2021 Toyota Corolla Review
Toyota redesigned the Corolla last year, giving this typically competent but dull small sedan a much-needed upgrade. The new Corolla gained a considerable amount of style without losing the high levels of comfort and efficiency it's known for.
Changes are few for the 2021 Toyota Corolla. The biggest one is the new Apex Edition. This trim level's upgraded suspension, as well as optional sticky summer performance tires, should liven up the Corolla's handling. Overall, the Corolla is worth considering alongside other top-rated rivals such as the Honda Civic, Kia Forte and Mazda 3.
The Toyota Corolla is a smart pick in the small sedan class. We give it high marks for its smooth ride comfort, high-quality interior, and comprehensive list of advanced safety features. Holding it back is a smaller-than-average trunk and slow acceleration.
How does the Corolla drive?
Acceleration is a bit underwhelming for the class (0-60 mph took 8.8 seconds in our testing), which means you'll likely be flooring the pedal when getting onto highways. Passing slower traffic requires a little extra planning and a heavy foot. Emergency braking performance is adequate, however, and braking force is easy to control for smooth stops.
We tested the Corolla XSE, which is supposed to be the sporty trim level. Alas, we quickly discovered that it's not that sporty. It leans a lot when you go around turns, and its tires don't offer much grip. But as a routine daily driver, the Corolla does just fine. It's easy to maneuver around town, and the operation of its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is generally unobtrusive.
How comfortable is the Corolla?
The Corolla's ride quality is smooth over a variety of road surfaces, and the front seats are comfortable. Whether you're tall or small, there are enough adjustments and sufficient range within those adjustments to find your preferred position. We do prefer the cloth seats since they breathe better than the available simulated leather on hot days.
Road noise is ever present. It gets so loud on the highway that you'll have to crank the stereo to overcome it. The engine sounds labored under hard acceleration, but the continuously variable transmission's simulated gear changes help reduce the droning sound that is otherwise typical for a CVT.
How’s the interior?
The Corolla's interior benefits from a simple, easy-to-use layout. The controls are right where you want them and are logically grouped. The number of buttons is sensible, with just enough to be useful but not so many that it looks cluttered.
It's also easy to get in and out of the car. Front passengers have plenty of room, and the driver has clear sight lines to both the front and rear. Seating for rear passengers is tighter, especially with regard to headroom. Adult occupants' heads might be close to the roof. The Honda Civic is better in this respect.
How’s the tech?
Toyota's recent infotainment systems have never managed to win us over, but this latest version is a marked improvement. That said, it's still not as intuitive or visually appealing as rival systems. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now both standard.
Many advanced safety features are included as part of the standard Toyota Safety Sense suite, and almost all are well tuned to be as unobtrusive as possible. The lane departure warning system is the outlier, and it can be oversensitive and annoying with its frequent beeping. The adaptive cruise control is praiseworthy for its smooth braking and acceleration.
How’s the storage?
The Corolla has a slightly smaller trunk (13 cubic feet) than its primary competition. And it should still be enough for typical use. Unfortunately, the rear seatbacks don't fold flat with the trunk floor, which could complicate loading longer and bulkier cargo.
Storage for personal items is also on the small side. There are just enough places for your phone and the like, but many competitors give you more. On the plus side, there seems to be ample space for infant and child safety seats. The clearly marked car seat anchors should help with installation.
How economical is the Corolla?
The EPA rating for the Corolla XSE with the 2.0-liter engine and CVT automatic (the car we tested) is 34 mpg in combined driving (31 city/38 highway). That's a strong showing from what is the most powerful engine in the Corolla lineup. On our 115-mile evaluation route, the Corolla easily exceeded that estimate, returning an impressive 40.2 mpg.
The less powerful 1.8-liter engine is rated at 33 mpg combined. For the ultimate in mileage, check out the Corolla Hybrid.
Is the Corolla a good value?
The Corolla is competitive against the top entrants in the small sedan class. The cabin is upscale and is solidly put-together. Toyota's reputation for reliability figures into most shoppers' decisions, but there are other aspects to consider. You also get two years of free scheduled maintenance, which is unusual in this class.
The latest Corolla brings a fresh and modern style without unnecessary trinkets and vents. It's also more enjoyable to drive than before, but other sedans in the class are noticeably more entertaining. The overarching themes are capability and competence.
The sleek and modern styling of this current generation makes the previous Corolla seem generic by comparison. The more aggressive body treatments for the XSE trim make it even more attractive.
Which Corolla does Edmunds recommend?
The Corolla is a model of affordability and efficiency. But for a small price increase over the base L or LE trim level, we'd take the SE trim. We like the more powerful engine and its longer list of standard features. It also gives you more flexibility for adding options.
Toyota Corolla models
The 2021 Corolla is offered in five main trim levels: the L, LE, XLE, SE and XSE. In addition, there's also the SE Nightshade and the new-for-2021 Apex Edition. All Corollas are front-wheel-drive.