Stick Shift: 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE vs Hybrid

There’s big news for the Toyota Corolla this year. 2020 brings what could possibly be one of the biggest redesigns in the Corolla’s long history of existence. In the past, the Corolla always felt like the safe, sensible option. Big on reliability and short on visual appeal and personality. It would seem that Toyota is making moves to change all of that. With this new design, the Corolla is starting to make moves against the likes of the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. If you were like me, and counted out the Corolla as anything that could raise your heart rate even just a few tics. It may be time to take another look. 

Just like its famous rival, the Honda Civic, The Corolla continues to come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I was fortunate enough to get behind of the wheel of two of these variations. Back to back no less. The fuel efficient, striped down Corolla Hybrid sedan. Which is a new option in the four-door line-up. And the sportier, more dynamic Corolla XSE. These two models represent two ends of a wide spectrum of models and trims. Here than is a summary comparison of the two. 

The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE is priced high at $29,168.00. For the money, it comes equipped with a long list of standard advanced safety features. These include: dynamic radar cruise control, pedestrian detection, pre-collision detection, road sign assist, lane-departure alert with lane-keeping assist, auto high-beams and more. This is advanced stuff for a Corolla, and each system works well to keep you safe and sound in the day-to-day. 

On the outside, the XSE takes full advantage of the radical redesign. It looks sharper, meaner and sportier than ever. Hardly recognizable as a Corolla at all. Against the Barcelona red paint my model wore, contrasting black exterior panels like a black mesh metallic font grille, side skirts and dark gray rear spoiler look great. These add-on’s really make a surprisingly positive visual impact. LED headlights and a cool smokey effect of the taillights match the big 18” machined alloy wheels nicely. It’s easy to say that everything mixes to deliver the most aggressive looking Corolla to date.

 Interior materials exceed the low expectations the previous generation Corolla’s have set as well. With comfortable seats and contrast stitching around panels and upholstery that add a performance flair. The infotainment center could’ve been integrated more naturally into the dash at this price point. As it stands now, it feels ‘added in.’ Like an afterthought. Speaking of the dash board, on the passenger side, it can intrude a little too far into ones personal space. Limiting leg room for taller passengers. 

Photo via: Toyota

In Sport mode especially, the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine comes alive like we’ve never seen in a Corolla before. Paired with sport suspension in the XSE, and performance has finally left the realm of boring and started to dip its toe into interesting. Though still not as engaging an experience as one would find with the Mazda 3, the Corolla has made significant strides. All while still achieving 34 mpg. As improved as the 2020 models are, especially in top trim form like the XSE is, nearly $30,000.00 is a lot to ask for a Corolla. It’s possible that not enough time has passed for this little Toyota to shake its long held reputation for being anything beyond just affordable and practical. Priced so high, it’s not even that affordable anymore. And that could be an alienating realization for many.

Swinging away from the sporty end of the spectrum, all the way back to practical, we find the Hybrid sedan. Here, we don’t get a Sport driving mode, only Eco and Normal. We don’t need that fancy sunroof, heated SofTex sport seats, black exterior trim pieces and 18” wheels you’ll find in the XSE. We will take 15” wheels. We’ll replace the more aggressively tuned 2.0L engine for a 1.8L hybrid system. We’ll settle for simple cloth seats that look and feel bottom-tier, with a plain interior to match. At $25,233.00, it would seem at first impression that we are sacrificing an awful lot to only save $4,000.00. 

Photo via: Toyota

Where the Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE Sedan makes up for what you loose, is in the area all Hybrids should shine brightest. Fuel economy. After a week of driving, I barely made a dent in the fuel tank. With 52 combined mpg, the Corolla Hybrid will get you to where you need to go with minimum stops at the gas station. The Corolla Hybrid is the Corolla we already all know and recognize. It’s safe and sensible. So safe in fact, Toyota left the entire Safety Sense 2.0 Suite with all the same safety and driving aides we found in the high-end XSE model. 

With the 2020 models, we get the widest range of trim options the Corolla has ever offered, along with a radical redesign. Corolla consumers get to choose between the most economical version to date, or the sportiest. Keep practical and safe if you’d like. Or spend a little more for the model that’s making the big changes necessary to finally become competitive with vehicles that were in a completely different category in years past.

By: Brandon Randall

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