Road Test Review – 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE (Sedan) – The World’s Most Underrated Performance Sedan?

In a world filled with fun entries like the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and even the Volkswagen Jetta we will understand if the Toyota Corolla appears to not have the chops to enter this esteemed pedigree of compact cars at first glance. The Corolla was an avid follower of the Maytag school of driving. It looked like a dryer, drove like an uninspired pack of socks, and rode through the motions like the novel Irene Iddesleigh. But times are changing at Toyota with the Japanese auto giant embracing newfound levels of fun and style. The Supra might have helped spearhead the movement, but this newfound design freedom has since trickled down to even the budget focused Corolla. But can the sedan wow us just as much as its hatchback sibling? Or is it still a half baked potato in a sea of gourmet meals?


Spicier Exterior Styling Creates Better Corolla Canvas:

While the hatchback is still the styling choice we would go for, the sedan does make a very good case for itself when viewed from certain angles. The front fascia is much more aggressive than before with the larger front grille complimenting the redesigned headlights. Range topping XSE models like our tester benefit from some extra sporty accents that help make the front end look more business ready when paired with certain colors.

The side profile is much more assertive and is more balanced than some older Corollas that we have experienced. This is partially due to the larger wheels and side skirts but also the pair of design lines that snake their way along the upper and lower reaches of the door panels. The rear has been tweaked too and while it’s the weak link in the Corolla’s design we still like some of the changes that Toyota designers did to make it stand out. The taillights are tastefully assertive and the rear bumper now features a tiny diffuser as well as a grille insert above it. A tidy trunk spoiler as well as the flared wheel arches help project a sporty look and make the XSE a hard to miss car out on the road.

While the Mazda3 and the Civic will still have top honors when it comes to styling, the Corolla does manage to outshine the Jetta slightly and as mentioned earlier, the XSE really pops when its combined with certain colors (versus white or grey.)


Comfortable Corolla Interior Has Supportive Seats And Good Ergonomics:

The interior of our tester proved to be a very comfortable place to spend time in. As is so often the case with past Corollas the back seat is a bit tight for taller passengers, but front seat occupants will appreciate the impressive amounts of head and legroom that the Corolla has to offer. The front seats offer enhanced levels of side bolstering if you go for the XSE model and they were very comfortable places to spend time in. In fact, the new thrones actually managed to be even better than the chairs that defined older Corollas which is a big plus.

The rest of the interior focuses on offering an impressive degree of ergonomics with the touchscreen infotainment system being augmented by Apple CarPlay and a welcome amount of hard buttons. Nearly all the controls are within easy reach of the driver and we seldom found ourselves fumbling around to find a particular feature. Our tester also came with a fairly comprehensive set of steering wheel mounted satellite controls which is a welcome feature in a compact offering.

Toyota reps claim that the XSE benefits from a slightly stiffened sport suspension but the Corolla still proved to be a comfortable steed on the long haul with the car being fairly isolated from road imperfections and wind noise being kept to a minimum. Rear visibility does suffer slightly due to the thick rear pillars, but Toyota makes up for that by offering an impressive amount of safety features standard. That includes pre-collision alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and even Adaptive Cruise Control.


Corolla Delivers On Handling But Thrills Not To Be Found Here:

Buyers looking to see if the Corolla has managed to add some thrills under the hood will be disappointed to hear that the Corolla still plays it safe, with our tester being powered by a 2.0 liter naturally aspirated four cylinder that produces 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Our tester utilized a CVT to help get the power down to the wheels, and that in turn helped our tester make the jog to 60 mph in a rather leisurely 8.2 seconds.

So if the engine has as much spice as a lukewarm bowl of chili where is the driving fun? The answer lies in the suspension as well as the Corolla’s platform. Our tester proved that fact when we took it through some of the windy roads that dot select areas of our slice of Metro Detroit. It won’t beat a GLI around a slalom course but the XSE will certainly be a bit more appealing in urban driving than other economy minded compact models. Toyota even offers an all new Apex model that’s supposed to sharpen the Corolla’s handling even more but we will have to wait until we get a chance to formally drive one to see if it succeeds in this role or not?

But a key thing that the Corolla has always managed to do right is deliver top notch fuel economy with this latest chapter being no different. The EPA claims that the Corolla is capable of achieving up to 38 mpg on the freeway which puts the tiny Toyota right in the thick of things with the Honda Civic as well as the Hyundai Elantra.


Value Quotient:

Pricing for the 2020 Toyota Corolla starts at $20,025 for a L grade model which is slightly lower than the $21,250 Honda charges for a base Civic but higher than the $19,650 wielded by the Hyundai Elantra SE. The next major trim in the Corolla model lineup is the $22,475 SE model. The SE is slated to be the volume focused model in the family and is also the cheapest way that buyers can access the Apex Edition with the SE variant starting at $25,170.

Work your way up to the range topping XSE model and you are greeted with a $25,925 base price. Our lightly optioned tester only came with the $1,715 Premium Audio package and the $450 adaptive lighting system. These two optional extras helped push the final price to $28,845 which is higher than the Hyundai Sonata Limited and is also more than the range topping Honda Civic Touring. The pricing disadvantage in the XSE trim is only made more apparent when you order the $28,810 XSE Apex Edition. Option that model with equipment and it has the potential to surpass $30,000. That might not seem like a big deal, but with that figure typically being territory for the Civic Si, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, as well as select flavors of four cylinder equipped Mustangs the Corolla’s fun for the dollar quotient takes a massive hit.