2020 Toyota Corolla Review

Toyota has sold something like 44 million Corollas so far over the course of about 40 years. To put that number in context, Volkswagen sold only half as many Beetles over twice that span of time.

The Beetle, not the new one recently cancelled but the much-beloved original model with the engine in the back and cooled by air, not water, was made from the 1930s through the 2000 model year, when the last one was canceled in Mexico.

Toyota has only been making Corollas since 1966 and is still making them.

Because unlike VW, Toyota didn’t fix what wasn’t broken.

What It Is

The Corolla is the world’s best-selling compact sedan as well as the best-selling car, ever.

Probably because it’s the comfort food of cars. It does everything a car should do, better than most and for less money.

The $19,600 L trim comes standard with sensible features such as 15 inch steel wheels—tougher than aluminum and much cheaper to replace than aluminum, if you ever do manage to bend one. A not-turbocharged 1.8 liter engine that isn’t direct-injected. It also has manual-control AC and a number of surprising features such as adaptive cruise control, in-car Wi-Fi, a 7-inch touchscreen and a seven-speaker stereo with both AppleCarPlay and Android Auto.

If you prefer automatic climate control AC and want larger (and aluminum) wheels, they’re both available for just slightly more ($20,050) if you buy the next-up LE trim. This one also comes with an additional USB charge port and upgraded upholstery.

Toyota also offers a larger 2.0 liter engine and with an available manual transmission.

The SE comes with both for $22,750.

The almost-top-of-the-line XLE comes with a digital/configurable main gauge cluster plus a larger 8-inch touchscreen, heated seats and SoftTex (simulated leather) seats.

It stickers for $24,050.

A top-of-the-line XSE, which comes with the XLE’s luxury upgrades plus the SE’s more potent 2.0 liter engine and a CVT automatic transmission, lists for $25,550.

Pretty much everything you need and want for not everything you’ve got.

What’s New

The 2020 Corolla is new and expanded.

In addition to the traditional sedan you can also buy a Corolla hatchback and a hybrid.

The hatchback is reviewed here. I’ll have a review of the hybrid later this year.

No wagon, though. Well, not here yet.

What’s Good

Conservative in the mechanical (rather than political) sense.

Comforting like mac and cheese.

One of the few new cars that can be called an “investment” without abusing the language.

What’s Not So Good

Manual transmission isn’t standard.

Manual transmission isn’t available with the standard engine.

Mediocre seat warmers; one-size-fits-all cup holders.

Under The Hood

The 2020 Corolla is available with two engines and two transmissions, but what you can get with what depends on which trim you buy.

The base L, LE and XLE trims come standard with a 1.8 liter four cylinder engine without a turbo paired only with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic. This engine makes 139 horsepower and delivers 30 MPG in city driving and 38 on the highway.

Interestingly, this is almost exactly the same mileage as a 1995 Corolla delivered. The 2020 Corolla would probably be capable of 45 MPG or better if it were lighter, but it’s several hundred pounds heavier. It has to be in order to comply with today’s federal crashworthiness standards.

The ’95 Corolla was lighter and not as crashworthy, but that didn’t mean it was unsafe, i.e., more prone to crash.

It just didn’t protect you as well if you did crash.

If you want more horsepower, to leverage the additional weight and a manual transmission, Toyota offers a 2.0 liter engine (also without a turbo). This engine makes 169 horsepower and can be paired with a six-speed manual instead of the CVT.

But only in the SE and XSE trims.

Interestingly, the more powerful 2.0-equipped Corolla uses a bit less gas at least, when you pair it with the CVT automatic, which is optional with this engine.

The 2.0/CVT combo rates 31 city, 40 on the highway, probably because this engine is direct-injected.

Direct injection does what it sounds like; fuel is sprayed directly into the engine’s cylinders under more than 2,000 pounds of pressure vs. 30-35 pounds or so, in a port fuel injected engine. This atomizes the fuel more finely and allows extreme fine-tuning of the fuel spray.

This results in a mileage gain of about 3-5 percent vs. the same engine without DI. Which is why DI is rapidly replacing port-fuel-injection (PFI) in new cars generally. It’s a way for the car manufacturers to up the MPGs and the power even though it costs you more money to buy the car.

Also, interestingly in the other direction: If you go with the available six-speed manual transmission, the same engine only manages 29 city, 36 highway.

Even with DI.

On the window sticker, at least.

Out in the real world, a driver who knows how to drive might do better-than-advertised with the manual.

But drivers vary.

Automatics can be programmed for uniformity; to shift in such a manner that the car achieves the highest-possible MPGs on the government’s test loop, which determines the MG numbers that the car manufacturer can advertise on the window sticker as well as the numbers used to determine Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers. These numbers are the basis for determining whether a car company gets socked with “gas guzzler” fines for not meeting the mandatory minimums (currently 35.5 MPG).

These fines are, of course, passed on to the buyer in the form of a higher sticker price, which makes the car less appealing to buy and creates an artificial (government) incentive to build more cars with predictable, programmable automatics and fewer with variable manuals.

Or none at all.

Speaking of none at all.

