Road Test: 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Toyota has sold more than 46 million Corollas around the world since it was introduced in 1966! But when many see the 2020 Corolla on the road, they are going to be doing double takes.

The 12th-generation Toyota Corolla arrived in two phases: the new Corolla hatchback which we previously drove and now the sedan. Both are based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which brings together new approaches to engineering, design, assembly, and materials.

The 2020 Corolla focuses on improved comfort and refinement, and our XSE is definitely the sportiest of them all.


Toyota shook up the midsize sedan segment with the new Camry, and now the 2020 Corolla follows suit. Corolla looks better in every respect than it ever has. The design team called its working concept “shooting robust,” because they were shooting for a robust, confidence-inspiring look.

The bold front fascia with a body-color chin spoiler and aero stabilizing fins emphasize the wide stance, and triple J-shaped LED lights along with LED turn signals have a distinct nighttime signature.

The Adaptive Front-lighting System steers the low beams in the direction of a turn, based on steering angle and vehicle speed and working incredibly well at night. Automatic high beams are a huge value and work perfectly.

The rear leaves a distinct impression as well with LED lighting and smoked lenses. Holding it all together are 18-inch wheels that look fantastic, made with a complex machining technique and featuring dark accents.


The cabin is equal parts sporty and elegant, with comfort and functionality a top priority.

The driver’s seat is power adjustable with power lumbar, and comfort up front is fantastic on a long drive. We took the 2020 Corolla several hundred miles and walked out just as good as we did when the journey started.

The dash layout is simple, pushed forward, and filled with storage areas. At the top center of the dash is 8-inch infotainment touchscreen. Driver and passenger have large door pockets, a large center console, several USB charging ports and a wireless charging pad.

There’s a knob or button for every feature, something we hope Toyota will never give up for the sake of design and/or aesthetics.

Armrests in the doors and the center are comfortable and well positioned. Visibility all around is excellent.

At night, blue ambient lighting illuminates the front door trim, console tray and terraced front cupholders. Blue accents and highlights throughout the cabin of our tester dressed it up nicely.

In the rear, headroom and legroom are excellent for a six-foot passenger. A padded armrest folds down for comfort.

The trunk is spacious and well shaped, with a low lift height.

Wind and road noise at highway speeds is minimal, almost Lexus level quiet. Thinsulate, sealants, foams, and silencers also keep powertrain noise at bay.

Safety and Tech

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard and includes all the tech we’ve come to expect. The 2020 Corolla even takes lane-keep assist a step further with Lane Trace Assist (LTA) which we thoroughly appreciated on the RAV4. Adaptive cruise works incredibly well and has been refined over the previous generation Corolla.

Staring at the driver during every drive is a 7-inch display located between the tachometer and speedometer. It provides a bevy of info about every aspect of the Corolla, and allows the driver to switch between analog and digital speedometer styles. We preferred the digital style as you’ll see in the photo gallery. More cars need this customization!

We’re happy to see Apple CarPlay has finally arrived in the Corolla, along with Amazon Alexa, Entune 3.0 App Suite Connect, Safety Connect, and Wi-Fi Connect. We evaluated the Wi-Fi and found it worked in rural areas thanks to the strong antenna on the roof and greater system power over a mobile phone.

Entune 3.0 Audio Premium also features HD Radio and Weather/Traffic info, SiriusXM with Cache Radio, Entune 3.0 Connected Services, Service Connect, and Remote Connect.

All the tunes, podcast, and talk radio are pumped through a super JBL nine-speaker, 800-watt system with Clari-Fi, Dynamic Voice Recognition, Dynamic Navigation, Dynamic Points of Interest Search, and Destination Assist Connect.


Under the hood is a powerful 2.0-liter Dynamic-Force four-cylinder engine which delivers more performance while using less fuel.

The new engine features VVT-iE intelligent variable valve-timing on the intake side and VVT-i on the exhaust. VVT-iE uses an electric motor instead of oil pressure to control the variable valve timing.

All of those technologies, along with ultra-low internal friction, yield a maximum thermal efficiency of 40 percent, very high for a vehicle engine. 169 HP and 151 lb.-ft peak torque move the Corolla quickly and smoothly thanks to the CVT.

The new Dynamic-Shift CVT combines the smooth, fuel-efficient performance of a CVT with a more direct driving feel of a traditional geared automatic. The key to its distinct feel is a physical first gear used for start-off acceleration, before handing off to the CVT’s pulley system.

Because the launch gear is handling the higher input load at launch, the size of the CVT’s belt and pulley components were reduced, yielding shifting speeds that are 20 percent faster than in a conventional CVT.

The CVT simulates 10-speed steps along with Sport Mode. Synchronization of the increasing engine revs and vehicle speed gives a linear acceleration feel.

Brake Hold is a welcome feature at stoplights that releases once the accelerator is pressed, and we like how the electronic parking brake engages automatically when the Corolla is parked.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling9
Powertrain and Fuel Economy10
Interior Fit and Finish9
Gauges and Controls10
Total Score94

Make: Toyota
Model: Corolla
Trim Level: XSE
Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder
Transmission: CVT
Options: Premium Audio w. Dynamic Navigation, Adaptive Front Lighting, Paint Protection

Base Price: $25,450
As-Tested Price: $29,189

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