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First Drive: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan

Toyota's uber-popular entry-level sedan gets new styling, a six-speed option and a hybrid model

Jonathan Wong
Apr 5, 2019

When you really think about it, one of Toyota's greatest achievements isn't the vehicle bearing the Supra namesake, but something with far more mass appeal and that's managed to sell over 46 million units globally throughout its twelve generations of production: the Corolla. It's come a long way since making its debut in the late '60s, but this all-new sedan has been engineered to be greater than its predecessors, making this, according to its marketing jargon, the "greater than ever" Corolla. Toyota's not wrong, either. One core value remains: a promise to be a great value to first time drivers and buyers-but that doesn't mean they had to skimp on styling and standard features (it gets plenty). Even greater still, the first Hybrid is being added to the Corolla lineup, said to be the most affordable of any Toyota hybrid vehicle, and it delivers the most MPG of any Toyota. We recently spent time in Savannah, Georgia (home to the oldest theater in America and where some of Forrest Gump was shot) to test drive each variety of the Corolla sedan and came home pleasantly surprised.

2020 toyota corolla XSE driver side rear view Photo 2/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Driver Side Rear View

Aside from the rear-wheel-drive AE86 and maybe front-wheel-drive FX-16 Corollas from long ago, you'd be hard pressed to label the Corolla as a serious performance car (not that they were fast, but they had potential). But this one's got some much needed 'fun to drive' spirit built deep into its DNA, similar to its Hatchback sibling, and that's because it shares the same suspension (even on the Hybrid). There are two gas engines available depending on which trim level you opt for: either a 1.8L 2ZR-FAE with 139hp and 126lb-ft of torque or a 2.0L M20A-FKS that pushes 169hp and 151lb-ft of torque (this comes with either a 6-speed Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) or CVT).

2020 toyota corolla XSE passenger side view Photo 3/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Passenger Side View

At a nearby race track, we were able to experience light maneuvering through a series of driving tests and a light sprint around the course, but were unable to push any real limitations with most of the day succumbing to rain and slick conditions, which also kept street driving tame throughout the entire day. Could it be faster? Sure. Is a CVT transmission still meh? Most of the time. Does having a manual gearbox make sense? You bet it does. Considering there are very few vehicles on the market that offer stick shift, Toyota's engineers designed the iMT to help you as a driver, with features like downshift rev matching and hill assist, which keeps you from rolling backwards when moving from a stop on an incline. It's even able to help reduce stalling out, so this could be the perfect car to learn how to drive stick in. (Toyotas are known for being easy to drive manuals because of their easy clutch engagement. I know, I learned how to drive in a manual Camry—true story!)

2020 toyota corolla XSE rear bumper Photo 4/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Rear Bumper

The Corolla Hybrid is a sleeper hit, the first added to an entry level Toyota model, and is the most affordable of any Toyota hybrid vehicle. When asked if they thought the hybrid would take away from Prius sales, the engineers shrugged it off, stating that Prius has its market established. Potential new Toyota customers looking for an entry level vehicle with gas savings should see the Corolla Hybrid as an option before a Prius. And of all the Corollas, it's the only one made in Japan, while the rest are made here in the States.

What would Super Street do...

2020 toyota corolla TE37s Photo 5/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla Te37s

We don't expect any engine swaps anytime soon, but the good news is that there's some crossover with the Hatchback, so you can expect the basic bolt-ons to be readily available. And thanks to our good friend and talented illustrator Jon Sibal, you get a look at a digitally rendered version of a modified Corolla Hybrid to show you that a few little touches can go a long way.

2020 toyota corolla Volk TE37s Photo 6/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla Volk Te37s

In this Blizzard Pearl white example, we wrapped the roof and side mirrors in satin black, as well as the lower portions of the side skirts and front bumper for a more interesting contrast. To accomplish something like this wouldn't cost you much, and saves you the headache of purchasing, painting and installing an aftermarket body kit.

2020 toyota corolla TE37s Photo 7/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla Te37s

The next changes include a lowered suspension (a given), then we opted to install 18-inch Volk Racing TE37SL wheels in Mag Blue-a perfect compliment to the pearl white exterior. Perhaps the only overkill aspect of this rendering are the big brakes front and rear, but you get the picture... The new Corolla sedan has potential, and it won't take much to make it stand out from the other 40 million or so out there.

Once you go black...

2020 toyota corolla Hybrid SSR prfessor TF1 wheels Photo 8/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid SSR Prfessor TF1 Wheels

Maybe white cars aren't your thang. Here's the same treatment in Black Sand Pearl with SSR Professor TF1 wheels installed instead. Still looks pretty damn sweet if you ask us!

2020 toyota corolla XSE headlights Photo 24/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Headlights
2020 toyota corolla XSE driver side front view Photo 43/58   |   2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Driver Side Front View
By Jonathan Wong
507 Articles
First Drive: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan
That New Car Smell
The Sticker: From $19,500; From $22,950 (hybrid)
Power: 139hp, 126 lb-ft (1.8L); 121hp, 105 lb-ft (hybrid); 169hp, 151 lb-ft (2.0L)
Layout: front engine; front-wheel-drive
Engine: 1.8L 2ZR-FAE DOHC inline-four; 1.8L 2ZR-FXE inline-four hybrid; 2.0L M20A-FKS direct-injection DOHC inline-four
Drivetrain: Dynamic-Shift CVT transmission; six-speed manual (SE 6MT)
Curb Weight: from 2,840 lbs
At The Pump: (city/highway/combined) 30/38/33mpg (L, LE); 53/52/52 (hybrid); 27/37/32 (XLE); 31/40/34 (SE CVT); 29/36/32 (SE 6MT); 31/38/34 (XSE)



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