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Review update: The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE rejects its bland heritage

April 18, 2020

The Toyota Corolla is known for being a mild, mass-market sedan that packs value into a bland package. But the sporty elements on the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE model add some whole grain texture to this whitest of white breads.

The 2020 Corolla XSE sedan wears more aggressive front and rear bumpers, blue interior accents, and gets a larger, more powerful engine than the rest of the lineup. This bread might have some extra heft but it’s by no means all healthy whole grain; the back seat is cramped, it looks stubby, and it’s not actually sporty.

The 2020 Toyota Corolla earns a TCC Rating of 6.7, which matches the 2020 Mazda 3. Despite its shortcomings, the Corolla rates higher than the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta, 2020 Kia Forte, and 2020 Hyundai Elantra.

We spent a week with the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE sedan while social distancing and picking up groceries for older family members. Here’s where it hit and where it missed.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Hit: Sportier

Corolla, is that you? My, what a large lower mesh grille you have. My, what integrated LED daytime running lights you have. My, what angry-looking fang-like headlights you have. My, is that a rear diffuser I see? The aluminum 18-inch alloy wheels with black accents give the Corolla some presence. There’s a trunk lid lip spoiler that does its best to state the XSE badge’s intentions, but let’s be clear, this is a sportier-looking Corolla not a small sports sedan.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Miss: But not sporty

It’s sportier looking, but this is still a stubby, narrow small car with a rising beltline and some chub in the rear fenders. It’s not sleek. It’s also not fast or quick or sporty behind the wheel. The larger 169-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 doesn’t light up the tires or the driver’s soul. There’s more to get things going than the standard 139-hp 1.8-liter inline-4, but this isn’t a turbocharged Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Hit: You’re my boy, blue

The interior of the XSE features blue stitching throughout the cabin and blue-patterned inserts on the synthetic leather seats. It doesn’t give the impression that the Corolla XSE is sporty, but it does add a heaping pile of personality. It’s fantastic and fun.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Miss: Loud

My XSE’s 9-speaker JBL audio system, part of a $1,715 option package, isn’t the thing producing the most notable noise while driving the XSE on the road. It’s the engine. Whether cruising on the highway at 60 mph or pulling away from a stop light on suburban city streets, there’s always engine noise in the cabin. The larger engine of the XSE makes the situation worse with even more noise than the comparably equipped XLE model. Wind noise seeps into the cabin at an alarming rate at speeds above 70 mph.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Hit: Apple CarPlay actually works

It took Toyota forever to get on board with Apple CarPlay (still waiting for Android Auto to spread across the lineup), but to date it’s been flaky. The USB ports only recognize certain cables and the software doesn’t split audio and navigation so nav commands are either really loud or the music is really quiet. The 2020 Corolla XSE is the first Toyota I’ve tested where CarPlay worked consistently regardless of cord, but Waze still screamed at me whenever it would give a direction.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Miss: Narrow and cramped

The Corolla measures just as wide as the Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Elantra, but it looks stubbier thanks to its chunky rear end and short hood. While the inside of the Corolla doesn’t feel narrow in terms of space, it does from the driver’s vantage point with a tall, narrow windshield. The rear seat is cramped and down on legroom compared to the Volkswagen Jetta. A 6-footer can’t sit behind a 6-footer, and there’s not enough head room for a 6-footer in the rear seat despite a headliner that has a cutout for headroom.

The 2020 Toyota Corolla costs $20,430 in base form, but my XSE tester had a price of $28,794. It was well equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, navigation, heated front seats, wireless smartphone charging, LED headlights, and 9-speaker JBL audio system. It’s a good value and easily the sportiest Corolla on sale in the U.S. today, but it’s not sporty, quick, or exciting. It’s white bread with Everything Bagel seasoning sprinkled on it.

______________________________________
2020 Toyota Corolla XSE
Base price: $20,430
Price as tested: $28,794
EPA fuel economy: 31 mpg city, 38 highway, 34 combined
The good: Blue interior trim/seat inserts, sportier looking, more powerful engine
The bad: Small back seat, loud, still white bread.

2020
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2020
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