It’s only the start of 2019, and I’m already testing a 2020 car. That car is the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla. Toyota thinks I’m so important that they decided to fly me to Savannah, Georgia, for a couple of rainy days to play with all the new models. These are just my first impressions, and I’m looking forward to testing the new Corolla more. Especially the damn fine Hybrid model. 

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Toyota brought the Corolla stateside in 1968, only two years after it went on sale in Japan in 1966. And it just so happens, it is the best selling car of all time with more than 46 million. The next highest selling car? The Ford F-Series at over 33 million. The F-Series pickup has been on sale since 1948… Both, however, have been around for twelve generations now. Well, the Corolla that I tested in Savannah is the twelfth. 

This brings me to what I think. In short: Don’t hesitate to check it out if you need something under 25 or 30 grand that’ll be the best car you’ve ever owned. That being said, there’s quite a bit of stuff to unpack with this car. 

The all-new Corolla comes in six sedan trim levels L, LE, XLE, SE, XSE, LE Hybrid, plus the SE and XSE Hatchback trims. We tested the XSE Hatchback last year in pre-production form. 

Pricing and fuel mileage, not including destination or handling fees, is as follows:

L – $19,500 30/38/33 | LE – $19,950 30/38/33 | SE CVT – $21,950 30/38/33 | SE MT – $22,650 29/36/32 | LE Hybrid – $22,950 53/52/52 | XLE – $23,950 29/37/32 | XSE – $25,540 31/38/34

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The real story of the 2020 Toyota Corolla is that pretty much every safety feature you can think of is standard on the sub-$20,000 L, as well as the $25,540 XSE. 

With Toyota’s new Safety Sense 2.0 featuring Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (works in day and night up to 37 mph), daytime cyclist detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, auto high beams, Full Speed Dynamic Radar cruise control (only available on trims with CVT, so not available on base L), Dynamic Radar cruise control for SE manual cars, Road Sign Assist, Lane Tracing Assist (CVT models only) which reads the lines on the road and helps to keep you between them when cruise control is active. So long as you keep a hand on the steering wheel, it will basically steer for you. Blind Spot Monitoring is standard on XSE and XLE models, and optional on LE and SE trims with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). 

All trim levels come standard with LED headlights, and XLE and XSE models come with adaptive headlights. The Corolla L comes with a 7-inch touch screen, while all other trim levels have an 8-inch touchscreen. 

Corollas equipped with a manual gearbox will also feature hill-start assist as standard, as well as Toyota’s new Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT). iMT helps to fight the issues younger or less-experienced manual drivers tend to have. When turned on (via a button in front of the shifter), the car will rev-match downshifts, it will also control the engine speed to the throttle input to eliminate over-revving, as well as start-off assist. The last functions as a way to mitigate stalling, as well as having smoother starts, by increasing the engine’s torque when letting out the clutch. 

The only motor available for SE and XSE trims is the M20-FKS Dynamic Force 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 169-horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. L, LE, and XLE models share the 2ZR-FAE 1.8-liter motor with 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The LE Hybrid features an Atikinson Cycle system mated to the 1.8-liter 2ZR-FAE max battery output is 53 Kw, and puts 121 hp to the front wheels. 

With the new Corolla, the company is calling its new design TNGA, or Toyota New Global Architecture. With TNGA Toyota are touting the benefits of increased engine performance, better transmission feel, higher fuel mileage, lower center of gravity, better visibility all around, a 60% better structural rigidity, and less NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). The motor and gearbox are actually smaller in the new Corolla, allowing it to actually be a little shorter, which allows for less hood overhang, meaning you see more out of the front window. The a-pillar is also reduced, allowing for less intrusion when trying to see. 

Rumor has it Toyota are looking to potentially add the Toyota Yaris GRMN‘s 1.8-liter supercharged 4-banger, making 209-horsepower, and 184 lb-ft of torque, to the Corolla XSE Hatchback, and maybe even the sedan. GRMN stands for Gazoo Racing Meisters of the Nurburgring. The Corolla would probably be labeled as a TRD car here in the United States, though. So, basically, Toyota claim a 0-62 mph time of 6.4-seconds, similar power, torque, straight line performance, and interior volume to the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. I’d say there’s a need for another sub-$30,000 hot hatch. There’s always a want, of course. But I believe there are enough customers that would buy one since you can’t get a WRX or a Civic Si in hatchback form. Come on, Toyota, let’s go places… that you haven’t gone before in the States.

Now that I’ve typed 827 words about how the all-new Toyota Corolla is on paper, let’s talk about its driving habits, shall we? Yes, let’s. 

The only trims I was able to personally drive were the XSE, SE with a manual gearbox, and LE Hybrid. Around a small test track, I sampled an XSE CVT sedan and the XSE Hatchback manual. Toyota put us through a few driving tests on the Grand Prize of America track, which curiously is part road, part track. The speed limit is, and I’m not joking, 35 mph. Which was perfect, really. As much as I wanted to throw the SE and XSE manual cars around to test their chops, that’s not really what the Corolla is for. Although the XSE sedan with CVT and Hatchback with 6-speed manual performed admirably in rainy conditions on a center line. (We were not allowed to take a racing line, and we had to keep the car at 35 mph or less when on the actual road course portion.)

