2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Review: The Essence Of Dependability

by Sebastian Cenizo

When it comes to reliable, affordable, and safe compact sedans, the Toyota Corolla is almost impossible to beat. That's no mean feat when rivals in the segment include the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and the Volkswagen Jetta. A number of trims are on offer to suit every budget, and each is remarkably frugal, even before you consider the Toyota Corolla Hybrid. Two engines are on offer, both being four-cylinder naturally-aspirated mills. The first is a 1.8-liter that produces 139 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, while the second is a 2.0-liter that develops 169 horses and 151 lb-ft of twist. Throughout the lineup, front-wheel-drive is the configuration of choice with most models mated to a continuously variable transmission, although the SE trim also offers a six-speed manual and some higher trims come with a "dynamic" CVT. Pricing starts at under $20,000 and numerous safety features are standard, but is the new Corolla still good enough to take on the likes of the class-leading Honda Civic?

Read in this review:

🚙What’s Changed For The New Toyota Corolla In 2021?

Changes to the 2021 Corolla cars are few since the 2020 version was a completely new offering in the US, redesigned from the ground up. Nevertheless, Android Auto is now included on all Corollas, along with an additional pair of rear-seat side-mounted airbags that brings the count to 10. The LE trim now has access to a Smart Key, blind-spot monitoring, and 16-inch alloy wheels. In addition, a limited Apex Edition is also on offer for SE and XSE trims with sporty styling and track-tuned suspension. Only 6,000 will be produced, of which 120 will be manual variants based on the SE. Finally, a new Nightshade model is available, which adds various accents to the SE trim.

Pros and Cons

  • Great fuel economy
  • Numerous standard features
  • Plenty of safety equipment
  • Comfortable ride
  • Affordable pricing
  • Attractive styling
  • Android Auto finally included
  • Rear headroom is limited
  • Engines are a little underpowered
  • Manual transmission limited to a single trim

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
L
1.8-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$19,925
LE
1.8-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$20,375
SE
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$22,375
XLE
1.8-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$24,325
XSE
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$25,825

Corolla Sedan Exterior

The Toyota Corolla sedan we review here is an attractive offering in the segment, with J-shaped LED headlights, a gaping grille, and a handsome rear end that features a faux diffuser and vent-shaped reflectors. 15-inch steel wheels are fitted to the base model, with 16s on the LE trim. All other models feature alloy wheels, with these available in 16-inch (XLE) and 18-inch sizing (SE, SE Nightshade, XSE) with various finishes. Upper trims also feature chrome twin exhaust tips, while the SE Nightshade version adds numerous black accents to the door handles, mirror caps, badges, and even the shark-fin roof antenna and trunk spoiler. The Apex Edition is a sporty special edition for the new model year and comes with a unique black aero kit with bronze accents, as well as a unique front spoiler, fog light covers, rocker panels, and rear diffuser. A trunk spoiler is optional while unique 18-inch wheels are standard, making for an attractive exterior in this spec.

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Front View Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Rear Angle View Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Front Angle View Toyota
See All 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Dimensions across the range are largely similar on the Corolla sedan. All models are 70.1 inches wide with a height measurement of 56.5 inches, but the Apex model is 0.6 inches lower. The wheelbase measures 106.3 inches, but while most models are 182.3 inches in length, the SE and XSE trims are 182.5 inches long. Curb weight starts at 2,910 pounds on the base model, while the LE is 45 pounds heavier. The SE in CVT guise is 3,110 lbs while the manual is 3,055. The XLE and XSE trims weigh 3,045 and 3,150 lbs, respectively.

  • Length 182.3 in
  • Wheelbase 106.3 in
  • Height 56.5 in
  • Max Width 70.1 in
  • Front Width 60.3 in
  • Rear Width 61.0 in

Exterior Colors

Nine hues make up 2021's color palette, each capable of being paired with a two-tone roof color scheme on SE and XSE trims. The base model is available in four no-cost finishes, with Celestite Gray Metallic joined by Classic Silver Metallic, Black Sand Pearl, and Super White. The SE Nightshade is only available in these last three colors. The LE and XLE trims come in the same colors, or you can have Barcelona Red Metallic or Blue Print. For $425 more, you can also equip Blizzard Pearl. The SE and XSE add Blue Crush Metallic at no cost, but the XSE loses out on the red, although you can have the aforementioned Blue Crush Metallic on this model. The Apex Edition is the only one that has access to a two-tone Cement with Black Sand Pearl finish for the roof. This model also has black mirror caps.

