- More entertaining to drive
- New engine, more power
- Sportier look that’s more restrained
- Well-executed infotainment, with Apple CarPlay
- Cramped rear seat
- More cargo space wouldn’t hurt
- It’s sportier, but not necessarily sporty
- Needs less noise
It’s still among the more mildly flavored mass-market sedans, but the 2020 Toyota Corolla has dropped the bland from its diet.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla shows how serious the company remains about small sedans and hatchbacks, even as rivals drop theirs in favor of crossover SUVs.
The latest Corolla sedan adds luster to one of the longest-lived nameplates in the business, and while it doesn’t bristle with some of the verve of the new RAV4—really—it’s become noticeably better in ways it probably doesn’t need to.
The latest Corolla sedan comes in L, LE, LE Hybrid, SE, XLE, and XSE trims. Hatchbacks come in SE and XSE trims—but for now, the hatchback’s still a 2019 model. We’ll treat it here as a carry-over for the 2020 model year, but when updated information is published we’ll add it.
We give the 2020 Corolla a 6.2 out of 10 based on the sedan outfitted with the smaller engine and CVT, the most common configuration. Safety data could soon boost its score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
In terms of styling, the new Corolla cuts a sharper figure as a sedan, but more forcefully as a hatchback. On the four-door, LED headlights shared with the Corolla hatchback give the compact sedan a more upmarket appearance than before. L trims—those with the less-powerful engine—have different front and rear bumpers than S trims. Those with the larger engine come standard with alloy wheels and feature dual chrome exhaust tips poking out of a mock rear diffuser. The Corolla hatchback wears a good look for the 12th-generation model. The front and rear are more expressive—without being exhaustive—and its body sides are more interesting. In both, the dash design hits a more upscale note. A standard 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment floats tablet-like above the climate controls.
Performance ranges from puttering hybrid form, to pedestrian shape, to sporty but safe. The Corolla lineup now is comprised of three powertrains. There’s a hybrid setup on loan from the Prius with predictably moderate acceleration; a mid-range inline-4 with a relatively quiet demeanor and smooth CVT shift action; and finally a 169-horsepower inline-4 that could use a round of refinement but brings 0-60 mph times below eight seconds.
On all models, an independent suspension gets into a tighter rhythm with the new Corolla’s stronger body structure. The Corolla handles well with light steering and light-footed handling; it feels engaged, if not exactly vibrant.
The cabin can hold four adults, but the front seat passengers fare better in comparison. In all 2020 Corollas, the front bucket seats get a grip on seat design; they’re better than more expensive vehicles we’ve driven lately. Hybrids may have the best seats with less padding but softer cloth; other cloth seats get thicker cushioning and better back support. Synthetic-leather versions and SE sporty buckets in particular have good grip, though all could use more lumbar padding. In back, rear-seat passengers should be shorter than 6 feet tall, as a lower roofline raises head-room issues.
All 2020 Corollas get automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control, but blind-spot monitors are less widely available.
Every 2020 Corolla sedan has LED headlights, touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay compatibility and power features. Synthetic leather upholstery and a sunroof figure into the more expensive models, but at less than $25,000 the very well-equipped Corolla XLE has those touches plus 16-inch wheels and a power driver seat. It’s a great small-car value.
2020 Toyota Corolla
The latest Corolla sips some styling caffeine, but not more than it can handle.
Toyota has righted some of its more drab styling wrongs with vehicles such as the RAV4. It’s slower progress with the Corolla lineup, but progress nonetheless. The sedan’s conventional shape has a racy fillip or two; the hatchback gets a more expressive look that’s on the mark.
We rate the Corolla based on the sedan model, so it’s a 6 here, with a point above average for its cleanly styled interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Toyota moves the Corolla slightly out of the shadows in this latest generation. It’s not suggestively curved like a Civic or plain as paper bags like...well, past Corollas. It takes nothing overboard. The hatchback ventures further out on the styling ice, with a deep grille and the sharp cut at the rear hatch. It’s clearly styled with Europe in mind, and that’s why it’s never overwrought or lifted from anime like a Mirai or a Prius Prime.
The sedan gives a pass to some simpler shapes. The milksop Corollas of the early 2000s have given way to a more smartly penned shape, with faster glass at the front and back, and with a more menacing grille that takes the place of some more awkward front ends in the recent past. The Corolla’s LED headlights fishhook into its front fenders; the rear end caps the look with cutlines and scoops and flared taillights. There’s less drama in the Corolla’s side view, but more drama in this car than any Corolla since the fantastically wedgy looks of the ‘80s.
