Car Review: 2020 Toyota Corolla
BY BRIAN HARPER
Toyota needs no help selling its Corolla. Frankly, it could just about build it out of pressed cardboard and power it with a Lawn Boy motor, and consumers would still buy it, such is the might of the car’s reputation for robustness, efficiency, and reliability. With more than 45 million examples sold globally since its introduction in 1966, when Toyota says it would be difficult to find a driver who does not recognize the name, it isn’t blowing smoke.
Which isn’t the same as saying it’s all sunshine and unicorns for the latest, 12th-generation version, though there’s much goodness to take in. Despite Toyota’s claims, the new Corolla isn’t an inherently “fun” car to drive; the company long ago abandoning the sporting qualities once defined by its GTS models, instead targeting a much broader audience with a far more pragmatic line of mainstream sedans. Hey, you might not agree with the plan, but you can’t argue against its success.
So, the 2020 Corolla, despite a bolder look that furthers Toyota’s mission to make its products more expressive and less vanilla, is very much a car for mature tastes. And to be perfectly clear, this isn’t a criticism — the quietness of the cabin and the serene ride the Corolla delivers, even over deteriorating tarmac, deserve praise. These are just the most overt touches — representative of the many — that you’ll find throughout, yet it would be a stretch to call the Corolla sedan an entertaining drive, at least if you’re the type who prefers to be fully involved when you’re behind the wheel.
But, a further clarification is required. Not including the new Hybrid version, there are five trim levels offered on the new Corolla sedan — L, LE, XLE, XSE and SE. The first three — and, more to the point, the $26,990 XLE tested here — are fitted with the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine found in the outgoing Corolla, albeit with a bit more horsepower (now rated at 139) and better fuel economy.
Meanwhile, the XSE and SE trims get Toyota’s new 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder, putting out a feistier 169 horsepower. Having also recently driven the XSE, the added power definitely elevated the Corolla’s personality while lowering the otherwise middling zero-to-100 km/h time, but it still didn’t strike me as a sporting sedan. That said, I’ll reserve making a final pronouncement after a longer test.
The issue, at least with respect to the base 1.8L engine is that, while impressively smooth at a steady speed, it has a less desirable growl under load. It sounds downright cacophonous if heavy acceleration is called for, such as when merging onto a highway or passing a slower vehicle. The CVT doesn’t help in the quietude department, but on the plus side, it’s quite stingy at the gas pumps, registering a parsimonious 7.7 L/100 kilometres over a week — a good portion of that being highway commuting. Three-pedal fans rejoice; the L and SE trims can be had with a six-speed manual.
OK, so nobody is going to buy the Corolla for its scintillating acceleration. However, dumping the previous model’s torsion-beam rear suspension for a new multi-link independent setup — along with revisions to the MacPherson strut front suspension — imbues the latest Corolla with greater agility on curvy roads without sacrificing ride comfort. The car’s centre of gravity has also been lowered by 20 millimetres, aiding handling. Throw in decently weighted steering with good communication of road surfaces, and the Corolla has some moves that hint of a previously unknown talent.
Inside, the cabin is simply and logically laid out, for the most part. Compared to the previous Corolla, the instrument panel, cowl, hood, and beltline height are all lowered to increase visibility and create an open feel. A tidy instrument panel and high-resolution eight-inch touchscreen with standard Entune 3.0 infotainment on all but the base L trim dominate the dash area. The touchscreen provides access to vehicle settings, audio controls, navigation, and Entune 3.0 apps.
Climate controls are located in a single row below the multimedia portal, but the icons are small and poorly backlit at night, at least for older sets of eyeballs. Still, the cabin is almost Lexus-like in terms of its tranquility; Toyota cites revised drivetrain efficiencies, plus the widespread implementation of sound-absorbing materials, including Thinsulate and other sealants, foams, and silencers. Maybe not a deal-maker, but still noteworthy.
The XLE is very well-equipped, with full array of standard features, plus a few nice touches including heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a power sunroof, GPS navigation, and Toyota’s suite of connected services. Front-seat passengers will find plenty of leg- and headroom, but taller rear-seat occupants might find their knees pushing into the front seatback. That said, there’s more knee-room back there than in many compact crossovers I’ve tested recently.
Yes, car sales are in decline, being replaced by crossovers of all shapes and sizes. But compact sedans are still a force in Canada led by the Honda Civic, and with the Corolla a strong second. Other movers and shakers include the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, VW Jetta and Kia Forte. All are good and solid cars, yet it’s Toyota more than the other companies that hammers away at how safe the Corolla is, backing it up by equipping the sedan with its Star Safety System and Safety Sense 2.0, a suite of integrated active and pre-collision safety features — pre-collision system, adaptive cruise cruise control, lane-departure alert, and more.
So, is the new Corolla sexy? No. Sporty? Not with the base engine. Will this make one bit of difference to thousands of buyers who simply want a safe, well equipped and competitively priced car, one with a name synonymous with reliability? Not a chance