Car review: 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE

By Larry Lark, contributor

Toyota’s venerable Corolla received a bumper-to-bumper, wheels-to-roof transformation last year, introducing the 12th generation of this compact sedan that dates back to 1966.

My 2021 Corolla XSE simply moves the ball forward, ever so slightly. With more than 46 million Corolla’s sold in the last 55 years, the Japanese automaker must be doing something right.

Corolla comes with a myriad of trims : L, LE, LE Hybrid, XLE, SE 6MT, SE CVT, and XSE.

And the entire line debuts enhancements for 2021. All models gain Android Auto compatibility, joining the Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility that were already standard. SiriusXM with a 3-month All-Access trial is also now available across all Corolla grades.

Toyota also made safety enhancements including the addition of rear side airbags, to bring the total number of airbags in the vehicle to 10. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert with Blind Spot Monitor will be standard on the XLE and XSE grades and optional for the LE and LE Hybrid and SE grade with CVT.

All models also gain Automatic Engine Shut-Off, which will automatically turn off the engine after a pre-determined period of time in the event the vehicle is left running. The system can send an enhanced audible and visual warning to the Smart Key system control fob, and future enhancements will include smartphone app capabilities as an added reminder.

The front-wheel driver handles like a sports car, with immediate response around turns and bends, transforming the vehicle from a mere commuter car to fun-to-drive, affordable, family transportation.

Along with the expected NORMAL and ECO drive modes, a SPORT drive mode setting allows for an increase in power for stronger acceleration response when desired.

The Corolla sedan seats up to five adults, and from every angle looks lower and leaner, tauter and tighter than previous versions. Powerful fender flares accent its sculpted, athletic core. And 18-inch, multi-spoke alloy wheels only add to the look.

My tester was powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine mated with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The combination delivers 169 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Corolla managed approximately 35 miles per gallon fuel economy in a combination of city and highway driving.

The Corolla’s cabin is simple, warm, and inviting. It creates an air of luxury, yet is comfortable and durable. A neat instrument panel includes character lines that interlock with the door trim to convey an airy atmosphere. The center stack screen provides access to vehicle settings, audio controls, navigation, and audio multimedia.

Above all else, the cabin is quiet. Somehow Toyota managers to purge road noise from the equation, making conversations possible with regular voice modulation.

XSE includes a JBL nine-speaker, 800-watt audio system with Clari-Fi; Dynamic Voice Recognition; Dynamic Navigation; Dynamic Points of Interest Search; and Destination Assist Connect. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are also standard.

Other creature comforts included a power moonroof, cruise control, air conditioning, heated seats, driver lumbar support controls, back-up camera, and more.

Base Price: $26,820

Price As Driven: $28,895

Destination charge is included in base price. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturer. List price may vary at local dealerships.