The Corolla is now more fun to drive, but extra efficiency makes more sense

Toyota just introduced the twelfth-generation Corolla Sedan for the 2020 model year, and while the latest generational changeover brings a long list of updates, one of the biggest is the addition of a hybrid powertrain option. But why would the hybrid be our pick when there’s a new, more powerful 2.0-liter offered as well? Read on to find out.

When It Comes To Fun, The Sedan Is Good…

2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan - Driven
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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Sedan pictured here.

Without a doubt, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan is a big improvement over the outgoing model, especially with regards to fun and driver engagement.

One of the biggest upgrades is found under the hood, where the Corolla Sedan adds the M20A-FKS engine - a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 169 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Compared to the base trim’s naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder, the 2.0-liter produces an additional 30 horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque.

That’s a noticeable jump in a car that weighs roughly 3,000 pounds. We didn’t get a chance to run the 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan against the stopwatch, but we’d wager the new 2.0-liter knocks as much as two seconds from the Corolla’s 0-to-60 mph time, placing it around the mid-seven-second range.

Granted, those kinds of numbers aren’t exactly world-shattering when it comes to modern straight-line performance, but they definitely elevate the Corolla in a big way. Finally, the car has the power it deserves, rather than the watered-down yawn-fest that is the base trim’s 1.8-liter ‘four.

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Actually Looks Great With A Huge Grille Interior
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Note: 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback pictured here.

What’s more, in addition to the traditional CVT, Toyota is also offering the 2020 Corolla Sedan with a true six-speed manual transmission. That’s right - a stick shift! How often do you see that these days?

Not only that, but it’s a lovely transmission as well, as we found out when we first drove it in the 2019 Corolla Hatchback. Slotting through the cogs feels great, and thanks to modern features like automatic rev-matching, shift assist, and stall mitigation, it’s a breeze to operate, even for those drivers who may be new to the ways of row-your-own.

2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan - Driven
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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan pictured here.
Under the skin, the 2020 Corolla is built on the latest Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which offers a 60-percent increase in unibody torsional rigidity, as well as a lower center of gravity.

Exterior dimensions are now 0.8 inches shorter, 0.8 inches lower, and 0.2 inches wider, with an increase of 0.5 inches and 0.9 inches to the front and rear track width, respectively.

Then there’s the suspension, which uses a MacPherson strut in front (as before), plus a newly upgraded multi-link setup for the rear, which was added as a replacement for the older model’s archaic torsion beam setup. What’s more, the suspension in the sportier trim levels was specifically tuned to offer a more engaging experience behind the wheel.

Making the most of it is Active Cornering Assist, which will brake the inside wheel in a corner, reducing understeering when driving aggressively.

2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan - Driven
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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE Sedan pictured here.

As a final touch, the new Corolla Sedan looks quite a bit better than the outgoing model, especially in the SE and XSE trim levels. Granted, this doesn’t affect the way it drives, but it helps with the attitude Toyota is going for. Standout features include a new front bumper and grille, dark grey accents, a new rear bumper, 18-inch alloy wheels, smoked taillights, a trunk lid spoiler, and dual chrome exhaust tips. LED lighting is used at both ends.

…But The Hatch Is Better

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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan XSE pictured on the left, 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback pictured on the right.

That’s a lot of work to make the 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan more interesting behind the wheel. But here’s the thing - it’s still not the right pick, because the 2019 Corolla Hatchback is just better.

For starters, the Hatchback is equipped with the same M20A-FKS 2.0-liter four-cylinder as the Sedan, once again with just under 170 horsepower and just over 150 pound-feet of torque.

Both cars weigh about the same, and both offer the same six-speed manual transmission, which means both hit 60 mph in roughly 7.5 seconds.

Like the Sedan, the Corolla Hatchback also gets MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link rear, but the tuning is tauter and slightly more aggressive than what you get in the Sedan. As an added bonus, the Hatchback offers a slightly shorter wheelbase (103.9 inches versus 106.3 inches, a difference of 2.4 inches).

The end result is a car that feels more nimble and agile. It’s not a huge difference, but the Hatchback definitely feels better in a corner.

Finally, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan might offer improved styling over the old model, but the Hatch looks even better. We think the enormous front grille and sharp headlights are fantastic with the proportions on the long-roof Corolla, with the aggressive rear spoiler, horizontally oriented taillight housings, twin exhaust tips, and extra wide hips all playing well with the overarching hot-hatch theme. Don’t forget the 18-inch wheels and eye-searing paint options (our favorite is Blue Flame).

Prius MPG Without The Grandstanding

The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Sedan Is The Smartest Pick In The Lineup
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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Sedan pictured here.

So then - if it’s sportiness that you want with your 2020 Toyota Corolla, then the Hatchback model is the clear winner over the Sedan. So where’s that leave the three-box body style?

In our eyes, the 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan is the more mature option. This is the machine you want when you just want to get there without a fuss, something for those folks who think Blue Flame paint is ridiculous.

In terms of the powertrain, the Corolla Hybrid gets the same electrified 1.8-liter four-cylinder as the Toyota Prius.

Output is also identical to the Prius, with 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque routed to the front axle through a standard CVTi transmission.

That means the Corolla Sedan Hybrid is slow. We didn’t officially test it, but our guess is 60 mph arrives in about 9.5 seconds.

What’s more, the Corolla Hybrid comes with relatively small 15-inch wheels, and the exterior isn’t as sharp as the SE and XSE.

The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Sedan Is The Smartest Pick In The Lineup
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Note: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Sedan pictured here.

However, the tradeoff is huge when it comes to fuel returns, with the Hybrid posting 53 mpg in the city, 52 mpg on the highway, and 52 mpg combined. Compared to the SE manual’s 29 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined, the Corolla Hybrid is looking pretty smart.

What’s more, the Hybrid’s large nickel-metal hydride battery pack doesn’t take up any extra room compared to the standard powertrain, and interior measurements are identical across the board.

Throw in tons of standard equipment, such as LED lighting, an integrated backup camera, heated side view mirrors, premium fabric upholstery, a 7.0-inch MID, Bluetooth, voice command, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, metallic interior trim, and two USB ports, and it looks even better.

But here’s the real kicker - the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid starts at $22,950, making it the least expensive hybrid in the entirety of Toyota’s lineup.

Final Thoughts

The 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Sedan Is The Smartest Pick In The Lineup
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The 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan is definitely a much more engaging four-door than the outgoing model, especially in XSE and SE trim. But it’s just not engaging enough to beat the 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

By contrast, the 2020 Corolla Sedan Hybrid is a unique entry in the segment, offering more than 50 mpg, plus it comes with everything you could need in a compact four-door designed for the A-to-B grind, all for very little outlay.

And that’s what makes it the smartest pick in the lineup.

Further Reading

2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan - Driven
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Read our full driven review on the 2020 Toyota Corolla.

Toyota Brightens Its 2020 Lineup with a Redesigned Corolla That's More Powerful and Safer Than Ever Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2020 Toyota Corolla.

The Toyota Corolla Hybrid Looks Sporty and Delivers 50 MPG Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.

Watch Out Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf Fans - Toyota has a New Corolla Hatchback Heading to the New York Auto Show Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback Actually Looks Great With A Huge Grille Exterior
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Read our full driven review on the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

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