Outside, I am a fan of what I can only call “semi-aggressive” Toyota styling. For a car this inexpensive, that sells in such high numbers, Toyota actually ventured into what I would consider “less bland” territory. In particular, there are some very nice touches around the outside and make this looks like more expensive than it really is. The front end is well orchestrated with the prominent, and lately de rigueur, LED strip settled down beneath the headlights. The liberal use of black accents gives a more high end impression to the XSE. The 17” alloy wheels with black accents were a nice touch, and are standard kit on the XSE.
Overall the interior is impressive, with some really nice touches that give the XSE a near-luxury car look. I particularly like the double stitching and leather along the dashboard, I have seen Kia and some other companies doing that more often and it looks quite nice. Some of the material seem a little cheap, in particular the “piano black “which is everyone on the dashboard but in the end just looks like black lacquer, particularly in the area surrounding the audio and HVAC controls.
Of note, every time I try to turn the volume using the conventional knob on the dashboard, I would accidentally change the XM station. That’s just bad ergonomics, although I assume Toyota would say that they want me to use the steering wheel controls. Call me old-fashioned, I like a good knob.
There was a rattle in the driver’s side door which became a long-term annoyance for my wife on a weekend road trip up to Philadelphia. In my opinion, this was something that probably shouldn’t exist after just 12,000 miles, although I know journalist can be very rough on vehicles. So I won’t be too critical and judge it on just this one vehicle. Plus, don’t tell her, I barely noticed.
The trunk was relatively large, and not even just for this size vehicle, it felt very generous compared to larger cars. We fit several bags and stuff for our dogs, who unexpectedly joined us when our dog kennel decided to open late after the holidays.
Overall, this was a great road trip car; the aforementioned road trip to Philly was quite pleasant in the Corolla. If I could find any criticism, the suspension did not soak up as many bumps as I we would have liked, but overall pretty comfortable for three of us for a multi-hour trip. The 1.8L 4-cylinder isn’t quick, and the CVT transmission doesn’t do a lot to fix that. But for around town driving, and during (semi) rapid passing maneuvers on I95, the Corolla did an admirable job. Weighing in at under 2900 lbs., this is a light car by modern standards and it felt relatively agile around on and off-ramps, with just a hint of front end plow when the tires started to protest my exuberance.
Even for the non-enthusiast buyer, it is worth noting that the XSE’s 132 horsepower is significantly lacking in comparison to similar cars from Honda, Ford, and Chevy. The Civic, Focus, and Cruze are all over 15ohp but generally start at a higher MSRP.
This car is made to sell and you only have to check out the sales figures to find out how successful the Corolla is. Spoiler alert, incredibly. Toyota regularly sells well over 300,000 of them per year here in the States with another 50K in Canada. Heck, last year it was damn near 400,000 just in the U.S. That’s a lot. So people buy this car, and it’s clear that Toyota spends a lot of time and engineering money to make sure it’s solid. And it very much is.