WASHINGTON — Have you noticed the prices of compact sedans lately? If you want all the options, the price can get close to $30,000 — a pretty large chunk of money for a small sedan. That’s what made the Toyota Corolla’s top- of-the-line XSE trim level a surprise when it showed up with a price under $25,000. So what do you get for the money?
The Corolla XSE is a roomy compact with a stylish interior. The XSE version is a sportier version of the people-mover. Blue stitching on the seats, dash and door trim pieces add a nice touch. The front seats are heated and the driver’s seat has eight-way power adjustments. The seats are finished in a material called SofTex, a convincing leather-type material. A power moon roof is standard on this model, and it’s a welcome addition on good weather days.
Back seat space is above average for a compact sedan, with plenty of space for two adults or three children. I wish there where air vents for the back seat passengers. The dash controls are easy to use with larger knobs and buttons for radio/NAV and climate controls. But there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto offered for any Toyota products as of now.
The Corolla isn’t the quickest compact sedan I’ve driven. You can have a manual transmission in some trim levels but the XSE has one transmission, the CVT automatic. It helps with good fuel economy. I managed 32.9 mpg for my week of driving. It keeps the engine in a drone when accelerating up to speed. There is a 132-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that feels a bit underpowered compared to some other cars in this compact class; you notice it when trying to merge.
While not very sporty, the Corolla is a pleasant commuter car soaking up most bumps well. There is clear vision out of the car. One thing I noticed on the highway is that it’s a little louder than some other compact sedans I’ve driven lately. The Toyota Safety Sense-P adds radar cruise control and a pre-collision system with pedestrian protection that works really well. There is also lane departure warning with assist which will steer the car a bit if it veers off road or wanders trying to get back in the lane.
Usually when you think Corolla, “stylish sedan” isn’t the first description out of my mouth but times are changing at Toyota. The Corolla has upped the styling lately and the XSE trim level is the most daring of them all. There’s a lot going on visually up front. It has a large, wide grill that’s blacked-out that leads farther up the front fascia to LED headlights and smaller openings between the lights. The side view is tamer in comparison but nicely done with sporty looking 17-inch alloy wheels and blacked-out trim around the windows to give it a more upscale look. The rear-end styling is normal and there is a nicely integrated rear spoiler that adds details to the Corolla.
The Toyota Corolla XSE certainly looks different from past Corolla models. But underneath, it’s still a solid compact sedan that has been popular for decades. While still not the most exciting to drive, it does everything a small sedan should do. Now with some advanced safety features, the Corolla is a safer compact sedan and at nice price, too.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.