Driving around downtown Savannah, Ga, I found the all-new Corolla well suited to really anything I put it through. Whether it be around town on the odd roundabouts, or on the local highways, each trim I played with felt responsive with linear power. Surprisingly, I felt as though the Corolla was well suited for spirited driving, especially on curvy highway exit ramps. 

 

While all cars come with a 7 or 8-inch touchscreen, no car I sampled had navigation. Instead, you use your phone to access apps via Toyota’s special app suite, or by using Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is not currently an option). While this isn’t really a bummer for someone who uses Google or Apple Maps all the time, like me, I do worry about the older folks who will undoubtedly be confused when trying to find a new destination. Granted, almost every elderly person I know barely knows how to do anything with a massive touchscreen in the car, much less type in an address to be taken to. 

The show stealer for me, without any doubt, is the new Corolla Hybrid. Basically, one of the least expensive Hybrid cars you can buy brand new. With an as-tested price of $22,950 and 53 mpg city, and 52 mpg highway, respectively. Cruising down the road is an absolute dream in the Hybrid model. One thing I always pay attention to when driving a Hybrid is the sensation of going from EV to gas power (granted, I have not reviewed a lot of Hybrid cars, or even driven too many). In most cars I’ve tested over the years, you can feel and hear when the engine kicks in to take over. However, not in this Corolla. The transition is so seamless that you’ll be driving for miles before you even recognize the little EV symbol popping up and going away from the gauge cluster. Mash the throttle to the floor, and the engine kicks on to provide a simple burst of power without interrupting any part of your conversation, music, or personal thoughts. For the price and mileage, this is absolutely a Hybrid to consider. 

As of right now, only the Toyota Prius bests the fuel mileage of the Corolla Hybrid, which is also tied with its larger brother, the Camry Hybrid. The Camry Hybrid will set you back about $5,000 more, while the Prius bases out around the same as the Corolla, it can get into the $30,000 range. 

My only gripe with the Corolla Hybrid, and also with most of the Corollas, is the lack of soft-touch material on the window sill of the doors. It’s all hard plastic, while the dashboard is lined with softer materials that are the same color as the plastic on the doors. So, why not add a little extra material for those of us with elbows? I, for one, am always resting my left arm on the top of the door while holding the 9 o’clock position. 

The 2020 Corolla is spacious inside, and very easy to see out of. Although while rear legroom is damn fine, the headroom is questionable for anyone over 6-feet tall. I’m only 5’9.5″ (that extra half inch is really important), and the other journalist I was driving with, Derek Shiekhi, is only 5’10”, and he pointed out that his head was a mere couple of inches away from touching the ceiling when sitting with his back flat against the back of the seat. So, basically, you can slide forward a little since there should be enough legroom if you’re tall. But, well, just don’t be tall. Problem solved. Toyota did do a better job of at least giving increase rear headroom by creating an obvious cutout for taller people. 

There is one thing, in particular, I had zero doubt would be hokey and pointless is the Corolla’s ability to access Amazon Alexa while driving your car. Why would I care to talk to another app in the car? And, while I love Amazon, why do I want to talk to Alexa? Ah, well here’s where it gets interesting. Not only can you ask Alexa to find you a restaurant, grocery store, or anything else to be directed to, she can control any smart lights in your house while you’re driving around. Say you’re coming home late, and you realize you didn’t turn any lights on outside or in the hallway for when you got back. Well, just tell Alexa to do that for you while you’re driving. Or, let’s say you’re in your house, and you have Amazon Alexa or Google Home, you can check the status of your Corolla. How much fuel do you have left? Crap, did I lock the car when I got out? Oh man, it’s raining… are my windows up or down? Welp, Alexa, and Google can tell you all of that. 

While it may seem gimmicky, I was given a thorough demonstration and came away believing it could be one hell of a game changer for some people. Granted, while I have an Echo Dot in my master bathroom, and a Google HomePod in my kitchen, I rarely use them and am very sure they’re plotting against me right now as I type. Shh… I heard a noise. Google, is that you? Alexa….? 

The last thing I would like to talk about is the manual gearbox, because I really appreciate Toyota giving a damn about the folks, like me and my wife, who enjoy rowing their own. The six-speed in the SE sedan and XSE Hatchback will never be heralded as sports car good, they have a certain ’90s simple Japanese car feel about them. The shifter is tall, and the throw is smooth but lifeless. It’s almost as if they’re indestructible, and also fun to bang into gear. For track use they’re not perfect, or even ideal to some, but beggars can’t be choosers. The clutch and shifter feel could use some work to be more appreciated, but they’re at least there. Throwing the SE sedan around the roads and exit ramps of Savannah, and slowly chucking the XSE Hatch into a non-optimal line on the little 35 mph road course proved to be rewarding and entertaining nonetheless. The iMT, when turned on, matched my revs well when downshifting, and made sure I wasn’t over-revving or about to stall. I don’t personally want any of that technology on my cars, I’m okay with it if it at least gets people to experience what their left foot can be used for. 

So much of the enjoyment my wife and I experienced with the 2019 Corolla XSE Hatchback we tested last summer has been preserved here. I recommend combing through that review for a more detailed driving impression. Basically, performance will stand the same between an XSE sedan and Hatchback. 

Stay tuned for a full test drive review at some point, as well as a couple of videos about the new 2020 Toyota Corolla. 

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Photos provided by Toyota

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Photos taken by Josh Lewis if RawAutos logo is present