2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Leaps and bounds over its predecessor in terms of driving dynamics.
Leaps and bounds over its predecessor in terms of driving dynamics.

by Jerry Vo | July 1, 2019


When most people think of the world’s best-selling automobile model, a few obvious choices come to mind. The old Volkswagen Beetle was made for forever, and the Ford F-Series pickup truck is a perennial chart topper. The title, however, goes to the Toyota Corolla. Now in its newly-minted twelfth generation, over 40 million Corollas have been produced and sold worldwide. By comparison, this still surpasses Japanese domestic rival Honda even when you combine both the Civic and Accord’s production run. Based on excellent results from other vehicles on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, we have high hopes for the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE CVT. Other TNGA cars have been known to be refined and with great handling characteristics. How will the new Corolla stack up?

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE review

While the cheapest Corolla starts at $18,990, the XSE CVT sits atop the Corolla range and goes for $28,490. No further options are available at this point, but all XSE CVTs come well equipped and include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, SofTex Leather (read: very good synthetic leather) seating surfaces, a heated steering wheel, navigation on an 8-inch touch screen, 18″ alloy wheels, and Qi wireless charging. For those interested in a hybrid, one is now available in the Corolla range. With the upgrade package, it’s almost as well equipped as the XSE, but misses out on sportier styling and comes in a couple thousand less than the XSE.

As mentioned, the new TNGA platform has spawned a multitude of great handling cars bearing the Toyota nameplate. The latest Camry, Avalon, and RAV4 models all turn and drive wonderfully well, and after a week of driving, the Corolla XSE gets this distinction, too. Chassis stiffness and excellent suspension design contribute to very sharp turn-in response and cornering confidence, and the side effect to this is ride quality that feels more premium than expected.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE review

By comparison, the 2019 Mazda3 (reviewed here) moved to a solid torsion beam for the rear suspension, and Toyota is the wild child with the independent multi-link design. Toyota made a bold move with actually making the Corolla fun to drive – don’t let past perceptions and preconceived notions colour your judgement here. It’s the real deal. It’s a car that rides and drives well without punishing occupants with a too-extreme setup.

Powering SE and XSE trim levels of the Corolla is a 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder engine. Like the suspension tuning, this engine throws all the Corolla stereotypes out of the window thanks to excellent naturally aspirated response and performance. With a 6,750RPM redline, the engine is happy to hit these revs with minimal harshness and fuss. Peak output is 169 horsepower at 6,600RPM, and 151 lb-ft. of torque between 4,500 and 4,900RPM. In practice, the 2.0L has a fat midrange torque curve, and hauls ass pretty well at full throttle.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE review

While a six-speed manual is available on cheaper SE trims, the top-trim XSE comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s a unit that works well, and has a real first gear in order to launch the Corolla more smoothly. After starting to move, the CVT takes over shifting duty and is adept at always picking the right ratio at the right time, contrary to the Mazda3 GT AWD that has a six-speed automatic with ratios that are much too tall for good acceleration. The little Toyota sedan makes short work of providing the torque required for the task at hand, and there’s little to no rubber band slipping feel that’s common to those trying out CVTs for the first time.

For many, Corolla is a consideration on a shopping list thanks to low fuel consumption. City ratings for the 2020 XSE CVT are rated at 7.7L/100KM in the city, and 6.1L/100KM on the highway. With a ton of idling around in dense urban traffic, observed economy was 8.6L/100KM. Tank capacity is 50 litres, and regular octane is acceptable.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE review

Inside, the 2020 Corolla XSE CVT is a spacious place to be considering the size of the car. With seating for five, two average sized adults can sit in the back comfortably with a reasonable amount of leg room, although headroom and the view out the side is somewhat encroached on by a fast-sloping roofline. The front seats should accommodate bigger and taller passengers no problem, but for people of any size, long-distance comfort is middle of the pack. Trunk space is impressive, and the rear seats fold in the 60/40 split. The rest of the interior itself is very well put together as is typical of Toyota, and there are a good amount of ergonomically sound buttons to go with a more premium feel than the outgoing Corolla.

In terms of interior technology, Toyota’s touch screen based centre screen is laid out well, with menus that are intuitive and don’t require too many distracting touches to operate. The premium audio on the XSE is clear and packs a good punch, and is among the better systems among other compact sedans. The industry gold-standard Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity is now equipped on all trim levels, which mirrors messaging, music streaming, and Google Maps/Waze navigation onto the car’s screen. For the Corolla at least, Android users looking for Android Auto are out of luck until 2021 unfortunately, although other Toyotas are now starting to get it, and there may be a retrofit program available through your local dealer.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE review

Overall, the 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE CVT is leaps and bounds over its predecessor in terms of driving dynamics. While many used to make fun of the Corolla as being an uninspiring appliance to drive, this is definitely and wholeheartedly not the case now that it is on the TNGA platform. Against its peers, the Mazda3 GT can come with all-wheel drive for a couple grand more, and while has better steering feel and interior, its automatic lets it down with gear ratios that are much too tall. The Honda Civic is getting a little longer in the tooth, but still holds its own and should be cross-shopped. The Corolla makes a very compelling argument to sit at the top of its class with great value for money, fuel economy, and bold styling. It is simply a good car in just about every aspect.

See Also:

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT

2019 Honda Civic Sport Coupe

2019 Hyundai Elantra Ultimate

Vehicle Specs
Engine Size
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
The DoubleClutch.ca Podcast

About Jerry Vo

An autocrosser and a passionate photographer, Jerry (Content Editor) has been a behind-the-scenes member of the DoubleClutch.ca team for almost three years. Now, when he's not at the track with his Pontiac G8 GT, he brings his own unique take to new vehicle reviews and managing content and logistics.