This week I bring you the 2021 Corolla XSE - the top-of-the-line model and sportiest Corolla in the lineup. It’s the second year for the 12th-generation Corolla. To be around that long you have to be doing something right, and indeed Toyota is with the Corolla (more than 46 million Toyota Corollas have been sold globally since its introduction in 1966.) The Corolla is a daily driver that appeals to the masses for its comfort, size, fuel efficiency, reliability, and affordability.
The Corolla received a major design update last year and it’s based on Toyota’s new global architecture. My XSE model is in a stylish Celestite Gray Metallic hue with a gray sport mesh metallic front grill, flanked by LED headlights and daytime running lights with accent lighting. Adaptive front lights are optional. The XSE also features gray metallic sport side rocker panels and color keyed door handles, and heated power outside mirrors with blind spot monitoring. In the back, you’ll find LED tail lights and stop lights with a smoked sport trim, a dark gray rear spoiler, along with a single exhaust with dual chrome tips and on top, a power moonroof. The XSE rides on 18-inch machined alloy wheels with dark gray accents.
The XSE’s black interior isn’t fancy, but it’s well-designed and looks nice with a mix of soft-touch materials and plastic. A soft-touch dash slants out a bit. Metallic accents, piano black glossy surfaces and chrome interior door handles add style. As with the 2018 Corolla I test drove, I’m a fan of the comfortable SofTex sport seats with fabric inserts and nice contrast blue stitching. (These are of course redesigned and I like their look and design even more.) Both front seats are heated in the XSE but only the driver’s seat is 8-way power adjustable.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel greets you and above it, a bright, colorful 7-inch digital display. A thin center console sports a traditional gear shift and buttons for sport mode, the electronic parking brake and brake hold. The center console bin armrest is soft and padded. The Corolla’s 60/40 split back seat is also comfortable and offered plenty of room and the XSE’s is equipped with a drop-down console with cupholders.
Toyota offers a lot of technology and connectivity in the Corolla. My model’s optional Premium Audio package includes an 8-inch multimedia touchscreen (a 7-inch is standard.) It’s located front and center on the dash and easy to reach. Responsiveness, graphics quality and resolution are terrific and glare wasn’t an issue. It also houses an integrated backup camera with grid lines. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available on all grades. This trim also features optional wireless charging.
Standard features include single-zone climate, power door locks, one-touch power windows, automatic engine shut off, push button start, remote keyless entry, WiFI, and 2 USB ports.
The XSE is equipped with the upper grade engine - a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers 169-horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The XSE has a sport suspension and offers two drive modes: normal and sport. The latter of which provides a more engaging ride especially when you use the paddle shifters.
Ride and Drive
The Corolla delivers a ride and drive for those who walk on the practical side of life -- it’s easy to drive, comfortable and confident. Just what many drivers are looking for on their commute. There is some road noise, but the overall ride quality is nice and smooth.
With its redesign, Toyota did a lot to improve the suspension. Not only by updating the front suspension but replacing a Torsion beam setup in the rear with a multi-link rear suspension. New shock absorbers also play a big role. The result is a smoother ride and a system that absorbs bumps in the road better.
Options on my model include the premium audio system with the 8-inch touchscreen and dynamic navigation along with a 9-speaker JBL sound system ($1,715). As well as the adaptive front lighting system with ambient lighting. ($450).
The Corolla XSE is equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes pre-collision with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, road sign assist and lane tracing assist. The XSE also comes with standard Blind Sport Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
The base price on the XSE is $25,725. With my vehicle’s options it takes you to $28,845 including destination and handling.
The Corolla is a winner for commuters who are looking for a fuel efficient and comfortable compact sedan that’s reliable with some added conveniences depending on one’s budget.
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE
- What I liked most: The well-designed SofTex seats.
- What I would change: Can’t think of a thing.
- MSRP: $25,725; as equipped $28,845.
- Fuel Economy: 31 city/ 38 highway/ 34 overall.
- Official Color: Celestite Gray Metallic.
- Odometer reading when tested: 840 miles.
- Weight: 3,150 pounds.
- Spare Tire: Temporary.
- Length-Width-Height: 182.3” long/70.1” wide/ 56.5” high.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 13.2 gallons with the filler on the driver’s side.
- Towing Capacity: N/A.
- 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE in a few words: A great daily driver that offers comfort, fuel efficiency, technology and style at an affordable price point.
- Final Assembly Location: Aichi, Japan.
- Manufacturers website: Toyota
- Warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile Comprehensive; 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain; 5-year/unlimited-mileage Corrosion Perforation