With the Corolla, Toyota drops the busy, sweeping curves that split up other Toyota interiors into driver and passenger subdivisions. The Corolla’s cabin has an open, airy feel, thanks to a few well-defined surfaces, a low console, and very few cutlines and seams. A wide stitched panel covers most Corolla dashboards in textured leather-like grain, and a simply framed touchscreen stands atop the dash to display the Corolla’s uncluttered infotainment interface. Some trims get contrasting interior colors that play up the shapes of the dash and of the seats.
2020 Toyota Corolla
The 2020 Corolla ratchets up its enthusiasm for driving, but keeps it low-key.
Toyota has injected more flair into the Corolla’s power and its ride and handling. By no means is it woke, but the 2020 Corolla’s awake, at long last, and it earns some enthusiast stripes with its manual gearbox and its smartly balanced road manners.
We think it’s a 5 overall, but the Corolla family has some high achievers among its solid mid-pack performers. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Toyota Corolla hatchback performance
All Corolla hatchbacks come with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that’s relatively new to Toyota. Rated at 169 horsepower and 159 pound-feet of torque, it’s coupled to either a 6-speed manual or a CVT. In this more sporting Corolla, some transmission tweaks nudge its performance slightly above the median.
As for the engine itself, power and torque peaks come high in the powerband. It builds power progressively, but not remarkably; without a turbocharger or a peaky feel, the inline-4 feels willing enough. It speaks volumes—and not to anything in particular. It’s doesn’t sound coarse or unrefined so much as it does ever-present, even at low engine speeds.
When it’s paired with the 6-speed manual, it’s a more slick performer. The manual gets a switch that clicks it into rev-matching mode, so downshifts are smoother. We say leave the feature on as a default; the button should turn it off. As for the CVT, Toyota fits it with a direct first gear that launches the Corolla, then hands off power to the front wheels through the CVT. The pairing relieves some of the lazy feel CVTs often have, and paddle shifters egg the pulley-and-belt transmission into action, but with the wind-up required by both the engine and transmission, the unique design gets lost in translation. The best-life Corolla hatchback scoots to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, but needs a steady hand on the transmission in either case to extract all its power.
As for handling, the Corolla now rides on the vastly improved architecture that spawned the latest Prius. With the much more rigid body, this Corolla makes the most of its multi-link suspension; it delivers both a comfortable and controlled ride as well as steering precision that’s been all but foreign to the Corolla in years past. SE hatchbacks have 16-inch wheels with more tire height and more give, while XSEs have 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires that give less, but don’t lapse into poorly tuned behavior. The new electric power steering also delivers a smile: The Corolla steers easily, with a light effort, and though it doesn’t have much in the way of road feel, it follows the road with less wander while it requires less attention.
2020 Toyota Corolla sedan performance
The same combinations appear in the new-for-2020 Corolla sedan, but two other drivetrain factor into the sedan body. Both may be a better fit for how the Corolla’s used on a daily basis by most drivers.
The 2.0-liter inline-4 fits into SE and XSE sedans, and the performance notes above apply to it as well. Stronger acceleration brings more noise and a higher degree of control; the sport-tinged Corollas have a more attentive ride that’s not stiff-kneed.
Pervasive competence colors the standard-issue Corolla, and that’s no backhanded compliment. The Corolla L, LE, and XLE carry over the 1.8-liter inline-4 formerly sold in the Corolla LE Eco. Rated at 139 hp, it’s quieter and more distant in its operation than the newer engine, but noticeably slower. It’s only offered with the manual in low-cost versions, and its CVT doesn’t have the take-off gear of the bolder inline-4, either. Fuel economy’s even lower than that of the 2.0-liter inline-4. Low curb weights—between 2,910 and 3,150 pounds—keep the lower-powered Corolla’s acceleration within the average range, if just.
So why recommend it? It’s just calmer in more sedate driving. The CVT doesn’t let as much sound filter in as the manual shifter, and the softer tire choices do their work in a more hushed manner, too. Sport drive modes and rev-matching shifts matter here too, but only as they hone down the tiniest edges.