Neither the Corolla’s standard 1.8 liter engine or its optional 2.0 engine are under pressure or turbocharged.

And so, in a way, neither are you.

No worries about a dead turbo. Ever.

This is no small thing given how much it can cost to replace a dead turbo and no small risk given the heat and pressure turbos create and subject the engine to.

There’s a reason why turbocharged engines used to be found rarely and almost exclusively in high-performance cars, where the turbo’s longevity and cost downsides were made up for by the power upsides.

The reason why turbos have become common in cars generally is because turbos are being used to make up for the power lost by making engines smaller.

In order to reduce the quantity of gas they burn.

In theory. On government fuel economy tests.

In the real world, little engines with turbos often use at least as much and sometimes more fuel than a not-turbo’d engine that’s larger and makes about the same power without the turbo, because the little engine is almost constantly “on-boost” to make up for the fact that it’s smaller and less powerful off-boost.

If you doubt this, test-drive a new Corolla competitor with a turbo and see whether you get the mileage it advertises.

With the Corolla, you’ll get what’s advertised as well as what’s not.

On The Road

Nothing about the Corolla is exciting. This is its virtue.

No surprises now or 175,000 miles from now. These cars just run. Maybe not fast. But damned near forever.

It’s not uncommon to see 25-year-old Corollas still in use as daily drivers.

One rarely sees classic Beetles on the road anymore unless they’re headed to a car show.

Part of this, of course, is due to the fact that the classic Beetle was a primitive car even when it was new back in the ’30s. The Beetle never evolved into a modern car while the Corolla has always been a modern car with heat, for instance.

And more than enough power enough to keep up with modern traffic.

The standard and optional not-turbo’d engines make less torque and higher up the tach (126 ft.-lbs. at 3,900 RPM for the 1.8 liter engine; 151 ft.-lbs. at 4,400 for the 2.0 engine) than some of the turbo boosted competition in the segment, so it takes a moment for the Corolla’s sails to fill and the speed to increase.

But it’s not a slow car.

Mid-nines for the 1.8 liter-equipped version; high-eights if you choose the stronger 2.0 liter engine. This is about 1 second off the pace for cars in this general class—a difference without a distinction if you’re paying attention.

Most people aren’t.

The light goes green and people don’t move. It takes them a second or so to react to the green. By which time, you’re already moving if you’ve been paying attention.

Unlike a classic Beetle, you can drive a Corolla 75 MPH—the pace of today’s highway traffic—all day long, without the engine running at 90 percent of its capability. You have another 40 MPH of margin if you ever need the extra.

It’s not as twitchy as rivals that make the mistake of trying to be too sporty. When everything is trying to be sporty, cars with an easier-going nature stand out like comfortable shoes in a high heel store.

The Corolla takes road irregularities with equanimity. The brakes aren’t grabby and for manual models, the clutch take-up isn’t abrupt. The grip threshold is lower than a Corvette’s. But this makes it more fun to drive in a way than the Corvette, which has limits so high that they’re unapproachable. You can’t test the car or yourself.

Besides, this isn’t meant to be a hot rod. Or a gimmick-mobile.

It has a good ol’ grab handle gear selector. Not a button or a mouse.

One thing the he Corolla doesn’t have is ASS or automated stop start. The engine runs until you turn it off. This is another small thing that’s a big thing if you’ve driven other new cars lately.

Almost all of which do have ASS. And so the engine is constantly shutting off and turning back on. The small irritation works on you over time until it becomes a big irritation.

At the Curb

Nominally, the Corolla is a compact-sized sedan. But the definition of “compact” has morphed a bit.

Back in ’95, a Corolla was definitely a compact, 172 inches long; the new one is 182.3 inches, almost a foot longer overall.

By the standards of 1995, the 2020 Corolla would almost qualify as a mid-sized sedan.

And by today’s standards, it almost does, too as far as inside room is concerned. It has 42 inches of legroom up front and 34.8 inches for the backseat occupants—comparable to larger-on-the-outside sedans like the current Camry, which is a foot longer than the Corolla (192.7 inches), but with only slightly more backseat legroom.

Styling remains conservative something that is the same as it was back in ’95. This helps the Corolla wear well over time, which helps it retain its perennial appeal and helps retain its value.

The center console storage cubby is a little small, but this is compensated for by the large storage areas built into the door panel lowers. The one thing that could be improved is the size and lack of adjustability of the cup holders just behind the gear selector on the center console. They fit small-medium drinks, but larger ones go homeless.

The Rest

As noted earlier, you can get the Corolla with many of the latest things including power-adjustable sport seats, a larger LCD touchscreen, leather trim, adaptive headlights and ambient interior lighting.

But it comes standard with all the needful things such as AC, power windows, locks and a six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth connectivity.

You don’t have to spend extra to get a well-equipped Corolla.

And you’ll get something that very few other cars can offer at any price: The lowest depreciation rate of any car in the class. Unlike almost all new cars, a new Corolla won’t be worth half what you paid for it five years from now.

Well, unless you wreck it.

The Bottom Line

Never fix what’s not broken.

Toyota hasn’t.



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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