Competes with: Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Jetta
Looks like: A so, so, so trunkdafied take on the new-for-2019 Corolla Hatchback
Drivetrain: 139-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder with continuously variable automatic transmission or 169-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual or CVT automatic
Hits dealerships: Spring 2019
SUV dominance notwithstanding, compact non-luxury sedans and their hatchback or coupe offshoots still account for 1 in 10 new cars sold in America, by Automotive News' tally. The class splinters into more than a dozen nameplates, but just two — the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla — account for more than a third of that group. Honda redesigned the Civic three years back, and now it's Toyota's turn: Witness the 2020 Corolla, a car brimming with new technology.
Of course, anyone who follows Toyota saw this coming a mile away. The Corolla Hatchback, introduced just eight months ago to replace the Scion-turned-Toyota Corolla iM, ushered in a new platform for the brand's U.S. compact cars. The redesigned Corolla sedan adopts the same underpinnings, not to mention a great deal of styling and interior similarities. That's just fine — given how impressed we are with the Corolla hatchback, the sedan should have no trouble improving on its predecessor's middling appeal. The redesign hits dealerships in the spring of 2019 with five available trim levels: L, LE, SE, XLE and XSE.
Press photos indicate the new Corolla sedan is just as heavy on the mesh apertures and thin, menacing headlights as its post-refresh predecessor, but those headlights — which feature six upward-arcing LED pipes on SE and XSE trim levels — are a clear link to the Corolla Hatchback. The bumper cladding fans out more than on the hatchback, with horizontal lighting elements in its outboard sections.
The rear adopts unique styling, obviously, with thinner taillights and more bumper cladding than on the outgoing Corolla sedan. Exposed tailpipes sit to one side, rather than the Corolla Hatchback's split-wide faux openings. Overall height is down nearly an inch, while wheelbase, at 106.3 inches, remains the same. SE and XSE models have 18-inch alloy wheels; L, LE and XLE grades have smaller rims.
Cabin appointments carry over from those of the Corolla Hatchback, with a broad, shelflike dashboard and a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen atop the middle. L models get the 7-inch screen; all other variants have the 8-inch unit. Apple CarPlay integration is standard, while HD radio, JBL premium audio and a navigation system are optional. Android Auto remains unavailable, however.
A 4.2-inch gauge display is standard, with a 7-inch reconfigurable screen optional. Seating choices are cloth or SofTex vinyl; SE and XSE grades have sportier front seats. The Corolla Hatchback's interior impressed us for its materials quality and fresh, straightforward design. We'll have to see the sedan in person to confirm the similarities, but the photos suggest a big step in the right direction versus the outgoing Corolla's hodgepodge interior.
Under the Hood
Big news comes under the hood, where the Corolla sedan offers the same 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder as the hatchback. Here, it's good for 169 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque, and it pairs with a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. Both have some tricks up their sleeves: The manual gets automatic downshift rev-matching — much like in some sports cars — while the CVT has a fixed-ratio 1st gear for smoother acceleration from a stop. Both transmissions have impressed us in the Corolla Hatchback, and there's little reason to doubt similar fun in the sedan.
Alas, a great many Corolla buyers won't experience that. The 2.0-liter engine and trick transmissions come only on the SE and XSE trims; the L, LE and XLE have a carryover 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 139 hp and a traditional CVT without the fixed-ratio gear. No manual is offered with the 1.8-liter. Toyota promises improved fuel efficiency versus the outgoing Corolla, which had EPA combined mileage in the low 30s for most configurations.
It's not all bad for those shoppers. All Corolla trims now get an independent, multilink rear suspension. That's rare among affordable compact sedans, most of which — like the previous Corolla sedan — employ cheaper, semi-independent rear suspensions. The SE and XSE grades have a sport-tuned setup.
Like the outgoing Corolla sedan, the redesign has an impressive array of standard safety features: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with steering assist. CVT-equipped models add a stop-and-go function to the adaptive cruise control, as well as lane-centering steering, all the way to a stop — the latter capability being rare among even non-luxury cars, let alone compact models. Safety options on the Corolla sedan include a blind spot warning system and adaptive headlights that pivot in the direction of the turn.
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