Perfect sense – the 2021 Toyota Corolla
For decades, the Toyota Corolla has been the go-to car for those needing a simple, reliable and affordable small sedan. Nothing exciting and nothing fancy. It’s like the vanilla ice-cream of cars. Plain and simple.
Last year we saw Toyota spice up the Corolla with its all-new 12th generation of the popular sedan, even adding a sporty hatchback to the lineup. With this current Corolla, Toyota has injecting some frills and thrills to the car in an attempt to bring new buyers to the Corolla while maintaining those that continue to want a simple car.
To the causal observer, the Corolla looks handsome and sharp and from some angles like a smaller version of the current Camry, which is also a good looking car. Underneath that sheetmetal, the Corolla rides on a sophisticated platform that is very strong and implements a multilink rear suspension. For the occupants, all this translates into a smoother ride and a better handling car.
Assuring that there is a Corolla for everyone, Toyota offers it in seven different trim levels, including a new for 2021 Apex Edition. The base L, along with the LE and XLE use a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (139 horsepower, 126 lb-ft of torque) that is paired with a CVT automatic transmission. The sporty SE and the SE Nightshade, an SE with blacked out exterior trim as well as the luxurious XSE benefits from a 2.0-liter engine (169 hp, 151 lb-ft) and along with the CVT automatic – but paddle shifters are placed behind the steering wheel. The new Apex Edition combines the sportiness of the SE and the luxury of the XSE along with suspension upgrades, lowered right height and summer performance tires.
A six-speed manual transmission is an option on the SE – making it one of the few four-door sedans still available with a stick shift. As has been the case since the 1980’s, all Corollas continue to be front-wheel drive cars. The test car that Toyota provided for this review was a Celestite Gray XSE.
Inside the new Corolla is a fresh, straightforward design made of high quality materials. No cheap plastics here. All Corollas get a 7-inch (or 8-inch depending on trim level) touchscreen along with a USB port, Apple CarPlay, and now for 2021, Android Auto. The SE, XSE and Apex get front sports seats that I must say, are impressive. The bolsters are big enough to hold you in place, but not too big where you feel confined in your seat. Along with the content inside, Toyota has gone the extra mile by paying attention to small details which can be found by the blue stitching that goes the length of the dash. A little thing, but that combined with everything else inside makes the Corolla feel very nice inside.
The driving experience of the Corolla is easily more enjoyable than Corollas of past with a much better steering system that actually makes driving it a pleasure, as opposed to a task that must be done. Power is sill in short supply, but a Sport mode gives it a little extra kick as well as a cool change in speedometer color and design. The paddle shifters add a level of enjoyment to the driving experience. Remember, this is a CVT transmission, so there are no actual gears to change, but using the paddle shifters makes it emulate an 8-speed transmission, and the shifts “feel” instantaneous as you slap the paddle. It’s fun to do a few times, but the engine simply lacks the punch to make things exciting.
As it is, the 2021 Corolla doesn’t stray far from what we know a Corolla to be. It’s still a fairly inexpensive, practical, and economical car. But now Toyota has added a layer to it which happens to include some attractive styling as well as some enjoyment behind the wheel. You can still think of the Toyota Corolla as vanilla ice cream – but it now has some chocolate syrup and sprinkles added to it.
— Christopher A. Randazzo
By The Numbers:
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE
Base Price: $25,725.00
Price as Tested: $28,845.00
Layout: front-engine / front-wheel drive
Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC 4-cylinder
Transmission: CVT automatic
Horsepower: 169 horsepower
Torque: 151 ft/lbs
EPA Fuel Economy: 31 city / 38 highway mpg
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