  • Super White
  • Celestite
  • Black Sand Pearl
  • Classic Silver Metallic
  • Barcelona Red Metallic
  • Blueprint
  • Blizzard Pearl
  • Blue Crush Metallic
  • Blizzard Pearl w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Classic Silver Metallic w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Super White w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Blue Crush Metallic w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Celistite w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Blueprint w/Black Sand Pearl Roof
  • Barcelona Red Metallic w/Black Sand Pearl Roof

Corolla Sedan Performance

The Toyota Corolla has never been a shrine to performance, and 2021's version is no different. The Corolla comes with a choice of two engines, both of which are four-cylinder motors with no forced induction. The entry-level engine is a 1.8-liter that produces 139 hp and 126 lb-ft, and as you can guess, a 0-60 mph time of less than 10 seconds is all you can ask for here. The 2.0-liter is slightly better with its 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, but this engine still only motivates the Corolla to get from 0 to 60 mph in eight seconds. Clearly, the Corolla was never built for top speed. However, what the front-wheel-drive sedan does offer is a comfortable ride along with remarkably good handling. It's not going to win any autocross events, but it is spritely enough to feel capable, and in an affordable sedan like this, anything more would probably be considered overkill. The only rivals in the segment to offer AWD come from Japanese kin like Mazda and Subaru, whose Mazda 3 and Impreza offerings can drive all four wheels.

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Front View Driving Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Gear Shifter Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Gauge Cluster Toyota

Engine and Transmission

Toyota divides the Corolla lineup into two sub-lines, Luxury and Sport, denominated by the 'L' or 'S' in the trim name. The standard engine on L-line models is the smaller 1.8-liter four-pot with 139 hp and 126 lb-ft. It's always mated to a continuously variable transmission, so if the engine proves uninspiring - which it likely will for anyone but the most speed-fearing student drivers - the transmission won't set your hair on fire either. This configuration may cause you to give up driving altogether, as even metropolitan busses get off the line quicker than this. You'll never fail at overtaking anyone either because you'll be too scared of the car approaching from the opposite direction, even if that car is so far away that it can only be detectable by radar. Essentially, once you're in a lane, make sure it's a slow one and try to stick to it.

However, if you get the 2.0-liter four-banger with its 169 hp and 151 lb-ft, you'll find that getting going is a little easier to achieve. It's still not a fire-breathing power plant, but it's good enough to not be frustrating, and overtaking is now an option. The CVT that comes in the SE and XSE trims is also a "Dynamic-Shift" setup that emulates ten traditional gear ratios, and certainly feels far more refined and eager to get you off the mark. The SE's available six-speed manual is the highlight of the range, with its smooth and light stick making driving the Corolla a little more enjoyable. Whichever powertrain you choose, you won't feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and although this segment is not the place to find Autobahn missiles, most rivals are more polished and quicker.

  • Engines
    1.8-liter Inline-4 Gas, 2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Manual, Automatic, Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The 2020 model year saw a drastic step up in the Corolla's handling thanks to the new TNGA platform that greatly improved the suspension. 2021's model sees no significant changes in the US, but the same observations apply as our 2020 review of the Corolla. The ride is compliant and smooth, absorbing almost every ripple and undulation that the road can throw at you. In the SE and XSE variants, the suspension is slightly sportier in its tuning, but although the handling is slightly enhanced, the Corolla still rides impeccably with little reason for any occupant to complain. In the corners, the Corolla sedan changes direction at low speeds quickly and maintains grip levels well. The steering feels good and is well-weighted, but high-speed evasive maneuvers are certainly the Corolla's Achilles' heel. Rivals like the Mazda 3 and Honda Civic are certainly more enthusiastic in the bends, but the Apex Edition's unique suspension tuning and lower ride height make it the best-handling of the Corolla models.

There's a caveat though, in that that the ultra-firm suspension may cull body roll, but it severely detriments comfort, creating a bouncy ride over broken pavement. The revised steering for the Apex, however, is a joy, with quicker responses and making the most of the chassis upgrades.

