reactor: They’re immune, battle-hardened by some rare and miraculous isotope so they seemingly live forever. A former girlfriend of mine owned an old Corolla, and during a gas stop I offered to check the oil for her. I ended up pulling the dipstick twice. Dry both times. No oil at all. “That’s funny,” she said. “The engine’s been running just fine.”
Of course, she was lucky and it’s probably a minor miracle that her Corolla was still moving, but you get the point. For decades Corollas have set the standard for reliability—and they’re incredibly efficient and unfailingly approachable, too. The new 2020 sedan is like that only more so. My top-of-the-line XSE test car arrived fully loaded and sporting only one option: carpet mats for $249. Everything else was included in the $26,629 sticker price. And “everything else” was a lot.
Standard on the XSE is a whole suite of active safety gear, from blind-spot monitoring and a pre-collision system to more advanced features—like lane-departure alerts with steering assist and radar-guided cruise control with stop and go—that you’d normally only find on cars costing a bunch more. Other welcome goodies include keyless entry with pushbutton start, a power/tilt sunroof, heated front seats, an 8.0-inch color infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay compatibility, and a six-speaker audio system.
While the new sedan offers a number of powertrain options, including a hybrid, the XSE uses a 2.0-liter twin-cam four mated with a standard CVT. (You need to buy the SE sedan to get a manual gearbox, while the Corolla hatchback offers one on both the SE and XSE.) The transmission is unusual in that it uses a fixed first gear at launch, the moves to continuously variable duty as speed increases. A manual mode and paddle shifters allow the driver to shift through 10 different “gears”—although after I tried out the paddles, I rarely used them again, as manual shifting isn’t much fun. Better just to let the CVT do its thing, and I’ll bet the majority of XSE buyers do exactly that. The engine, by the way, is perky enough if unexciting, and delivers up to 38 EPA-rated mpg on the highway. The Corolla is one of those cars you just don’t think a lot about. And if you’ve got other things on your mind, that’s just how you want it.
The radar cruise control works well enough, and with lane-keep assist also activated you essentially have yourself a self-driving car on highways. The radar cruise is really conservative, though, braking at the slightest indication that the car ahead is slowing down. That’s fine by itself, but when the car ahead picks up speed, the 169-horse four isn’t quick to reaccelerate—meaning you tend to fall well behind the car you’re following and, sure enough, some other car inevitably cuts into the gap. Which makes the system slow down again, and you move further backward, and soon you’re back where you started. (I jest.) I’m sure the system works better on rural freeways where the speeding and slowing of traffic isn’t so constant. That said, the steering assist does a great job of keeping the car in its proper lane, though I’ll admit I usually turned the system off. After all, the Corolla already has this great device for lane-keeping. It’s called a steering wheel. I prefer that.
Inside, the Corolla is unfailingly comfortable. It actually has less rear-seat legroom than the previous model, but there’s still plenty. The ride is well isolated from road harshness. Wind noise is minimal. And, perhaps most important, the control interfaces are excellent. The big central touchscreen is augmented with hard buttons for accessing various systems, while the climate control is likewise a smart mix of digital displays and analog buttons and knobs. You won’t fumble to operate anything. A number of additional controls on the steering wheel reduce the need for reaching even further.
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If it’s driving excitement you seek, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you’re after an affordable, astutely engineered, roomy, technologically advanced, and highly efficient four-door that also just happens to boast one of the industry’s most gilded reputations for quality and reliability, the new 2020 Corolla sedan makes a compelling case to look no further.
|2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Specifications|
|ENGINE||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4; 169 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||continuously variable automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||31/38 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||182.3 x 70.1 x 56.5 in n|
|WEIGHT||3,150 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||8.2 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||115 mph (est)|
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