Stick Shift: 2018 Toyota Corolla XSE

The Toyota Corolla was first introduced to the U.S. market way back in 1968. Back then, the automotive landscape here was dominated by big engines, long wheel bases and trunks that could fit enough luggage for a three month vacation. Due in part to an oil crisis, and the growing popularity of imported goods, suddenly, like a small catamaran in an ocean of big yachts, the first Corolla arrived on our shores. Years before the popular Honda Civic even. It was a compact car with funky styling and a lively 1100cc pushrod engine. Fuel efficient, sporty and fun.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Corolla remains a more popular choice than ever. Through its 50 years of existence, this little Toyota has visually evolved in a number of directions. Though it went through a number of generations where the clear focus was more on economy and practicality and less about good looks or exciting driving characteristics. with the 2018 model, the pendulum seems to be swinging back in a good direction. Especially in the sportier XSE trim.

While visually, the new Corolla continues to layer on lots of edge and modern style, in the performance arena, there’s still some work to be done. Take the 1.8L 4-cylinder engine for starters, it delivers poor acceleration and a loud, vacuum cleaner soundtrack. It’s also paired to a CVT transmission that could never make up its mind on which gear to select. This combination felt slightly irritating at its best and full blown schizophrenic at its worst. Thankfully, the Corolla iM hatchback comes with an optional 6-speed manual, which would go a long way to creating a better driving experience. Weak brakes won’t inspire much confidence during panic stops either.

From the interior though, our little Toyota comes with more head room and overall space than its outside appearances would suggest. Upscale trim and generous tech can be found throughout, like a leather wrapped steering wheel, SofTex trimmed and heated front seats, a 7” touchscreen display and paddle shifters. Also included is a generous list of standard safety features like pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane departure alert, steering assist, automatic high beams and more. Absent in the new Corolla unfortunately is any smartphone connectivity through Android auto or Apple car play.

Photo via: Toyota

With a price tag in the mid 20’s, it’s clear that the 2018 Toyota Corolla XSE gives you your moneys worth. While it has a long way to go in the performance department, a surprisingly spacious interior, nicely styled and brimming with standard safety features, combined with exterior styling that keeps getting better and better, delivers a true Japanese compact longtimer that’s worth a good look today more than ever before.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $25,861.00

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