Corolla Sedan Gas Mileage

The Corolla has always promised low running costs, and where the lackluster powertrains may seem boring, they greatly benefit fuel consumption in the real world. The base L trim is impressively frugal, returning a claimed 30/38/33 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. The LE returns the same figures, while the XLE - the final 1.8-liter model - promises 29/37/32 mpg. With its 2.0-liter engine, the SE returns remarkable figures of 31/40/34 mpg, despite providing more power. But, when paired with the manual transmission, it returns 29/36/32 mpg. The XSE is a little heavier and promises 31/38/34 mpg, but all models come with a 13.2-gallon gas tank. Maximum range with mixed driving is estimated at around 449 miles.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    13.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 30/38 mpg
* 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan L CVT

Corolla Sedan Interior

The Corolla's interior is nothing uncommon for the segment, with plenty of plastics and a simple, ergonomic layout. However, those plastics feel great and are rarely interrupted by hard plastics, and most of the inferior materials aren't on high-traffic touchpoints. The central touchscreen display sits proudly atop the dash, while a small TFT screen aids the driver. Overall, it looks and feels appealing, and there's no cause for concern when it comes to build quality. The seats are comfortable too, and the cabin is spacious, although taller individuals may be slightly happier in the front, where some trims offer heated seats.

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Dashboard Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Steering Wheel Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Infotainment System Toyota
See All 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

All trim levels of the Corolla sedan seat five individuals in decent comfort, but those over six-feet will only narrowly miss the roof when seated in the back. The seats are inoffensive, although lower trims only come with manual adjustment and have fairly flat cushioning. On the SE and XSE variants, you get sports seats that offer more support without invading on comfort, and power-adjustment is available on higher trims with eight-way adjustment for the driver and four-way adjustment for the person riding shotgun. Getting in and out is a breeze too, and there's plenty of space for long legs at 42/34.8 inches front/rear. In the driver's seat, the layout is easy to live with and all-round visibility is decent. Essentially, the Corolla neither blows your mind nor makes sitting in the car unbearable. It's just discreetly good.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 42.0 in
  • Front Head Room 38.3 in
  • Rear Leg Room 34.8 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.1 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The base L model is the only trim that doesn't come with metallic interior trim accents, but ideally, you want an SE or higher trim to get a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Nevertheless, the base model's Light Gray/Moonstone color scheme fabric upholstery is nice enough. On the LE trim, you have a choice of the L's color scheme or All Black and even Macadamia/Beige. The SE loses out on this beige option but gains blue stitching for the black configuration, while the SE Nightshade Edition features striped black fabric only. On the XLE, SofTex faux leather replaces the fabric and comes in black with white contrast stitching or in Macadamia/Beige. The XSE gets the same material, but with white or blue contrast stitching that is only paid with black synthetic leather. The Apex Edition, with its premium fabric upholstery on the SE and with SofTex faux leather on the XSE is all black but features bronze stitching.

Corolla Sedan Trunk and Cargo Space

The 2021 Corolla sedan offers a respectable 13.1 cubic feet of volume in the trunk, which is enough for all occupants to bring weekend luggage, but if you need more space, the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to allow for longer items. Rivals offer more, however, with the Civic Sedan being the class leader at 15.1 cubes.

You get a pair of cupholders up front in the cabin, a spot under the dash for your keys and some loose change, and large door pockets. There's also a decent glovebox, but if you get the base L trim, you won't get a pair of cupholders in the back.

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Rear Passenger Seats Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Front Seats Toyota
2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Rear Angle View 1 Toyota
  • Trunk Volume
    13.1 ft³

Corolla Sedan Infotainment and Features

Features

Depending on which trim level you opt for, the standard and available features change considerably, but even the base model is well equipped. It features a 4.2-inch TFT driver info screen, automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, radar-guided dynamic cruise control, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking. Other features available higher up in the range include heated wing mirrors with blind-spot helpers, keyless entry, automatic climate control, a power sunroof, push-button start, adaptive LED headlights, power-adjustable heated front seats, ambient lighting, QI inductive wireless charging, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and, on SE and higher trims fitted with the CVT, a sport mode.

Infotainment

The standard setup in the base L model boasts a seven-inch touchscreen display to control the infotainment system that feeds a six-speaker audio system. The infotainment system boasts Android Auto for 2021, while Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, SiriusXM satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB port carry over from 2020. If you'd like to upgrade, the LE trim and higher will give you an additional USB port and an eight-inch touchscreen display. Also available is a nine-speaker JBL audio upgrade, while navigation is also on offer. The system works well and is thankfully accompanied by buttons and knobs that make it easier to live with and use. However, the screen looks slightly out of place on the dash and is one of the few hard-edged components of the smooth and curvy interior design.

