For 54 years, the Toyota Corolla has been the car that was everywhere and went unnoticed.
Oh, they sold plenty of them; in fact, the Toyota Corolla is, adding up all the examples moved since 1966, the best-selling car in the world.
But it has always looked kind of anonymous. Like the response the stylists were trying to elicit was “small four-door economy sedan.”
This year brings an all-new, 12th-generation Corolla. And this time, the stylists decided to make you notice.
No, it’s not as far-out as the current Honda Civic or as sleek as the new Mazda 3. But it is fresh, contemporary and rather aggressive and sporty-looking – especially in the XSE trim, like our tester.
Toyota even makes a move to back up those looks with some extra power. The XSE replaces the standard Corolla’s 1.8-liter, 139-horsepower engine with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 169. And those extra 30 horses do make a difference.
The XSE also adds a sport suspension, sport drive mode, 18-inch wheels and paddle shifters with which to control the continuously variable transmission. And it feels a lot more connected and engaging than Corollas have in the past.
Plus, the performance doesn’t hurt you at the gas pump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the new Corolla XSE’s fuel economy at 31 mpg city, 38 highway – and what I saw in a couple hundred miles of city street and urban freeway driving over a week makes those numbers believable.
The base price for the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE is $25,450. Standard equipment includes Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams and road-sign assist.
Other standard features include blind-spot mirror, rear-seatbelt warning, integrated backup camera with projected path, heated outside mirrors and six-speaker audio system with and 8-inch touchscreen.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE I drove for a week also had some extra-cost options, such as premium audio with navigation, nine JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifiers, Clari-Fi, Qi-compatible wireless charging and Wi-Fi hotspot – all part of a package costing $1,715. It also came with adaptive front lighting system and ambient lighting ($450), door-sill protector ($179) and a protection package that includes carpeted trunk mat, floor mats, rear bumper protector and cargo net ($377) and alloy wheel locks ($67).
With a $930 delivery processing and handling fee, the bottom line on the window sticker read $29,168.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE provides a lot of value and a decent amount of fun for less than $30,000 – and good looks don’t hurt, either.
Mike Hagerty has been writing about cars since 1997 and is vice president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (waj.org). Read more of his reviews on his website (tirekicker.blogspot.com) and follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/mikehagertycars) and Facebook (facebook.com/mikehagertywritesaboutcars).