The Car Connection Toyota Corolla Overview
The Toyota Corolla is a compact four-door sedan or hatchback. Over its 12 generations on sale, in markets around the world, it's become one of the most widely known and most successful car names ever. It has been the best-selling compact car in the U.S. for much of the last 20 years. The sedan was redesigned for 2020, while the hatchback was new for 2019.
With the Corolla, Toyota has a rival for compact cars such as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, and Volkswagen Jetta.
MORE: Read our 2021 Toyota Corolla review
The latest Corolla now cuts a more stylish figure. It's crisper as a hatchback, but even in sedan form the drape of the roofline is more pretty, the sculpting more attractive. LED headlights are standard, too. Inside the newly refined cabin has a simple but elegant appearance, with big gauges and well-organized controls, and in some versions, stitched panels on the dash that give it an upscale appearance.
The Corolla is offered in two "flavors," one with a 139-horsepower inline-4 aimed at fuel economy and another with an upsized, 169-hp inline-4 paired to a sport-tuned suspension. The base engine comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and will likely be far more popular than the larger engine. It'll be offered in L, LE, and XLE trim levels, while the more powerful engine can be paired to a 6-speed manual transmission or a different CVT in SE and XSE guise. A new Hybrid model uses the Prius drivetrain to boost Corolla fuel economy to 52 mpg combined, a stellar figure for a compact economy sedan.
Toyota has boosted the Corolla's interior space, but the back seat's a bit smaller than in rivals such as the Civic. The Corolla's seats are uniformly good, across the lineup, but the trunk is small at 13.1 cubic feet.
All Corollas include an extensive set of safety features, including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings, and active lane control. Each Corolla comes with power features, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. Options can push the Corolla price into the mid-$20,000 range, but it's an exceptional value at the XLE trim, when it adds synthetic leather and a power driver seat.
With optional headlights installed, the 2020 Toyota Corolla earned a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS.
The 2014-2019 Toyota Corolla
In its most recent form, the Corolla continued its role as highly dependable, not-very-exciting, carefully packaged transportation for sensible buyers. It wore more distinctive styling, and the connectivity options and interior appointments were greatly improved.
The 2014-2019 Corolla kept an updated version of the classic 1.8-liter inline-4 as its only engine, but largely switched from a traditional automatic to a CVT for improved fuel economy. It worked relatively well—although not quite up to the standard of Subaru's excellent CVTs—and brought the Corolla's EPA ratings up to 29 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined. A 6-speed manual was available. A specially tuned Corolla Eco model boosted the combined rating up to 30/42/35 mpg. Eco models received low-rolling-resistance tires, underbody aero pieces, and a separate Eco button that changed throttle sensitivity and can also reduce climate system output.
Safety ratings were good for the Corolla, but not stellar. While the outgoing 2013 Corolla was an IIHS Top Safety Pick, 2014-2016 models didn't win that title, due partly to a "Marginal" rating (one step above the lowest grade) on small-overlap front crash safety test. The NHTSA awarded the latest model five stars overall, however, a better result than its predecessors.
In 2012, following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, Toyota announced plans to phase out Japanese production for the U.S. Corolla. By the time the 2014 model arrived, the automaker had moved most of its Corolla production to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Toyota made few changes to the Corolla for 2015, although it added a new top-level Platinum trim, which makes standard many of the lower trims' optional equipment. Package content within the other trim levels was also boosted with additional features for this year.
Toyota will offered Corolla Special Edition for 2016. The package is based on the SE model and adds a unique red exterior color, special interior trim and badging, black upholstery with red contrast stitching, and gloss-black wheels. It builds on the newly aggressive look to create something that at least looks sporty, even if it's basically a normal Corolla underneath.
For 2017 to commemorate the nameplate's 50th anniversary, Toyota offered a special edition 50th Anniversary model that largely follows the 2016's special edition trim. The Corolla iM joined the mix as a Corolla hatchback, after the Scion brand folded for 2016. The Corolla returned to the IIHS' good graces with a Top Safety Pick nod thanks in part to newly standard automatic emergency braking and automatic high beam headlights.
Toyota Corolla history
The start of Toyota's long history of Corolla sales in the U.S. can really be credited with changing the American perception of small cars, picking up the pieces where Volkswagen left off in making smaller vehicles a practical and popular choice. Including the 2014 model, there have now been 11 generations of Corollas over 40 years. Each has reinforced Toyota's reputation as the purveyor of reliable, sensible cars that can last hundreds of thousands of miles. They may not have always been stylish or exciting, but they almost never let down their owners—and the market has rewarded that characteristic handsomely.
Over its lifetime, the Corolla has gone from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive, and the lineup has encompassed sedans, coupes, hatchbacks, wagons, even fastbacks—but throughout its life, it's kept its reputation intact. Five years after Toyota's unintended acceleration fiasco of 2010, the company's reputation has largely recovered and consumers are continuing to buy the Corolla despite what are now clear deficiencies against a new and much tougher set of competitors.
Toyota continued to offer rear-drive Corolla sport coupes until 1987, but by then the sedans had all gone to the familiar front-drive layout in use today. The car's 1.6-liter 4-cylinder has grown to 1.8 liters, and its optional 3-speed automatic gained an extra gear, although the car itself hasn't become much larger in the interim.
The previous Corolla generation, which ran from 2009 through 2013, had gotten tired and long in the tooth by the time it was retired—and it was only a modest upgrade on the generation before that anyhow. It provided trouble-free transportation for a low price, but its powertrain was behind the curve, and its fuel efficiency especially was nothing to call home about. Yet it continued to sell in huge numbers to buyers who wanted trouble-free, if unadventurous, transportation.
That version of the Corolla made no leaps in design or refinement, putting it behind the generation of compact-sedan competitors launched from 2010 through 2012. In 2010, its safety was stepped up with ABS, stability control, front- and side-curtain airbags, and active head restraints all made standard—finally. Buyers could even get a navigation system, among modern conveniences, as an option on the highest Corolla trim levels. Base versions remained without power windows and power locks through 2011.
For 2009 and 2010, the Corolla was sold in luxurious XLE trim, which included better interior appointments—albeit at a higher price. Also for those years, an XRS version of the Corolla offered the Camry's engine, a 2.4-liter, under the hood for much quicker performance. In more recent years the "S" trim has offered some of that model's appearance, but at a more affordable price. For 2013, the outgoing Corolla saw only the most minor of feature changes. Toyota introduced a slightly different grille with added chrome, and all models but the base L received a new 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio streaming, and USB connectivity.
Either formally or informally, there have been several other members of the Corolla family sold over the years, including Toyota's own Tercel and Matrix. General Motors sold versions of the Corolla through its own dealerships for a time, including the Chevrolet Nova, Chevrolet Prizm, and Geo Prizm. More recently, GM and Toyota built the Corolla-based Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks together.