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2020 Toyota Corolla: Toyota knocks entry-level to the next level [First Look]

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

The Corolla nameplate has been sold around the world consistently for more than 50 years. And in that time, Toyota has sold more than 46 million of these small entry-level vehicles.

Thus, to say this car is both popular and important is a bit of an understatement.

In fact, according to Toyota, this vehicle is singularly the most important vehicle the automaker creates since 24 percent of all first-time car buyers purchase Corolla. Of those owners, a whopping 65 percent go on to buy another Toyota as their second vehicle.


With that in mind, it’s imperative that Toyota create not only an affordable vehicle for a younger owner but also one that is attractive, reliable, well-furbished, fun-to-drive and well liked.

If Toyota misses the mark with this one car, which hits its 12th generation for 2020, then the impact on future sales for more expensive vehicles could be catastrophic for the brand.

But no pressure, Toyota.

Fortunately, the all-new Corolla is a darn nice vehicle chockfull of up-level standard features, affordable pricing and excellent handling dynamics.

Since many of the people purchasing a Corolla are younger or first-time car buyers, Toyota made safety a huge priority. Features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane trace assist and lane departure mitigation are packaged together into a system called Toyota Safety Sense 2.0.


What’s more, rather than optioning it out or only making it standard on up-level trims, it’s standard starting at the base L trim.

Some of Corolla’s competitors don’t do this.

“Frankly I don’t understand why the others don’t take safety as seriously as we do,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division Marketing.

Neither do we. But I bet they will soon if they expect to compete with this new Corolla.

A backup camera with guidelines is also standard, and blind-spot monitoring is either standard or available depending on trim.


Aside from the fact that Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard, the biggest news for the 2020 Corolla is that a hybrid powertrain is available on this car for the first time.

So, this little-car-that-can now has three available powertrains.

The base engine is a 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder that delivers 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. While this isn’t the quickest option in the bunch, it offers decent acceleration and allows for quick merges into traffic. But it’s a little bit loud under hard acceleration.

This engine is on the L, LE and XLE trims.

The up-level engine is a 2.0-liter, dynamic force, 4-cylinder that delivers 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This engine is incredibly quiet and my hands-down favorite. It’s only offered in the SE or XSE models, which are deemed the sportier version of the Corolla.


It is with this engine that you will also find the only 6-speed manual transmission offered in a Corolla, and that is on the SE trim.

That brings us to the hybrid powertrain, which mates the 1.8-liter engine to two electric motors for a combined output of 121 horsepower. While this power output is definitely sufficient – I performed a couple of aggressive left-hand turns into traffic flawlessly – I found the engine noise to be a bit off-putting. It’s likely because it’s very quiet when the engine shuts down, then decidedly noticeable when the engine restarts.

But if you learn to live with this quirk, you reap some huge fuel economy benefits. The Corolla hybrid will get an EPA estimated 52 mpg in combined driving.

Another trim note here, Toyota is currently only offering the hybrid as an LE model, which means no up-level audio, leather-like seating surfaces, wireless charging or heated front seats.

Having driven all the trims except the L, I can firmly say that this new Corolla is worth checking out – whether you’re a first-time buyer or just looking for a safe car that won’t break the bank.


The interior is put together well with nice accents and soft-touch features. All of the buttons and dials are within easy reach for the driver – even a petite one like me – and visibility out all windows is really good.

Ride and handling overall is smooth, and steering is easy without feeling too loose.

Toyota took us to a handling course during the press preview where we could test out the backup camera with backward slalom courses, as well as braking and handling during emergency maneuvers.

The new Corolla is neither sloppy nor rough around the edges in any area as far as I could see. The exterior even gets some nice finishing touches and is less non-descript than the previous generation.

Toyota likes to segregate its trims into themes, and there are two themes with the Corolla: “modern” and “sporty.” L, LE and XLE fall under modern, whereas SE and XSE fall under sporty.


The complete breakdown and pricing is as follows:

  • L: $19,500
  • LE: $19,950
  • SE: $21,950 (the manual transmission adds $700)
  • LE Hybrid: $22,950
  • XLE: $23,950
  • XSE: $25,450

All prices above exclude the dealer fee which is $930.

One of the nice things about the Corolla is that even if you opt for the top-tier XSE and add all the packages, the end price is still under $30K.

The 2020 Corolla will hits dealers at the beginning of March.


The Bottom Line:

The 2020 Toyota Corolla is a great vehicle that starts less than $20K. It’s packed with standard safety technology, standard Apple CarPlay and standard fun-to-drive dynamics.

There are only two things I wish Toyota had done differently:

I would like to see the hybrid available in the XLE trim as well so that you could get premium audio and other up-level features – like heated front seats!

I would like to see the manual transmission offered in the XSE trim as well as the SE trim. Toyota said the purchase rate for the manual in the hatch version of the Corolla is 10 percent – that’s huge! So, why limit itself here?

That’s it. Otherwise, I think Toyota knocked the sedan version out of the park, just like they did with the hatch.

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