2020 Toyota Corolla XSE – Bottom Line Review

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Modular platform and detailed chunky new look defies appliance tradition of world's all time best selling car. From $20,555 with fully outfitted Celestite Gray XSE at $28,794

THROUGH DOWNTURNS AND CRISIS: The Toyota Corolla has led the historical charts as the best selling automobile worldwide. However, never before in modern industrial times has there been an effective month [or more] long shutdown of consumer vehicle industry. Once life and the global economy returns to “new normal” there is little reason to doubt that the re-designed new 2020 Toyota Corolla will be back on top.


WHAT: 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE. Designated E210, succeeding E170, this twelfth generation of the world’s best selling car rests on the modular TNGA GA-C platform. It’s a sibling to the 5-door Corolla Hatchback.


  • Power: transverse 1.8L DOHC 16V DI valve throttling gas I-4 = 139 hp/ 126 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm.
  • Power (avail.): transverse 2.0L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 168 hp/ 151 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
    • Drivetrain: 10-step continuously variable automatic transaxle, featuring first helical gear w/ steering wheel shift paddles (SE, XSE only)
    • Drivetrain (avail. SE): 6-speed helical manual transaxle, w/ rev matching


2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Thinner boomerang LEDs, honeycomb maw and deep bottom valance with lower splitter aren’t to be taken for granted.

In contrast to the previous Mk. 11 Corolla’s oblique wedges, the new 2020 Toyota Corolla has been given a defined chunky look. Headlamp sequences are segmented with “L” borders. Rear illumination consist of horizontal spanning hockey stick from mid quarters into the trunk lid. The beltline now rises sharply to a taller rear deck. The XSE trim broods with a maw of dark honeycomb, mid to lower valance, deep and widening grill. A chin is formed by inwards pointing creases. Lowers corners are rear bumper cover are dark latticed. Then there are body side skirts. More flared wheel arches. An attached trunk lid spoiler. Front and rear simulated diffusers suggest that the new Corolla isn’t just an commuting appliance.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Substantial wheel arches and side skirts, trunk lid spoiler and lower diffuser emphasize new found boldness

WHY: Best selling car ever adopts newfound seriousness and focus to retain the title.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since winter 2019

WHERE: Toyota new car dealers

WHERE MADE: Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

HOW STRONG: XSE = Toyota’s aspiring top sport trim. For a power bump it borrows the 2.0L tumbling air intake fortified straight four from the Corolla hatchback. Rumblings are seamstress smooth rather than raspy, not that that either would permeate the chamber. Toyota even fits a wind fairing on the exterior sail panels to further tame wind whistle. A planetary type first gear added to the continuously variable pulley box pulls off a credible 1st to 2nd jerk snap. Even when paddle prodded, eight successive steps are subtler but not as winded as in lesser CVTs.

HOW LIMBER:  The 2020 Corolla gains full independence. Freer rear wheel attachment promises more constant wheel locating without overdamping that breeds harshness. Mass feels better reigned to restrain dive or heave. An right rapid steering rack mutes messages from the XSE’s astonishingly low profile Yokohoma rubber. When those thin soles take deeper steps it can jar the generally plaint damping. Large disc rotors at the corners demand shorter pedal travel.

HOW FAR: 34 miles per gallon combined fuel economy. City /  highway fuel economy is improved +11%/+6% over the 2018 Corolla XLE 1.8L. Range = 500 miles interstate range per tankful.

HOW BIG / LITTLE: The last Corolla was the compact to ride share in with a back seat which rivaled some mid size sedans. Not so the new Corolla which has forsaken a whopping 6+” inches in the back. Row 2 feels the strictly compact part. Average male adult knees will typically need to be splayed, though the more gradual slope of the roof improves headroom slightly. Rear outboard bucket seating bunches the center position to mere small child capacity. A low seating position all-around imparts a stadium sensation.

2020 Toyota Corolla 106.3″ wheelbase = Kia Forte, 0.8″ > VW Jetta,

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Decrease of 6″-inches of rear legroom from the previous Mk. 11 Corolla is noticeable but still competitive with compact sedan segment.

HOW USEFUL: Trunk = 2 full size cases and two carry-ons; Load liftover is low and with a taller lid line storage is deep; 60/40% split rear seat backs fold for wide pass through but not very flat.