Corolla Sedan Problems and Reliability

The 2021 Toyota Corolla sedan has been free of recalls so far, but the 2020 model that is almost identical suffered two. The first was in March 2019 for non-permanent text on the load capacity label while the second was in April 2020 and pertained to reverse lights that may fail.

Should anything go awry, a limited warranty covers the car's reliability for the first three years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain is covered for five years/60,000 miles, too, while complimentary scheduled maintenance is provided for the first two years/25,000 miles.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    2 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Maintenance:
    2 Years \ 25,000 Miles

Corolla Sedan Safety

So far, 2021 Toyota Corolla sedan models have not been fully rated by the NHTSA. However, it achieved a full five stars in its frontal crash rating and four stars for rollover safety and achieved a full five stars for overall safety as a 2020 year model. In the IIHS review, the 2021 variant hasn't been evaluated at all but the 2020 model won a Top Safety Pick award, an impressive rating for the Toyota Corolla.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

Standard safety features for the Corolla are impressive, with 10 airbags, including rear side-impact airbags newly added for 2021 models. It also boasts Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 which includes forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection. You also get a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, hill start assist, and tire pressure monitoring. Lane departure warning, lane keep assist, auto high beams, traffic sign recognition, and full-speed radar-guided dynamic cruise control are included too. However, the manual SE trim only gets standard dynamic cruise control.

Toyota Corolla Review Verdict: 🏁Is It A Good Car?

The Toyota Corolla four-door has never been a presumptuous vehicle. It knows where it slots in in the pecking order, and it's dedicated everything to being the car you expect. It's affordable, reliable, and remarkably safe. It's also light on gas, and although the base 1.8-liter engine is underpowered and won't do you any favors in a drag race, it gets the job done and can't be faulted considering the features that the rest of the car comes with. However, this minor issue can easily be alleviated with the 2.0-liter engine. The fact that there is a manual option is a bonus, but the fact that it's only available on one trim may deter some. Still, the Corolla rides well no matter what configuration you opt for, and its safety features are stellar. Sure, the Honda Civic and the Mazda 3 will be a lot more fun to drive, but for someone who needs an affordable car that just gets the job done, the Corolla is hard to beat.

🚘What's the Price of 2021 Toyota Corolla?

Numerous Toyota Corolla models are on offer, the cheapest in the lineup being the base L trim. It retails at an MSRP of $19,825 before a $955 destination charge. Stepping up to the LE will set you back $20,275, while the SE has a cost of $22,275. The SE Manual is a little pricier at $22,975 - the same price you'll pay for the CVT-only SE Nightshade Edition. The XLE is one of the more premium models in the lineup and costs $24,225, while the top XSE trim has the highest price of any standard Toyota Corolla in the USA and costs $25,725. The Apex Edition models are rather ludicrously priced, though, starting at $26,065 for the Apex SE, while the Apex XSE is $29,205. Want one of 120 manuals? An additional $390 seals the deal.

2021 Toyota Corolla Models

The 2021 Toyota Corolla lineup comprises six models, split into two lines with different powertrains. L, LE, and XLE models feature a 1.8-liter engine and a CVT automatic gearbox. Meanwhile, SE, SE Nightshade Edition, and XSE models feature a 2.0-liter engine and a Dynamic-Shift CVT automatic, although the SE can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The L comes with fabric upholstery, 15-inch steel wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and a six-speaker sound system. It also features a 4.2-inch TFT driver info display, ten airbags, LED headlights, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection, air-conditioning, and a reverse camera.

Building on this, the LE gets 16-inch steel wheels, automatic climate control, rear cupholders, keyless entry, two USB ports, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display.

The SE gets a sportier focus. This model comes with upgraded LED headlights, a sport mesh grille, Dark Gray Metallic accents, wing mirrors with integrated turn signals, a trunk spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, a leather steering wheel, and a sport mode. The manual-equipped variant gets a standard sunroof and push-button start.

SE Nightshade Edition derivatives are identical to the SE but with gloss black accents on the front grille, the mirrors, door handles, rocker panels, badges, rear spoiler, and wheels. It also gets smoked taillights.

As the penultimate model in the range, the XLE gets a sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels, faux leather upholstery, heated front seats, and push-button start. It also gets a premium instrument cluster, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and more options, including ambient lighting and wireless charging.

