2020 Toyota Corolla SE
- Slick manual gearbox
- Great value
- Feels indestructible
- Could use more power
- Promises more than it delivers
Toyota is trying something different – a sporty Corolla. The ultimate beige vehicle has developed some chops, at least visually.
You can walk into your local Toyota store and drive out in a 2020 Corolla with a 6-speed manual transmission, spoiler, body cladding, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The example I drove was coated in a lush coat of “Blue Crush” metallic paint.
Nothing beige about this little devil. Until you check beneath that flash.
It’s all a bit of a façade. Beneath all that sporty stuff lies the Corolla we have come to expect and respect - value, quality, efficiency and reliability. More than 45 million have been sold over the years. But the 2020 Corolla is different, receiving arguably the most significant upgrade in Corolla history. It starts with a new platform.
Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) is the base for the 2020 Corolla, making the new car 60% stiffer than the outgoing model. It gets a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, replacing the old torsion-beam setup. The result transforms the Corolla.
There is a general sense of a more refined small car, with nicely weighted steering and the ability to tackle rough surfaces with aplomb. There is a new level of driving dynamics whether tackling back road twisties or an off-ramp with verve.
Don’t be misled — this is not a sports sedan; there are others in this class that play that role. The ride and handling balance has shifted away from ride-centric toward the middle. In short it handles better without a loss of ride quality.
In addition to unique bumpers at both ends, and some trim pieces, the SE trim I tested comes with what Toyota’s refers to as a “sports suspension” paired with larger wheels and tires. That is a bit of a misnomer, but when equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, the SE does make driving a Corolla a lot more enjoyable for anyone with an ounce of enthusiasm in their veins.
This transmission comes with electronic rev-matching. Press the iMT (intelligent manual transmission) button at the leading edge of the console and the gearbox automatically matches revs when shifting gears, eliminating the lurch wen the next gear is engaged. The linkage is direct, clutch take-up gradual and the throws a little long. But, driving this car equipped with this transmission provides that feeling of being involved missing with an automatic transmission.
The base 2020 Corolla L gets a carry-over 1.8-litre engine. The SE and XSE trims get a more powerful 2.0-litre version, producing 169 horsepower. It revs willingly, but I miss the low-to-mid-range torque of their competitors’ turbocharged units. Performance is mid-pack, but fuel economy is impressive. The new Corolla with this engine is rated at 8.2 litres per 100 km in the city and 6.5 on the open road. I average 6.3 for a week of mixed city and highway driving with no attempt at saving fuel!
The new platform has the same wheelbase as the old in this sedan application (it is shorter for the hatchback Corolla), with the passenger compartment sitting farther aft than the previous model. While this contributes to a better balance and newfound alacrity, it has resulted in the loss of rear seat legroom. The sleek new body brings a lower roofline and the need to duck to get into that rear seat.
The interior also benefits from a major upgrade. Fit and finish are up to Toyota’s high standards, but the quality of materials and standard amenities have improved. The infotainment screen is 18-cm on the base model and 20 on the SE and XSE. Both support Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto. Air conditioning and power windows, locks and mirrors are standard across the board as is a rear view.
Also standard is the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package, which brings pre-collision warning with cycle and pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and dynamic cruise control. Blind spot warning is standard on the SE and XSE grades.
The Corolla has been a major player in the Canadian market for 50 years. The improvements in the 2020 model bode well for the next half century.
Price: $22,290 base, $26,066 as tested, including freight
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, 169 hp, 151 lb-ft, regular fuel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive wheels: front-wheel drive
NRCan Fuel Consumption (litres/100km city/highway): 8.2 / 6.5
Length: 4,635 mm
Width: 1,780 mm
Wheelbase: 3,160 mm
Weight: 1,380 kg
Significant standard equipment: tilt & telescope steering wheel, voice-recognition, windshield imprinted antennae, air conditioning, height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, power windows and locks, backup camera, push button start, remote keyless entry,
Significant optional extras: SE Upgrade package (heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, wireless smartphone charging, power sunroof), $2,000.