2020 Corolla XSE Celestite 043 27D7FA6CD46096BCC708D344FE31387ECE9988CA

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Review: Not Perfect But Much Improved

2020 Corolla XSE Celestite 043 27D7FA6CD46096BCC708D344FE31387ECE9988CA
2020 Toyota Corolla XSE
Overall Impression
Good fuel economy.
Ideal for younger buyers.
Improved styling & design.
Nice Interior
Safety & Tech Features
Cargo Space
CVT Feel (At Times)

The 2020 Toyota Corolla gets a full redesign, making it more competitive against some very strong rivals like the Honda Civic. The Civic is the best-selling sedan in the U.S., and is the top dog in an already highly-competitive segment. For 2020, the Corolla gains a bit more personality while material quality improves; both of which were among the drawbacks of the previous generation. The new Corolla also gets updated exterior styling, while the interior receives a much improved overhaul. 

This week, we’ve been driving the top-of-the-line, 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE.

Toyota Corolla XSE: What’s New For 2020?

The Toyota Corolla is fully redesigned for the 2020 model year, now riding on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). Trim levels include L, LE, SE, XLE, and XSE, with the SE and XSE grades receiving a new 2.0-liter engine. A hybrid option is also available, which combines a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine with two motors/generators. If you would rather have a hatchback, you’re in luck. The Toyota Corolla also comes as a hot hatch for the 2020 model year. 

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2020 Toyota Corolla.

Features & Options: Safety & Tech Treatments  

Our 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE tester ($25,450) came standard with LED headlights, automatic high beams, a rearview camera, and 60/40-split folding rear seats. The newly-redesigned sedan also gets Toyota’s Safety Connect emergency communications suite; Bluetooth capability; Wi-Fi hotspot; seven-inch touchscreen; USB port; Apple CarPlay and a six-speaker sound system. Advanced safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and a traffic sign reader.

18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded headlights, sporty exterior treatments, power-adjustable front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel were among the other features on our 2020 Corolla tester. In addition, the XSE comes with heated front seats, an eight-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, and blind-spot monitoring. The XSE also gets the new and more powerful 2.0-liter engine and CVT automatic.

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The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE comes standard with Entune 3.0 Audio Plus.

Features & Options: Connectivity & Infotainment 

Connectivity options seem nearly endless for the 2020 Toyota Corolla. The LE and SE grades get Entune 3.0 Audio with an eight-inch touchscreen and two USB ports. Above that, Entune 3.0 Audio Plus (standard on XSE and XLE – optional on SE CVT) adds HD Radio and Weather/Traffic info; SiriusXM with Cache Radio; Entune 3.0 Connected Services; Service Connect, and Remote Connect. Going even further is the Entune 3.0 Audio Premium package that’s optional on XSE and XLE. This includes a nine-speaker JBL audio system, voice recognition, navigation, points of interest search, and Destination Assist Connect.

Our XSE tester came with the optional Connectivity Package which included the premium JBL audio system; and the Advanced Lighting Package with an adaptive front lighting system and ambient interior lighting. Total MSRP including destination: $29,168. By comparison, the 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan starts at $19,600.  

2020 Corolla XSE Celestite 052 6E02DE27B2256FCB5036A5AF35EA550B7774BAA8
2020 Toyota Corolla XSE interior layout.

Interior Highlights: Sleek & Clean 

The redesigned Corolla cabin is sleek, with the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen sitting prominently on the dash for easy access. Material quality is up as fewer hard plastics and more soft-touch surfaces decorate the cabin. The new dash is layered and more modern looking than the outgoing model. 

The XSE’s front sport seats are comfortable and didn’t leave us feeling tired after a number of longer commutes to the city. With power adjustability we found the perfect driving position quite easily. Visibility improves by Toyota moving the side mirrors to the door panels, making space for an extra quarter-window within the door frame. Side and rear views are better as well, but the sedan does come with blind-spot monitoring just in case. 

Room in the back seat is what you would expect for a compact car. Taller adults will not want to ride more than short distances but it’s a perfect environment for kids to spend time. If you need to carry extra cargo, the back seats fold down, but not entirely flat, which might prevent you from hauling some larger items. The 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan comes with 13 cubic feet of trunk space, which is a bit below average in this segment.

Engine & Fuel Mileage Specs

The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE is powered by a new 2.0-liter engine producing 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft. of torque. Toyota says the engine is smaller and lighter, helping to lower the Corolla’s center of gravity while improving fuel economy. It comes mated to a specialized CVT automatic (Dynamic-Shift CVT) with steering wheel paddle shifters and a Sport mode. Some models are eligible for a six-speed manual transmission with downshift rev-matching control. 

EPA fuel mileage estimates come in at 31/38 city/highway and 34 combined mpg. When it comes to fuel economy, the 2020 Toyota Corolla is right in line with the competition

2020 Corolla XSE Celestite 043 27D7FA6CD46096BCC708D344FE31387ECE9988CA
The 2020 Toyota Corolla has slimmer A-pillars to help with visibility.

Driving Dynamics: Eager To Find Out 

Toyota says the 2020 Corolla is the most fun-to-drive yet, and we would concur it is better than the previous generation. Eager to find out, we immediately took the Corolla on the mountain roads near where this journalist lives west of Denver. After throwing the sedan around a few tight corners it was clear, the new Corolla, although better, is not the leader when it comes to topping the fun-to-drive meter. We would reserve that to the VW Golf and Honda Civic.

Driving Dynamics: Getting Used To The CVT 

The Corolla XSE we tested comes standard with what Toyota lists as a sport suspension and transmission. The new Corolla uses a physical first gear to get moving, then shifts to the CVT to maintain the car’s momentum. We used the paddle shifters that allow selection of 10 simulated speeds that react quickly, but there’s a distinct pause with each pull up. We found ourselves shifting to auto and letting the transmission do everything itself.

The combination of the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder and CVT in our XSE tester proved more than adequate for our daily commutes to the city. Even though it’s not a sports car, the new Corolla is a competent urban commuter. 

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Toyota says the multi-link rear suspension is an advancement versus the torsion beam in the previous model.

Conclusion: A Solid Competitor 

At the top-of-the-lineup, the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE gets plenty of improvements to make it a serious competitor against the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. The new Corolla still comes with Toyota’s reputation for reliability, and for the average consumer that’s a hard trait to beat. It comes with a long list of safety and tech features, improved styling, and even offers a comfortable ride.

Denis Flierl has invested over 25 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his firsthand reviews are archived on our test drives page. Follow Denis on Twitter: @CarReviewGuy

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Gallery

Photos: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.