The less thrummy Corollas with the 1.8-liter also handle the road with a more relaxed attitude. Steering still tracks true, but the effort’s even a bit lighter, and the tread dances on the pavement in slippers, not the track shoes found on the SE and XSE sedans. Credit goes again here to the new car’s much more modern architecture: Its stiffer body gave engineers more room to let the tires and springs ease up. It’s still more capable and assured in the way it handles than it was just last year, but the lower-aspiration Corollas actually hit their intended performance targets more accurately than the sporty versions.
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid performance
Take the Corolla LE’s fuss-less ride and handling, drop the power slightly and shoot the fuel-economy numbers into another realm, and you have the new Corolla Hybrid. The first gas-electric Corolla ever sold in the U.S., it’s essentially a penalty-free Prius for those turned off by that hallowed hybrid’s weird new styling and very specific cultural niche.
In the Corolla Hybrid, Toyota fits the standard Prius drivetrain, with a 1.8-liter inline-4 teamed with electric motors, an electronic CVT, and a nickel metal-hydride battery pack wedged under the back seat. Power levels dip to 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, and the Corolla LE Hybrid strains to hit 60 mph in fewer than 10 seconds, but in other meaningful ways it doesn’t force any compromises on the driver. The 15-inch wheels and tires soften the ride even more than in other trims; the Hybrid weighs less than the Corolla XLE, at 3,050 pounds. It can be tweaked through power and eco modes to maximize economy, but at 52 mpg combined, it’s already a stellar EPA performer. Purists will whine over its half-mile electric-only driving range and its lack of a plug, but no known Corolla driver will complain about the even lighter steering. At just less than $24,000, the 2020 Corolla Hybrid costs so little for such high economy, it seems to put the less-expensive Prius hatchbacks on life support.
2020 Toyota Corolla
Comfort & Quality
The 2020 Corolla suits up with swell front-seat space; the back seat and trunk pull up shy of rivals.
Whether it’s a sedan or a hatchback, the 2020 Toyota Corolla has shapely front seats and ample space for those passengers. It’s smaller in back and in the trunk, so we give it a 6 for comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Toyota Corolla hatchback comfort
First, the hatchback, which checks in at 172.0 inches long and rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase. That’s a bit shorter than rivals such as the Honda Civic, abbreviated also when compared with the Corolla sedan. In the SE hatchback, the front seats have durable cloth upholstery with good bolstering and support. On the XSE, the seats get power adjustment and heating, but don’t get much more plush in their padding; they can feel somewhat thin.
Good space surrounds the front passengers, though the Corolla’s dash protrudes and limits the forward travel of the seats. That becomes an issue when tall passengers ride in front and in back: Though the front buckets slide on long tracks, any move toward the rear cuts deeply into rear-seat leg room, which isn’t particularly generous. The same goes for head room, even without the available sunroof, but the hatchback’s doors open widely for somewhat easier access. If three people need to ride in back, they should be medium of build.
Storage space is fine in the hatchback’s door pockets and dash bins. Behind the fold-down rear seats, the Corolla hatchback has 18 cubic feet of room, and a wide and low cargo floor that makes it even more useful.
2020 Corolla sedan comfort and quality
In sedan form, the 2020 Corolla grows to 182.3 inches overall, and the wheelbase draws out to 106.3 inches. Interior room grows accordingly, but the back seat’s still somewhat slight.
This year’s Corolla sedan grows in width, but it’s slightly shorter and lower than the prior model.
In all the versions we’ve driven—from LE Hybrids to XLE sedans to XSE four-doors—the new Corolla overdelivers on front-seat comfort.
Though we haven’t driven a base Corolla L, from the LE Hybrid on up, front-seat comfort strikes a better balance than some $40,000 SUVs we’ve driven. Hybrids have some of the best seats, with fabric that gives gently but supports well, though more lumbar support would be a good upgrade for the Corolla’s manual seats. Corollas with power seats and synthetic leather upholstery have more adjustment range, useful since the steering column could use a few more inches of telescoping reach. The power seats also grant a bit more head room, but all Corolla sedans have an inch or so of extra space for 6-foot drivers even below the available sunroof.
The Corolla’s back seat pulls up shy against more spacious rivals, but not by much. The rear seat in the Hybrid sits atop the battery pack, but all Corollas have similar rear-seat height. Despite clever headliner molding, there’s not enough head room for 6-foot passengers, even if the bench itself offers more leg room and more support than expected.
For storage, the Corolla sedan has two front and two rear cupholders, a generous smartphone bin ahead of shifter, and a somewhat small 13.1-cubic-foot trunk.
The Corolla’s fit and finish has been good even in prototypes we’ve driven, and Toyota’s chosen mid-grade finishes with a higher-grade appearance. If it has a quality concern, it’s noise. The latest Toyota Corolla talks too loud, especially with its larger engine, and on manual-shift models, where tire and road and gear noise grow buzzy at higher engine speeds. Corollas with the smaller inline-4 have softer and smaller tires, and seem to be quieter.
2020 Toyota Corolla
We’re waiting on Corolla crash-test data to give it a score.
While the 2020 Corolla sedan has earned a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS, we’ll hold on a rating until we see some scores from the NHTSA. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
We’re optimistic that good news is coming. All Corollas get standard safety technology that dusts competitors: Every model has automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and active lane control.
Blind-spot monitors can be fitted to some Corollas, including the LE sedan and CVT-equipped SE. The feature comes standard on XSE and XLE cars, but can’t be had at all on manual-shift SE Corollas or on the L sedan.
We’ll update this section when the data goes public.
2020 Toyota Corolla
The 2020 Corolla gets CarPlay and safety galore; it’s a great value, too.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla comes with a smart set of standard features and an impressive array of infotainment features. It’s a strong value in any trim level, too. We give it an 8 out of 10 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Corolla hatchbacks come in SE and XSE trims. The SE offers cloth upholstery, power features, 16-inch wheels, a six-speaker AM/FM audio system with Bluetooth and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay compatibility (Android Auto is coming, but not yet available), and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. XSE hatchbacks add 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, power heated front seats, blind-spot monitors, satellite radio, fog lights, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Toyota sells eight-speaker audio, navigation, and wireless smartphone charging separately.
The more common Corolla sedan starts in $20,430 L trim, which has all the safety gear mentioned above, as well as power features, LED headlights, a fold-down rear seat, tilt/telescoping steering, and an AM/FM audio system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The $20,880 LE sedan moves up to 16-inch wheels and 195/65 tires, an 8.0-inch touchscreen and a higher grade of cloth upholstery; a sunroof is available.
The $23,880 Corolla LE Hybrid has 15-inch wheels but similar equipment otherwise.
At the $24,880 XLE level—the Corolla we’d choose—Toyota adds a standard sunroof, synthetic leather upholstery, 16-inch wheels with 205/55-series tires, an eight-way power driver seat, and two USB ports; options include satellite radio, wireless smartphone charging, and an 800-watt, nine-speaker audio system with navigation and in-car wi-fi.
Among the sporty Corolla sedans, the $23,580 SE with the manual transmission has 18-inch wheels with 225/40-series tires, dual exhaust tips, and six-way manual cloth sport seats. The $22,880 SE CVT can be had with a power sunroof, which comes standard on the manual-equipped SE. The $26,380 XSE has synthetic leather upholstery, a power sunroof, HD radio, and navigation; options include ambient lighting, premium nine-speaker audio, and wireless smartphone charging.
2020 Toyota Corolla
A new hybrid model sends gas mileage soaring; popular Corollas earn good fuel economy.
Toyota sells the 2020 Corolla in a variety of trims, with a range of powertrains. The most popular one earns EPA ratings in the low-30-mpg range, so we give it a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
First, the Corolla hatchback. We’ll discuss the hatch in its 2019 form, with 2020 information yet to come; since it was new just last summer it’s unlikely to change. The EPA rates the Corolla hatchback at 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined for the manual-transmission model. With a CVT, it’s scored at 32/42/36 mpg; in XSE trim with the CVT, it falls to 30/38/33 mpg.
On the Corolla hybrid sedan, mileage checks in at a sterling 53/52/52 mpg. Other models all fall in the low 30s. The Corolla L with a manual transmission rates 29/39/33 mpg; with the automatic it’s 30/38/33 mpg. XLE sedans with the 1.8-liter inline-4 are pegged at 29/37/32 mpg.
With the available 2.0-liter inline-4, the Corolla with the 6-speed manual is rated at 29/36/32 mpg; with the automatic, it’s 31/40/34 mpg. The Corolla XSE checks in at 31/38/34 mpg.
It’s worth noting that most versions of the latest Honda Civic earn EPA combined ratings of at least 33 mpg combined.