The 2021 Toyota Corolla continues its reign as the best-selling car in the world. Will it charm you with its talents?
The Toyota Corolla was redesigned in 2020 and, to our eyes, is the best-looking Toyota sedan on the roads today. The Toyota Camry looks too long and out of proportion, while the Corolla seems just right.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla is still the world’s best-selling vehicle, and we’re not surprised. Its interior has quality material everywhere you touch and the designers have made the right choices. Where the Camry looks overdone and tacky, the Corolla seems refined. High praise for the small sedan of the company.
Although we’re reviewing the eight trims of the standard sedan, Toyota also offers a hatchback and hybrid. With the 2.0-liter and 1.8-liter engines, you’ll get good gas mileage, but the hybrid raises the bar even more with its 53 mpg. We consider it an excellent option for the quirky Prius.
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Well designed and comfortable interior
Sporty exterior design
Nice riding and handling
Not a lot of rear legroom
Engine options aren’t very powerful
If you choose, you can buy your Corolla with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that makes 139 horsepower in the L, LE, or LXE, but we recommend the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Neither engine will feel like it has a turbo, but the 169 horsepower in the 2.0-liter will be more satisfying in everyday use. It’s standard in the SE and XSE and comes with the same CVT mated to the 1.8-liter.
In the SE and XSE, you also get the choice of a 6-speed manual transmission to replace the economy-minded CVT. The 6-speed gives you more control over the revs and helps in the 7.3 seconds 0-60. The 1.8-liter is slower with a 0-60 of 10 seconds and loses out to the 2.0-liter in gas mileage. Like other automakers, Toyota finally includes the engine shutoff option when you’re at stoplights. For those who don’t like that, Toyota has also given you the ability to disable it.
We felt that the new updates in 2020 gave the Corolla a more solid feel than previous years. The suspension is compliant over bumps and never will feel out of control in everyday driving. Even when pushed, the light steering lets the 225/40R-18 wheels and tires send feedback through the wheel. Stopping will feel very controlled with no wobble, and cornering is confident. We like it.
The 1.8-liter gets 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. As funny as it might sound to say that a 38 mpg highway fuel economy isn’t excellent, some competitors have better. For instance, a 4-cylinder Honda Civic gets 40 mpg on the road. So, that’s why we say it’s okay. Still, it’s not hateful, and depending on what car you’re coming from might be pretty good. The 2.0-liter does better with 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla is comfortable and the material quality is some of the best we’ve seen in this class. Soft-touch plastics are on every dash surface, as well as the door trim. And from the front seat, the dash design flows together in a way that echoed the exterior’s fluid lines, and the fit is perfect.
Depending on the trim, you can get the Toyota SofTex imitation leather. While it’s nice, we think that the cloth trim feels better, gripped better, and looked better. Regardless of the choice of seats, you’ll appreciate the support and comfort of what the Corolla offers in front.
The infotainment touchscreen worked well and was very easy to see. We like the buttons for volume and search since they’re easy to find while driving. You won’t lose much if you have the 7-inch screen and Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is available on every model. We also appreciate the sport-oriented instrument display.
We aren’t particularly impressed with the rear seats. Although they’re split 60/40 and comfortable with ample headroom, the legroom is tight. But kids will fit fine, and they’ll be able to see out well. Just make sure your adult passengers get a periodic break.
When you’re shopping, getting items into the trunk is easy, and the large 13.1 cubic feet of space for multiple carryon’s is typical for this category. For longer items or more space, you can easily fold down the 60/40 rear seats.
Toyota gives the Corolla an Entune infotainment system. Designed with help from JBL, its 6-speakers sound good and are easy to use with dash or steering wheel controls. The touchscreen will also be very responsive when using Apple CarPlay. Android Auto is also available as well.
The 7-inch or 8-inch touch screen also supports Amazon Alexa, satellite radio, and an optional navigation app. Below you’ll see two USB ports, and there’s a Wi-Fi hot spot. With an upgrade, you get a wireless charging system, a JBL nine-speaker sound system, and HD radio. On the XSE, you can get a 7-inch digital display instead of the standard 4.5-inch that adds a high-tech luxury feel to the car.
The NHTSA 5-star rated 2021 Toyota Corolla comes standard with pre-collision, pedestrian detection, lane change assist, and bicycle detection come standard with Toyota’s SafetySense 2.0. Also available are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive headlights. Toyota gives you standard safety features that aren’t standard on other competitors, so bravo to Toyota.
Just because it’s the base model doesn’t mean you do without. You get the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with 132 horsepower and the decent automatic CVT. Toyota’s Safety Sense is standard, including lane departure alerts with steering assist, pre-collision warnings, and a backup camera plus other tech. LED headlights are standard, as is a height-adjustable driver’s seat with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The 7-inch touchscreen and six-speaker sound system include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
The Corolla LE adds keyless entry and heated exterior rearview mirrors. On the inside, you get upgraded upholstery and dual-zone automatic air conditioning.
You’ll immediately notice the SE’s sportier front end 17-inch wheels and rear spoiler. Inside, you get paddle shifters with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 6-speed manual transmission option. The manual transmission choice includes a push-button start, sunroof, and 8-inch infotainment system. An Apex option comes with lowered sports suspension and 18-inch wheels.
XLE is a more luxurious version of the LE. The headlights are upgraded with LED accents and LED taillights. You’ll also get a nice set of 16-inch aluminum wheels. Inside are seats with Toyota’s SofTex simulated leather and a power-adjustable driver’s seat.
In the Corolla XSE, you get the upgraded 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with integrated navigation with satellite radio. An Apex option comes with lowered sports suspension and 18-inch wheels.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla comes with a typical 3 year/36,000 mi basic, 5 year/60,000 mi powertrain warranty. The Corolla also comes with a maintenance plan covering standard factory scheduled service for two years or 25,000 miles and 24-hour Roadside Assistance for two years, unlimited mileage.
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If you’re looking for a sporty, comfortable, and handsome car with bulletproof reliability, you’ll appreciate the 2021 Toyota Corolla. It’s not a sports sedan, but will provide years of enjoyable miles for a very reasonable price.