By now, you’ve heard that some automakers are dropping small sedans and hatchbacks from their line-ups. These automakers are buoyed by the heady sales and big profits of luxed-out full-size pickups and every conceivable micro-slice of SUV and crossover.
The Big Three in particular are moving passenger cars to the exit doors. Especially small ones. FCA nixed the Dart and Chrysler 200 a couple years ago, Chevrolet is giving the Cruze, Volt and Impala the heave-ho and Ford is saying adios to all of passenger cars save the Mustang.
In a mindset that laser-focuses on stock price and quarterly profits, culling the low- or no-profit passenger cars and cranking up production of high-dollar trucks sort of makes sense. Except that line of thinking leaves first-time car buyers kind of out in the cold.
Once all the smoke and mirrors of ride sharing, e-bikes and pricey, slow-to-charge electric vehicles clears, there is still a sizeable population of buyers who will want their very own affordable, economical-to-operate and easy-to-maneuver car to put their stuff in.
(Toyota focusing on multi-cultural buyers of new Corolla. Click Here for the story.)
And if those first-time buyers are satisfied with their purchase, there’s a good chance they’ll stay with the brand through their life stages, moving up through the product line and one day put those expensive pickups and SUVs in their driveways.
With the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan, it’s pretty clear Toyota understands that premise.
The Corolla’s the best-selling nameplate in the world. Here in the U.S., it’s a consistent top-seller along with the Camry sedan and RAV4 crossover. According to Toyota, one in four of new Corolla sales are to first-time buyers. And here’s the payoff: Toyota says 65% of Corolla buyers return to the brand for their next vehicle.
It shouldn’t be rocket science to design and build a good $20,000 car. Yet Toyota pulled out all the stops for what is the 12th-generation Corolla. Let’s just say that the previous-gen (2014–2019) Corolla sedan was prized more for its solid value proposition and durable-goods reputation than its fun-to-drive qualities. In recent years, the Honda Civic (North American Car of the Year in 2016) exceeded the Corolla in U.S. sales.
The 2020 Corolla Sedan rolls on the new TNGA platform that underpins the 2019 Corolla Hatchback, 2019 RAV4 and others. It sports stiffer body structure, a new multilink rear suspension, more precise steering, upgraded 4-wheel disc brakes, a more-powerful gas engine, two new transmissions, upgraded infotainment, an extensive suite of standard safety and driver-assistive systems and as you can read about elsewhere on this site, the first-ever Toyota Corolla Hybrid model. For the first time in its 50-plus year history, 18-inch alloy wheels are available on the Corolla.
A first-time buyer’s car should be making a good first impression and here the 2020 Corolla Sedan doesn’t disappoint. There’s none of the Prius Hello Kitty cutesiness or Avalon cow-catcher grille syndrome. Front-end overhang is trimmed nicely and the roof is dropped nearly an inch. Wasp-waisted flanks feature nicely tailored wheel flares. All main exterior lighting are LEDs. There are two different front grille/fascia designs, a “luxury” one for L, LE and XLE and a “sporty” rendition for SE and XSE trims; both are good-looking and distinctive.
Inside, the 2020 Corolla Sedan doesn’t shout “entry sedan.” There’s a modern minimalism that’s clean and fresh. The horizontal theme instrument panel flows into the door panels with minimal ornamentation.
Toyota lowered the seats and dash, so there’s no loss of headroom with the lower roofline. Extensive soundproofing including an acoustic windshield takes the edge off powertrain and road noise. The lowered dash, thinner A-pillars and relocated side mirrors afford improved cross-car outward visibility.
(Click Here for more about the new Toyota Corolla Hybrid.)
All models, including base L trim, get a dashtop-mounted infotainment touchscreen with analog volume and tuning knobs, shortcut quick keys flanking the screen, Verizon 4G LTE in-car Wi-Fi for up to five devices, a Scout GPS navigation link and Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connectivity (Android Auto isn’t available just yet).
On LE and higher trims, screen size goes from 7 to 8 inches. Bluetooth streaming capability plus SiriusXM and HD Radio availability on higher trims means you can leave your old CDs at home. Wireless charging is available for XLE and XSE models. The same rich-sounding 9-speaker JBL premium audio system that’s in the Camry is on the Corolla option list.
The new Corolla sedan follows Honda’s lead in making just about all of its semi-autonomous and advanced safety systems standard. This includes a pre-collision system with auto emergency braking, dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beam control, lane trace assist and a backup camera. A blind-spot monitor, unavailable on Civic, is standard on Corolla XSE and XLE and road sign assist, also not available in the Civic, is standard on all Corolla models.
Under the hood, last year’s port-injected LE Eco 1.8-liter 4-cylinder retuned to a modest 139 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque makes a return engagement in L, LE and XLE trims. Hooked to continuously variable automatic transmission, it gets the job done with six programmed “steps” and little fuss, as long as you are not in a hurry.
The 2020 Corolla Sedan’s SE and XSE trims turn up the wick with powertrain bits borrowed from the sporty Corolla hatchback. D4-S fuel-injection system with both port and direct injection and more advanced VVT-iE variable valve timing on the intake side plus high 13:1 compression enable the naturally aspirated Dynamic Force 2.0-liter to develop 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. While that’s not as powerful as the output of the competing Civic 1.5-liter turbo at 174 hp, 169 horsepower is notable as the most ever available in a Corolla sedan.
What makes the Corolla SE/XSE sedan’s 169 horsepower even more enjoyable are the gearboxes it’s attached to. Unlike the basic non-Si Civic, the Corolla makes a 6-speed manual transmission available with the uplevel engine choice, in this case the spunky 2.0-liter.
As with the Corolla Hatchback, the sedan’s 6-speed is equipped with iMT “intelligent” software that makes even the most ham-fisted shifter a master clutch artist. It automatically rev-matches on downshifts, plus it smooths upshifts and helps prevent stalling when launching from a stop. Call it Photo Shop for gear shifters. The manual-iMT transmission option is running at 10% penetration in Corolla Hatchback models and a Toyota representative cautiously projects about a 5% take rate for the sedan.
The CVT used with the Corolla’s 2.0-liter is special as well, employing a “hard” first gear for quicker launch response. The use of a hard gear for first frees up the CVT to provide a wider ratio span with taller top gears for cruising that help the SE CVT model achieve a 40 mpg highway estimate.
(To see TheDetroitBureau.com’s review of the new Corolla hybrid, Click Here.)
The Corolla just got more aspirational. And that’s quite an achievement for a compact sedan that just breaks the $20K barrier with the base L model at $20,430 and topping out with the well-equipped XSE at $26,430 (all prices including destination). Retail sales begin in March.