Toyota Corolla: Value, Practicality, and Style Converge

The popular Toyota Corolla sedan soldiers on in a shrinking market.

2021 Toyota Corolla front three-quarter
The 2021 Toyota Corolla returns with an Apex Package.

We may be purchasing crossovers and trucks in record numbers, but when it comes to value, small cars are tops in affordability. The Toyota Corolla is one such example of a sedan that offers a long list of amenities for the price. Even well-equipped models can be had for under $25,000 and that is well below the average cost for a new vehicle ($41,000 plus in 2021).

Toyota offers the 2021 Corolla in eight trims with prices ranging from $19,925 to $28,210, plus a $955 destination charge. The Corolla is a compact front-wheel-drive sedan with room for five. It is also available as a hatchback and as a hybrid.

2021 Toyota Corolla: What’s New

The twelfth-generation Corolla rolled out in 2019 as a hatchback with the sedan and hybrid following one year later. For 2021, an Apex Package slots above two trims. Two additional airbags, Android Auto smartphone compatibility, and wider driver-assist feature availability round out the changes for 2021.

2021 Toyota Corolla sedan profile

Styling Features

For many years, small sedans were devoid of styling as manufacturers concentrated on making simple models to introduce consumers to their brand. In recent years, however, that tactic has been abandoned as consumers flock to more stylish offerings. Thus, the dull econoboxes of old no longer prevail.

The current Corolla benefits from upgraded styling. Place the Corolla wheel to wheel with a midsize Toyota Camry and the similarities are apparent. Both models sport a gaping grille, ample LED lighting accents, chiseled features, and available aluminum-alloy wheels. There is not much about the Corolla that screams “budget,” and that is always a good thing.

2021 Toyota Corolla sedan seats

Inside, the cabin is spacious for the segment. And so much so that the federal government classifies the Corolla as a midsize car. We still consider it a compact, but we appreciate the roomy back seat; two can fit comfortably and three in a pinch. The legroom is tolerable, although the most comfortable and supportive seats are up front.

Toyota covers the seats with fabric trim, which is upgraded in some models or replaced by synthetic “SofTex” leather in others. The SofTex material is an engineering marvel as it has the look and feel of leather and is breathable. All Corolla trims have soft-touch materials, brightwork trim, and hardened plastics, the latter found mostly in out-of-the-way places. We appreciated Toyota’s attention to detail with the Corolla, which far surpasses the utilitarian look of old.

The Corolla’s trunk measures 13.1 cubic feet and that’s slightly below average for the segment. Yet, there is enough room there for luggage for all covering a long weekend on the road.

Safety and Tech

Some luxury manufacturers still charge customers extra for various driver-assist features that mainstream manufacturer Toyota makes standard. It makes for an odd and largely unexplainable discrepancy that benefits Toyota shoppers.

The list of standard features includes automatic high beams, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist.

2021 Toyota Corolla sedan profile

Only blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert is not available with the standard model, but it is included or packaged with the other trims.

On the tech front, a 7-inch touchscreen display is standard on the base model with an 8-inch display on all other trims. We found the interface easy to use. Alexa Auto, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility are standard. All trims include Bluetooth and at least two USB ports. A six-speaker audio system gives way to a JBL audio package on select trims.

Toyota Corolla Performance

Toyota offers a choice of two engines with the 2021 Corolla. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine powers the L, LE, and XLE trims; a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is found under the hood of the remaining trims. Most models come with a continuously variable transmission, although a 6-speed manual gearbox is standard with the SE trim.

Close in size, the two engines have a noteworthy performance difference. The standard engine produces 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque; the upgraded engine makes 169 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Our XSE trim came with the larger engine and the CVT.

We have driven Corollas and other Toyota models with both engines and immediately noticed the difference. The base engine is geared toward economy, although the upgraded engine offers a slight advantage in fuel efficiency, delivering as high as 40 mpg in one trim. That’s 2 mpg higher than the standard engine.

The 2.0-liter engine offers ample step-off acceleration, commendable passing power, and a fairly comfortable ride. We found the steering light, its handling pliable, and the braking firm. Even with the available sport mode activated, we noticed little difference in behavior. The Corolla remains true to its mission in supplying dependable transportation with a corresponding level of efficiency.

2021 Toyota Corolla sedan rear

Purchase Considerations

New car prices continue to climb ever upward as manufacturers include the latest technology and safety features that consumers demand. But the flip side is that these cars are also much more attractive as they have lost their budget persona.

We think that any Corolla above the base “L” trim is worthy of your consideration. Costing just $400 more than the L trim, the LE adds automatic climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen display, and keyless entry with push-button start to the range. Thus, for under $22,000, the Corolla LE brings much value to the market.

See AlsoThe First-Ever Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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