    • Generous center armrest bin and glovebox
    • +/- Oversized stack bottom inductive charging tray lacks USB phone projection port
    • +/- Sliding front center armrest can obstruct aftmost cupholder
    • -1 Thick outboard door armrests leave room only for bottles and a compact umbrella (up front)
    • -1 Shallow rear center seatbelt receiver recessing

2020 Toyota Corolla 13.2 cu. ft. cargo space (nom.) = 15% < Kia Forte, 8% < VW Jetta

HOW SAFE: IIHS 2020 Top Pick = 8 airbags, Rear camera w/ fixed gridlines, Sonar park audible park assist;

Driver assist technology:  8 airbags; Rear camera; STANDARD Toyota SafetySense 2.0 = Pedestrian & daytime cyclist detection braking; Forward collision avoidance braking; Lane departure, Road edge & Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist w/ Trace Control; Adaptive cruise control – partial, Automatic High Beam headlights;

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: SafetySense 2.0 Driver assist settings in the TFT 7.0″ gauge cluster multi-function display
  • XSE adds: Full adaptive cruise control; Blind Spot warning; Adaptive turn headlamps


Peer inside the 2020 Corolla to confirm that Toyota appoints interiors as a sensible office with high on convenience. The cohesion in appliques between instrument panel segments makes for one unified piece of simplicity. Can’t find the traditional cheap blue LED digital clock on the center stack? Woot, woot, it’s been tossed. With many elements taken from the RAV4 crossover, including a slightly graphics overwhelming color multi-function display, Corolla’s cockpit is an example uncluttered, low distraction, and first nature operation.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Driver’s entry

Softex seats w/ ribbed grips, front heated, front sport seats, driver’s 8-way power adjustment; Power windows w/ full express, full retract x 4; Thick padded front and rear door armrests; √ Enhanced cabin insulation.

      • +1 Fatigue reducing seats pay off.

Cool Gizmo(s):   7.0″ inch selectable graphics color TFT gauge cluster multifunction display.

Details Done Right:  Stitched leatherette thin upper dashboard, metallic band spanning and encasing corner climate vents; ♦ Floating gauge cluster hood; ♦ Sloping padded lower instrument panel w/ stitching; ♦ Piano black accents traced by “U” metallic bands to encase center dash climate & center console and front door pulls; ♦ Tight pebble grained soft mid dash and upper door panels; ♦ Blue seat ribbing and stitching.

Nearly Non Descript: -1 left lower dashboard blank switch covers

HOW “APP” -LICABLE:  +1 A lesson in how to properly implement a short reach, pod mount, tablet style media display, without any need to fiddle with remote twist knobs, joysticks or touchpads.

Dash top tri-pane 8.0″ flat-panel touch LCD infotainment screen; Native HDD GPS voice command / guidance Navigation; Voice command hands-free communications;  SMS; Siri Eyes, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa; 9-speaker, 800W JBL ClariFi HD radio audio; USB x 2, 12V x 1; Qi wireless charging pad inside front center armrest bin.

Free Apps: ♦ Doppler weather, ♦ HD Traffic; ♦ Entune 3.0 = XLive (formerly Slacker), I-Heart, NPR One, Yelp, Sports, Fuel Prices, Stock values (Facebook, Movie Tickets and Destination search eliminated)

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE: Infotainment = Weather, Traffic, Fuel Economy, voice to text SMS

By Subscription (trial): ♦ Sirius XM radio (3 mo.); ♦ WiFi by Verizon (2 GB); ♦ Dynamic navigation (3 yrs.); ♦ Toyota Connected Services (3 yrs.); ♦ Destination Assist connect (6 mo.)

    • +1 Excellent hi-resolution tablet touch screen
    • +1 Natural language POI voice navigation search
    • -1 Android Auto not included until 2021 MY
    • -1 No 2nd Row USB ports

HOW MUCH: $28,794 suggested retail price 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE.

WHAT’S MISSING: Trunk lid interior pull handle

ANY COMPETITION: Honda Civic +1 handling, composure; Hyundai Elantra +1 fuel economy;  Kia Forte +1 value; Nissan Sentra +1 aggressive look; Volkswagen Jetta +1 cabin space.

(Contributing Editor: T. Paluch, Contributing Media Editor: S. Stamatis)

An automotive enthusiast since an orange toy VW Beetle ended up in his playpen and following him everywhere, George Straton has been chief editor at ChicagoNow.com/Drive-He-Said automotive lifestyle blog since 2010. In 2017 George established Roadblazing.com, dedicated to accurate automotive reviews, news and road trip stories. George is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Phoenix Automotive Press Association. George also happens to be an attorney and Loyola University of Chicago Ramblers fan. Present ride: 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo AWD Hatchback.

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