The top XSE trim wears 18-inch alloy wheels and gains power adjustment for both front seats. Other than that, standard features and available options are pretty much identical to those of the XLE.

See All 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The base L model Corolla isn't available with any options or packages, but the LE has access to two: The LE Convenience package and the LE Premium package. The former costs $1,150 and adds remote keyless entry, alloy wheels, push-button start, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, while the latter adds the same features along with a power tilt-and-slide sunroof for $2,000. The SE gets access to a Premium package that costs $1,500 and adds blind-spot monitoring, color-coded heated wing mirrors, and a smart key with push-button start, along with a power moonroof. More expensive packages are available that add an eight-inch touchscreen or the bigger screen and a nine-speaker JBL system. These cost $2,265 and $2,865 respectively.

The top two trims are available with two packages: the XLE/XSE Connectivity Package and the XLE/XSE Connectivity Package With Options. The first costs $1,715 and adds a nine-speaker JBL sound system, navigation, and Qi inductive wireless charging. The second costs $2,165 and builds on the first with adaptive LED headlights and ambient interior lighting. Pricing remains the same whichever model of the two you add it to. The Apex Edition is based on the SE and XSE models and adds sportier styling, unique wheels, bronze accents, and track-enhanced lowered suspension. This special "package" is limited to just 6,000 units.

🚗What Toyota Corolla Sedan Model Should I Buy?

There are plenty of options here, but the one thing that you can't compromise on is the 2.0-liter engine. For that reason, the L, LE, and XLE trims are out of the running. While the fun-seekers among us would be tempted to immediately opt for the SE 6MT for its manual transmission, most won't be buying a car like this and looking to have some fun on quiet back roads. Still, we'd get this model for its added features compared to the CVT, including a sunroof and push-button start. This would be a safe, comfortable, and well-specced choice. For the die-hards, the limited Apex Edition models, with their sport-tuned suspension, are wonderful. However, they lack any significant increase in power, which is disappointing. More than this, you'll want the manual gearbox, and with only 120 of the 6,000 units being based on the SE manual, these will be extremely rare to come by.

Check out other Toyota Corolla Styles

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan Comparisons

Toyota Camry Toyota
Honda Civic Sedan Honda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Toyota Corolla Sedan139 hp30/38 mpg$19,925
Toyota Camry 203 hp29/41 mpg$24,425
Honda Civic Sedan 158 hp25/36 mpg$20,000

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan vs Toyota Camry

Occupying the midsize sedan segment, the Toyota Camry is a larger and more comfortable alternative from the Japanese automaker that is also loaded with more standard features. However, it costs almost five grand more, so is it worth it? Well, instead of a CVT it gets a proper eight-speed automatic transmission and, in the base model, a 2.5-liter four-pot developing 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Despite this, it's only around two mpg thirstier on gas. Furthermore, its increased size means more space for passengers and cargo, although not much in terms of the latter. Nevertheless, the interior of the Camry is stunning and certainly feels a lot more premium. In addition, if you're willing to spend a bit more, you can have dual-zone climate control, a panoramic glass sunroof, and even a head-up display. It all costs a fair amount, so if you're on a budget and looking for a well-rounded car, the Corolla is ideal. But if you can spare some extra cash, the Camry is a big step up, and as a bonus, you can even have a V6 if your pockets are deep enough.

See Toyota Camry Review

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan vs Honda Civic Sedan

As we've mentioned more than once in this Toyota Corolla review, the Honda Civic offers far superior handling, but what else does it have going for it? Firstly, it's only a little more expensive at a base price of just over $20,000, but the great news for driving enthusiasts is that the entry- and mid-level trims come with a manual, and it's one of the best in the segment. If you don't like that, a CVT will only cost around 800 bucks more. The base engine is a 2.0-liter that makes 11 horses less than the Corolla's 169 in the 2.0-liter, while a turbo 1.5L rules the roost in Hondatown with 174 hp and 162 lb-ft available. Furthermore, the cabin is much more modern and looks more upmarket too. It also offers features like dual-zone climate control and many of the same standard features that the Toyota boasts. A better sound system is on offer, but the base setup is weaker than that of the Toyota. Overall, they're very closely matched but based on the added cargo space, better available features, and impressive handling capabilities of the Civic, we'll give this one to Honda.

See Honda Civic Sedan Review

Toyota Corolla Sedan Popular Comparisons

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Photos
$19,925 - $25,825
Price Range (MSRP)
Toyota Corolla Sedan