If I ask you to name a car made by Chevrolet, you’re very likely to blurt out, “Corvette.”
After all, the Corvette has been a high-profile racer since 1953. But as a low-slung and slinky, two-seat sports car, its practical value is limited. Everyone can recognize a Corvette, but how many people do you know who have actually owned one?
If we try the same exercise, but I ask you to name a Ford car this time, the name “Mustang” might rush from your mouth. After all, Ford has sold high-visibility versions of its pony car almost uninterrupted since 1964. With a small back seat, the two-door Mustang is somewhat more practical than a Corvette. Still, it’s a model that people buy for personal expression and fast-paced driving, not for common-sense transport.
Now name a car from Toyota. Chances are the Corolla will be the first model mentioned. Now that’s a practical car.
For the 2020 model year, Toyota is out with a new, re-engineered and restyled version of its compact Corolla sedan. Introduced in March, the 12th generation sedan follows 11 earlier remakes since the Japanese auto company introduced the car in American in 1966.
The new sedan follows the re-made, 12th generation version of the Corolla’s hatchback body style, which arrived as a 2019 model about 10 months ahead of this year’s modernized sedan variation.
The Corolla is so closely identified with Toyota because it has served so consistently with practical qualities that appeal to a lot of people. It is maneuverable while still offering four-door access and a usable back seat. It is affordable to buy and economical to operate. According to reputation, it serves dependably, with minimum hassles, over a long life.
“The Corolla has been a staple for Toyota for a long time,” affirmed Ryan Horgan, vice president of Rockingham Toyota in Salem, New Hampshire.
Toyota is adding a noticeable new quality that is attracting additional, new drivers to Corolla, Horgan said. The re-made model’s chiseled, open-mouthed and low-scooped appearance, along with its more agile and affirmative road manners, and its upgraded cabin, are bringing in younger drivers who find the compact Toyota exciting.
“It’s a good looking car. It’s sporty,” Horgan said. “The first-time buyer of a new car finds the Corolla very attractive. And its affordability is also helping to bring in younger people.”
Prices for the 2020 Corolla sedan start around $20,000.
The emphasis on affordable transport helps keep the new Corolla true to its traditional characteristics, inside of its redesigned body. Toyota added value to its compact cruiser by bundling desirable advanced features into the 2020 model. Even the lowest price Corolla now comes with the suite of driving aids that Toyota calls Safety Sense. They include obstacle detection that uses both radar and a camera to scan for forward threats, including pedestrians and bicycles. It automatically brakes if the driver doesn’t respond.
Safety Sense also includes intelligent cruise control that maintains a set distance from leading cars, all the way down to crawling speeds and a full stop. A lane-keeping monitor alerts a driver when he strays, and gives steering assistance to help keep the Corolla on track. Automatic high beams detect oncoming traffic and dim the bright lights.
In addition to its new automatic driving aids, the 2020 Corolla also bundles in more entertainment and communication abilities, helping to make the new model more appealing to younger drivers in particular, noted Horgan of Rockingham Toyota.
The Toyota dealership is part of Salem’s Rockingham Motors, which also operates Rockingham Honda.
All Corolla versions come with a central touchscreen to control audio, information and communication functions. Those start with in-car wi-fi service for smart phones and other devices, and smart-phone connections to Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay, with more abilities added in higher trim levels. “Those play a big role,” Horgan noted. “The biggest thing for a lot of younger people is connectivity to their phones.”
Toyota amped up the re-made sedan in other ways, too. It improved the four-cylinder engine that moved standard versions of the earlier Corolla, giving it more power while increasing its fuel economy at the same time. Two sportier, higher grades – the Corolla SE and XSE – come with a new, larger four-cylinder motor that uses advanced fuel management, electrical coolant control, and other means to increase power, while also maximizing the engine’s efficiency.
At 169 horsepower, the new engine delivers 30 horsepower more than the standard engine installed in lower level Corollas, yet it provides greater fuel efficiency than the standard engine.
Additionally, the 2020 Corolla sedan introduces the car line’s first gasoline-electric hybrid-drive version that gives gas conservation top priority. The Corolla Hybrid attains a combined city/highway fuel-economy rating of 52 miles per gallon. Corolla SE and XSE models with the new four-cylinder deliver a rating of 34 mpg, while the small engine in other versions rates at 33 mpg.
The sporty Corolla SE can be purchased with a six-speed manual transmission. All other grades use an innovative, new, continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Toyota supplements the usual belt-and-pulley power transmission of the CVT with a toothed first gear to give the car better take off at launch. It’s an attempt to alleviate the annoying slow-speed slips and sputtering of CVTs.
The evaluation model I motored for a week was a Corolla SE with the six-speed manual. So I can’t comment on the performance of the new CVT. But I enjoyed and appreciated the quick response of the manual transmission and the elevated control it provided.
I also appreciated how the new, more advanced four-cylinder in the SE gave a feeling of urgency and elevated enthusiasm to a car that remains so economical. The Corolla SE launched quickly and met high-speed demands, during freeway driving, without hesitation. At the same time, it consumed gasoline at a miserly rate of 38 mpg through my week of driving that covered 420 miles both around town and on the highway.
When you add in other standard features – such as LED headlights and taillights, split fold-down rear seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and back-up camera – it seems impossible to dispute Ryan Horgan’s summary of the new Corolla.
“It’s probably the best bang for the buck you can buy,” he said.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Toyota Corolla sedan
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Price range: $20,430 to $26,380 (plus options)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 2 years/25,000 miles free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance
Base engine: 1.8-liter I4
Power: 199 horsepower at 6,100 rpm; 126 lb.-ft. torque at 3,900 rpm
Base transmission: continuously variable automatic
Fuel economy: 30 mpg city; 38 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106 inches
Length: 182 inches
Width: 70 inches
Height: 56 inches
Weight: 2,910 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons