When you hear that the average price paid for a new car last year was more than $35,000 – and hear that average price of an electric car is higher than that – it’s welcome news to hear about a car like the Toyota Corolla.
You can buy one of these for just over $20,000 – which is about half the price of an entry-level electric car.
You won’t have to pay extra to go farther, either. The Corolla comes standard with more than 500 miles of highway range (about 400 in city driving) and you can still get it with a manual transmission, which is almost as surprising as finding a gas station that sells unleaded for less than $2 per gallon.
There are a few other things about the Corolla that make it stand out in the crowd – including the fact that there isn’t much of a crowd anymore. This car is one of the few new sedans you can still buy – the rest having gone over to being crossovers.
What It Is
The Corolla is a compact-sized sedan, a species of car that’s getting rarer and rarer as crossovers become the dominant type of “car” being sold.
Crossovers have their merits – including more room inside for their size – as well as (usually) standard or at least available all-wheel-drive. But none of this is free and it’s one of the reasons why “car” prices have been going up.
The Corolla – which is still a car – stickers for $20,075 to start for the base L trim with a 1.8 liter engine paired up with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission. For reference, Toyota’s least expensive crossover, the C-HR, stickers for $23,880 to start – and it’s not available with a manual transmission.
You can get that in the Corolla SE, which lists for $23,225 so equipped – along with a larger (and stronger) 2.0 liter engine.
A top-of-the-line XSE Apex trim with the 2.0 engine, CVT automatic, sport-tuned (and lowered) suspension plus unique exterior and interior trim lists for $28,630 – still about $7k less than what most people paid for a new car last year.
Very little – which is very good.
Part of the reason for the Corolla’s enduring success as the best-selling small car, ever – even more so than the VW Beetle, original model – is its conservatism. Toyota keeps what works and rarely makes major changes that might not.
The Corolla remains a kind of lifebuoy of constancy in a sea of change and uncertainty.
Its reputation precedes it. Corollas hold their value almost as well as silver and gold.
Engine and transmission choices – as opposed to the usual take-it-or-leave it “choice.”
Base L trim has all the essentials. No need to spend more than about $20k for a well-equipped car that’s big enough to be viable as a family car.
What’s Not So Good
Manual is only available with the optional 2.0 liter engine – and it costs extra.
More engine is available in rivals like the Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra/Kia Forte and Honda Civic.
You might feel surrounded by all those crossovers.
Corolla’s conservatism shows in its standard 1.8 liter and optionally available 2.0 liter four cylinder engines – neither of which are turbocharged. All of the others in this class offer turbocharged engines – some with as much 276 horsepower, as in the case of models like the Hyundai Elantra N-Line.
The Corolla’s maximum-effort 2.0 liter engine summons 169 horsepower. The standard 1.8 liter falls back to 139 horsepower. But power and performance aren’t what sells the Corolla.
Anvil-like reliability over the very long term does – and has. There is no other small car on the market – with the next-closest exception of the Civic – that has an earned reputation for being a 20-year-and-then-some car.
They just keep going, as long as you keep putting gas in them.
And a big part of the reason why is because their engines don’t have turbochargers – which apply pressure to the engine’s internals, almost guaranteeing they won’t go 20-years-and-then-some before something expensive wears out or breaks. That is the price of all that power and performance. Toyota also sticks with proven engines for a long time before “updating” them in any major way. The current model’s standard 1.8 liter engine is closely related to the 1.8 liter engine that came standard in the 2000 Corolla – and that was 22 years ago.
It is part of the reason why it is common to see Corollas from 22 years ago still in service as daily drivers. How many Neons and Cavaliers that age have you seen recently? That still run, at all?
The main difference, then vs. now, is that the 1.8 liter engine is a little bit stronger (139 horsepower vs. 125 back in 2000) and the overall package is more fuel efficient 30 city, 38 highway with the standard CVT automatic now vs. 27 city/34 highway with the standard five-speed manual, then.
You can also get the Corolla with that larger, 2.0 liter engine – which wasn’t on the table back then. Its 169 horsepower can be paired with a six speed manual transmission – which, unfortunately, is not available with the 1.8 liter engine. Even with the horsepower bump, the Corolla so equipped rates 28 city, 36 highway – a negligible difference in mileage vs. the standard 1.8 liter/CVT combo.
Some of the others in the class come with more standard engine – or more available power, as in the case of the Elantra and the Mazda3. They kind of have to, in order to offer something to counterbalance the Corolla’s unassailable reputation for being the sure bet, if what you want most isn’t so much a car that will get to 60 the most quickly but rather a car that will keep on going, practically forever.
On The Road
It’s a little weird driving a car amid all the crossovers on the road.
But there are advantages. While it’s true you sometimes can’t see around the crossover ahead of you – or beside you – your car is almost certainly more agile than that crossover ahead of or beside you. Cars – being lower to the ground – are also usually more stable in their handling, especially when the steering wheel is turned sharply or the brakes applied firmly.
The Corolla has those advantages – plus a few more that apply to it, specifically.
That available manual transmission, for instance. No new crossover is available with one. This makes it fun to drive in a way no automatic-only anything can be – no matter how powerful its engine may be. It also gives the driver an extra measure of control over the car that is absent when the transmission has control over the shifting.
If you haven’t driven a manual-equipped car in a few years and have memories of stiff or abrupt clutches, a drive in the six-speed Corolla will be a revelation. The clutch is both light and communicative; it transmits a clear sense of engagement as you let it out without the all-in (or all out) grabbiness some clutches sometimes have. Very easy to drive this Toyota in stop-and-go traffic – and very much more enjoyable to drive it when traffic dissipates.
It’s a shame Toyota doesn’t let you get the manual with the standard 1.8 liter engine, though. Particularly because it might result in the most fuel-efficient Corolla combination. The CVT automatic you get with this engine allows the combination to tout the highest mileage – but it’s only about 2 MPG better overall than the stronger/larger 2.0 engine delivers with the six speed manual. With less engine – and the efficiency advantage of a properly shifted manual – the Corolla could probably manage 40 on the highway.
And it’d be more enjoyable to drive as manuals always make a car with a small, not very powerful engine more fun to drive.
But – again – fun isn’t the main metric here.
Pleasantness is. Well, in addition to knowing the car you just bought is probably the last car you’re going to need to buy for the next 20-plus years.
Which is also very pleasant.
The Corolla is like a favorite pair of shoes – the ones you always want to wear. No surprises, a companion for your travels that always makes your travels uneventful – another way to describe pleasant.
This quality manifests in a soft, quiet ride that will make you feel you bought more car than $20k generally buys. In sensibly ergonomic controls like the dial-type knobs for adjusting the volume and station tuning of the audio system – as well as the temperature and fan speed controls.
There is a touchscreen – but it has a sensible combination of push-button controls to access the various functions, which are displayed on the screen. This is a much easier-to-use (while driving) system than trying to accurately tap/swipe a completely flat screen without any tactile buttons to push.
The higher trims – like the XLE and XLS – are practically posh, with soft leather seat covers and dash trim. And if you want a little more excitement, the new Apex edition takes the sportiest SE trim (with the 2.0 engine and available six speed manual) and adds to that with a lowered suspension and an 18 inch wheel/tire package.
But underneath all that it’s as pleasantly, comfortably Corolla as ever.
Corolla’s conservatism shows – literally.
It is the least dramatic-looking of all the cars in this class, especially relative to the Mazda3 – which is the supermodel of the bunch. Heads will not turn when you roll up in your new Toyota.
But looks aren’t what sells the Corolla anymore than power/performance. The others in this class have to rely on those attributes . . . to get people to look at what they’re selling.
The Corolla sells itself.
Nominally, it’s a compact-sized sedan, 182.3 inches long – which is about the same length as others in the class like the Mazda3 sedan, the Hyundai Elantra (and its Kia-badged cousin, the Forte) and so on.
But actually – where it counts – the Corolla – and most of its rivals – approach the size of mid-sized sedans. Or at least, the room inside of them. This is a secret the car companies would rather you not know about.
For example, the Corolla has 42 inches of front seat legroom; its mid-sized brother, the Camry (which is 192.1 inches long) has . . . 42.1 inches of front seat legroom. The Corolla’s back seat is a little tighter – 34.8 inches of legroom vs. 38 in the Camry – but there’s still plenty of room in the back of a Corolla for most adults to sit without feeling squeezed.
Trunk-wise, it’s even closer. The Corolla’s holds 13.1 cubic feet while the Camry’s offers 15.1 cubic feet.
The point here is that the Corolla is close enough where size matters (inside) to be considered a viable alternative to a nominally mid-sized sedan like the Camry. It might be worth a thought given the Camry’s starting price – $25,295 – is about $5k higher than the Corolla’s. How much is 3 inches more backseat legroom (and 1.9 cubic feet more trunk space) worth to you?
More evidence of the Corolla’s sensibility can be seen in what you don’t get with this car – unless you want it.
The base L comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, which are much tougher than the aluminum wheels several of its rivals come standard with (e.g., the Mazda3 – which comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels). Steel wheels are much less likely to be ruined by an encounter with a pothole or a curb strike. Those sensible 15 inch steel wheels also mount less expensive 15 inch tires, which have lower rolling resistance than 16, 17 and 18-inch wheels – which are available, if you prefer them.
The one less-than-sensible thing you’ll find inside this car is an electric push-button parking brake rather than the tried-and-true pull-it-up parking brake lever. Its elimination does free up center console space but it also means the elimination of a simple mechanism that usually works without fail for 20-plus years (and if it does ever fail is very easy to fix – because it’s not electronic).
The Bottom Line
You know a car has achieved greatness when the only criticism you can come up with is that it no longer has a pull-up emergency brake lever.
. . .
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I have a stupid question…Is there any difference between the sedan And hatchback besides one being a sedan And the other a hatchback? Thinking about picking up a Corolla, debating on 22 or waiting for the 23’s. Definitely going manual transmission and the least amount of safety crap I can get, which is probably the base trim.
My wife and I haven’t purchased a new car in over 30 years, and have been driving 20-year-old rust buckets…as we were too busy bringing up three children and couldn’t afford newer cars.
Kids are all grown up university grads and on their own, so I just bought a 2022 SE for my wife. It is a beautiful, refined machine! The car, I mean! 😀
Wife ain’t too bad either!
Proud first time Toyota owner!
Good stuff, Walter –
My ex wife had one while we were married and got another Corolla after we divorced. She may have had enough of me, but not of the Corolla!
I bought a 99 bottom of the heap VE edition in 2000 with 7,000 on the clock for the commute mileage. As I recall it was $7,000 out the door. I decided to use it until it gave me problems. Now with 190,000 I am still waiting. So far it has cost me tires, a set of brakes, plug wires and an alternator. It is getting due for a right front wheel bearing and a new driver’s seat pad. Electronic upgrades consist of a holder on the dash for my iPhone.
Your experience (and mine) with Corollas is why I recommend them! They’re as close to the perfect car as is probably possible. When you compare the Corolla with any electric car, for instance, this becomes painfully obvious.
Have driven a 2005 Automatic Corolla (called the Altis in Asia) for 8 years. The car was bulletproof. Required nothing but oil changes and tire pressure checks to keep it going. The trunk could store everything that I threw into it, and the ride quality was great.
With the device-addled drivers around me, I was almost always the first off the block when the light turned green. So much for the 200HP+ crossovers, sports cars and SUVs.
Apart from being crammed into a normal seat for an175 pound taller guy, You go have a look at the truly gigantic between front seats heaps of plastic. I like the super deep planters that are between the seats so that I can experiment on whether Marigolds or phlox are the best uses for this feature.
My examination of these that they are well developed of things that make one hate cars.
Here’s to your next 64 ounce drank or your Starbux concoction. You have more than enough volume for a gallon of E+J to swill on your six mile trip to prove that you are deserving of eating in some vaxxed up restaurant. The superbowell is just about to hit and you need a new car.
What a POS.
I’m 6ft 3 and about 220 – and find the Corolla to be amply roomy for myself, as the driver. I do agree with you that having the option to go three- across (skip the console) would be a nice option. On the other hand, modernity encumbers most of us with “devices” – sail fawns and such – that it’s nice to have a place for. I usually carry my sail fawn, my little camera rig and my Rap Suppression Device (iPod) for the gym. I like having a deep center console storage place to toss such things into.
But these are – to me quibbles. The fundamental take-home point about this car is its excellence as a car. You will be hard-pressed to find another that does it better, longer. I say this from experience, as someone who had one of them myself – in the family – for many years. Sexy? Not a bit. Exciting? Not much. But when it comes to endurance/reliability and low operating costs, the Corolla makes aan altogether different case for itself.
They make a handsome wagon version for the home market. Of course it would never see the light of day over here. Instead they promote the hell out of that horrible Corolla Cross thing. Sad.
I took over a completely beat-to-hell, worn-out ’95 Corolla from one of my sisters, when she acquired something newer that I’m pretty sure she’s beating-to-hell as I type. 1.8L, 5-speed manual. I drove it for a couple of years and about 30K miles, and finally gave up on it because the transmission had an annoying habit of “popping” out of 5th gear into neutral, unless I held the shifter in place with my hand. (I eventually arranged a loop of bungee cord, anchored to the dash, that I’d slide over the shifter once I was up to speed on the highway — that’s what kind of car it was.
Still — that car was seriously fun to drive. When they started putting in roundabouts at intersections where I live, at low-traffic times, I’d amuse myself by pushing that Corolla around those tight roundabouts as fast as I could, and all it wanted to do was hang onto the road. I’m thinking about buying one of those new ones, 2.0L and manual, while I still can. I’m 68, and that could just be my last car ever. Cool.
Thanks for the review.
My pleasure, James!
You’ll like the SE 2.0/six speed combo. It’s remarkable fast without looking it (90-plus cruise speed without straining) and as reliable as the sun rising in the morning. It’s what I’d be driving if I didn’t need a truck!
Have never, and will never, own a compact car that is not a hatchback.
Will also not own a vehicle with a direct injection engine or a CVT auto.
It seems, therefore, I won’t be owning any new Corolla’s.
After reading that the Corolla has the manual transmission option, I browsed the area Toyota dealerships near my area to see if any were available. There were none, only CVT transmissions. So, I went on a site to search for any available within 200 miles, nothing. Then I expanded that search nationwide. Out of the hundreds for sale, only 38 were equipped with the 6-speed manual. The closest being in Apex, NC.
People keep saying the MT is dying because people don’t buy them. I say people don’t buy them because dealers won’t stock them. Most people don’t want to factory order a car, thus they simply get the AT.
There’s definitely a market for them. Maybe smaller, but there’s definitely a market.
True, but the way dealers buy and finance their inventory they can’t wait for such a person to show up. Instead they sell the MT buyer an AT.
I think it’s both – with regard to manual transmission scarcity. Fewer ordered by dealers (who like the automatics because there is usually more profit) results in an artificially decreased demand signal; so fewer models are made with then… rinse-repeat. Another big factor is the fact that probably an unprecedented number of people under 35 don’t know how to drive stick, having never learned how.
I first read this and thought “That can’t be right! I can drive a manual and I’m… oh, 36…”
We had a Manual Honda Fit around 10-11 years ago. It was odd to bring it into the dealership occasionally and see the young technicians struggle to drive it a couple hundred feet to park it in the garage . I would always think “You’re a ‘car guy’, right? How can you not know how to drive a stick?” It always baffled me.
My mother had the good sense to make me learn to drive on my dad’s commuter car, a manual Honda Civic hatchback, then to take the driver’s test with the automatic family van; my state automatically failed your exam if you stalled even once.
The age you give is telling. 35 years ago was about when MT’s were last regularly stocked at dealerships across a wide range of vehicles. It’s been narrowing since.
I bought a camry sedan and it is truly annoying. The transmission shifts with slams between a few hundred RPM difference. I have a far less annoying ride with even an old four speed manual. The crap that pushes on in against the massive “tunnel” is of no perceptible use. Do I give a dAMN FOR DEEP CUP HOLDERS?
iT DOES HAVE A HIGH RESOLUTION BACKUP CAMERA that might keep one from squashing tykes on trikes in the driveway. I hate myself for buying a clunky automatic litterbox that is half a ton overweight. Government cars are co-morbidity pieces
I have to live with my mistake.
The Corolla is beautiful simplicity that is so lacking in the technological terrors that are cars today. My wife put 120k miles on her Corolla commuting (we bought it new) and her brother has put another 50k on it with no problems. There’s a reason why the resale value on these things is so sky-high. They last.
That’s why I’ll never trade my 2011 Tundra for a newer truck. I bought it with 240k on it in 2020 from the original owner for a good price and I’ve put about 30k on it. I buffed out the scratches in the paint, cleaned the interior with a steam cleaner and leather conditioner, put a new head gasket on the engine (it wasn’t leaking oil but heck why not), replaced the bushings, upgraded the suspension and tires, put on some new, bigger brakes and blacked out the grille and trim. It looks and drives like a new truck and the V-8 rumble is nice. Had a kid offer me 14k for the truck and I answered with a resounding NO!
Besides still offering manuals Toyota seems to be the last major car maker to go all-in on the electrics nonsense. Probably because its led by Akio Toyoda, a direct descendant of the founder who races cars himself and knows its all BS. And compare that to the Karen leading GM Mary Barra.
“not to go all-in”
Great car with the 2.0NA and manual. Not so much with the CVT, for me.
I will recommend to friends that ask me. I used to recommend the 1st gen Cruze, but the 2nd gen I did not.
I actually wanted that car until I saw the stupid looking computer screen on the dash. Ugh.
I had a rental ca. 2019-2020.
Did not like the screen or the touchscreen controls.
Did not like the big thing behind the mirror, made it impossible to put a parking hang tag up.
The only thing the screen was good for, was propping up said hang tag against the back side of it.
But I liked the car generally.
I had an ‘03 Corolla that I liked, but it kind of fell apart on me & wouldn’t pass emissions. Engine & trans were good but car had been abused before I got it.
Ok me as well, that’s annoying! I want a clean visual sweep across the dash.
It is quite refreshing to see the manual transmission and 15″ wheel option on any new car.
The only downside to 15″ wheels are that your tire replacement options are very limited when they finally wear out.
Tire manufacturers have very few 15″ options available even today. Who knows how limited they will become in a few more years. So your replacement tires options will be limited compared to 16-18″ tires.
If I were buying one – I’d opt for the 16″ for that very reason – even though my actual preference would be for the 15″ all else equal. Better ride (taller sidewall), lower rolling resistance, lower unsprung weight, etc.
I’d guess the manual trans 2.0 probably automatically excludes the 15″ wheel option anyway….
I agree with you on the wheel front. When I needed tires for my Ranger, I decided to switch to a 16″ wheel because of tire availability.
My wife drove a Corolla as a rental several years back. She loved it.
When it came time for her to get another car, we didn’t find any available in the recent used market, so she didn’t end up with one.
I was thinking about the Corolla for my daughter when she reaches 16 – if there are any affordable options out there.
I recommend this car without reservation or qualification. If I didn’t need a truck, this is the one I’d buy.
My daughter is going to need her own car in about fourth months, after she graduates and starts her new job. I’ve love for her to drive a really reliable car like the Corona, but preferably something with a larger engine, geared automatic transmission instead of a CVT, and an emergency brake. I’m surprised that you are so enthusiastic about the Corolla, given the CVT and the lack of emergency brake. And driving a manual is out for her, because she’s never learned to drive one. Any recommendations?