2021 Toyota Corolla Review and FAQ

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Feb 19, 2021

Legendary for its reliability, affordability, practicality, and value, the 2021 Toyota Corolla is a compact car available in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles with gasoline and gas-electric hybrid powertrains. 

One of the best-selling vehicles in America, the 2021 Corolla is popular with people who need reliable transportation at a reasonable cost. But what about style? Driving enjoyment? The technology increasingly important to modern car buyers? 

Any new Toyota Corolla covers those bases, too, especially following the car's most recent redesign, which arrived in 2019 for the hatchback and 2020 for the sedan. 

What's new for the 2021 Toyota Corolla? - Find the best Toyota deals!

Toyota does not make any significant changes to the 2021 Corolla lineup. Here are the highlights:

  • Apex Edition sedan with sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, body kit
  • Special Edition hatchback with body kit and rear spoiler
  • Android Auto is new, and standard
  • Improved safety with new rear side-impact airbags
  • Wider availability of the blind-spot warning system
  • New rear cross-traffic warning system
  • Revisions improve the hatchback's cargo space, but Toyota still doesn't provide a number with the rear seat folded down

2021 TOYOTA COROLLA SPECS - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

What are the 2021 Toyota Corolla configurations?

Toyota sells the 2021 Corolla in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles. 

People who prioritize value over sportiness will want the Corolla sedan in L, LE, Hybrid LE, or XLE trim. If a sporty look and driving character are essential to you, you'll want the more powerful Corolla hatchback or sedan in SE, SE Nightshade Edition, or XSE trim. 

Additionally, sedans exclusively offer the new-for-2021 SE Apex Edition and XSE Apex Edition. These versions have a more aggressive look combined with improved handling and a more assertive exhaust system.

What is the 2021 Toyota Corolla price?

As this review is written, prices for the 2021 Toyota Corolla range from $20,025 for the L to $28,310 for the XSE Apex Edition. Additionally, you'll pay $995 for destination charges. These prices can vary depending on the region of the country in which you live.

What is the 2021 Toyota Corolla trunk space?

Toyota equips the 2021 Corolla sedan with a 13.1 cubic-foot trunk. It is not the roomiest cargo hold in the segment, but it's not the smallest. Toyota provides a 60/40-split folding back seat to improve the car's utility, but the lid does not have a grab handle to make it easier to swing shut.

If you need more cargo room, the Corolla hatchback beckons with 17.8 cu.-ft. of volume behind the back seat. That expands to 23 cu.-ft. if you swap out the spare tire for an inflator kit and an underfloor storage area. Apparently, nobody knows how much the Corolla hatchback holds with the rear seats folded down, which is the car's point in the first place.

What is the 2021 Toyota Corolla gas mileage?

According to the EPA, a 2021 Toyota Corolla will average anywhere between 31 mpg and 35 mpg in combined driving, depending on engine, transmission, and body style. The Corolla Hybrid is the fuel-economy champ, at 52 mpg in combined driving.

All Corollas have a 13.2-gallon fuel tank except for the Hybrid, which supplies an 11.4-gal. reservoir. That means the driving range amounts to 409-462 miles for most Corollas, with the Hybrid traveling 593 miles.

During testing, a Corolla XSE rated to get 34 mpg in combined driving returned 31.1 mpg. That gives it a range of 410 miles.

Is the 2021 Toyota Corolla safe?

Examine the 2021 Toyota Corolla safety rating, and you'll find that this is a safe car. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Corolla a 5-star rating in all test assessments, except for rollover resistance. Here, the car earns a 4-star rating.

As this review is written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not rated the 2021 Corolla. In 2020, it received a Top Safety Pick when equipped with the available curve-adaptive LED headlights with automatic high-beam operation. In all collision protection tests, the Corolla earned top marks.

2021 TOYOTA COROLLA REVIEW - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE Interior Dashboard

For this review, Toyota provided a Barcelona Red 2021 Corolla XSE equipped with the optional Connectivity Package ($1,715) and carpeted floor mats ($169). The total came to $28,804, including the destination charge. 

The Connectivity Package equips the Corolla with the top infotainment system, including Dynamic Navigation with free software updates for three years. It also has an excellent voice recognition system, wireless smartphone charging, and is paired with a 9-speaker JBL premium sound system. 

Toyota includes all of its connected service plans with this setup, and the automaker offers free 1-year trial subscriptions to everything except Wi-Fi Connect. The automaker restricts that to a 3-month/2GB data plan.

How is the 2021 Toyota Corolla interior?

Get into the 2021 Corolla, and you'll find a dashboard and control layout providing a clean, futuristic vibe. Thin windshield pillars, door-mounted side mirrors, and a center console that sweeps up to meet the simple, unadorned dashboard make the Corolla feel larger than it is.

Materials are a mix of soft-touch surfaces and hard plastics. Considering this is the compact car segment, and especially compared to the previous-generation Corolla, there is nothing offensive or off-putting about the tones, textures, or surfaces in this car. The XSE's seats have blue-striped cloth inserts with matching blue contrast stitching that adds character.

Center console storage space is lacking, in part because Toyota emphasizes style over practicality.

Is the 2021 Toyota Corolla comfortable?

Thanks to its 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, the Corolla XSE provides a proper driving position behind a tilt/telescopic, leather-wrapped steering wheel that feels good in the driver's hands. Furthermore, the places where you're likely to rest your arms or elbows are softly padded for comfort. And for chilly weather, the front seats are heated.

Front passengers do not get a height-adjustable seat, but it is nevertheless positioned high and offers good leg support.

Rear seat comfort is a mixed bag. The cushion sits high and provides excellent thigh support, but the headroom is limited. The legroom is also tight for taller adults. And Toyota does not offer rear air conditioning vents for the people riding in the back.

Does the 2021 Toyota Corolla drive itself?

No, the 2021 Corolla does not drive itself. Today, few vehicles for sale offer what is known as a Level 2+ advanced driving assistance system (ADAS), and Level 3 autonomous driving is unapproved for use in the U.S.

However, as a part of the Corolla's standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) collection of ADAS, the car does have adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability and a lane-centering assistance system. Toyota calls the lane-centering system Lane Tracing Assist, and it will actively steer to keep the Corolla in the center of a marked lane. You cannot let go of the steering wheel, and in traffic, if the Corolla comes to a stop, you must manually resume cruise control.

During testing, the adaptive cruise control would sometimes exhibit uneven braking while attempting to maintain a safe following distance. At other times, the driver needed to override the lane-centering assistance. Both traits make the technology less pleasing to use, but for the price and segment, TSS 2.0 is reasonably sophisticated.

Does the 2021 Toyota Corolla have AWD?

No, all-wheel drive is unavailable for the 2021 Corolla. It comes only with front-wheel drive. Most have a continuously variable transmission (CVT), too, though Toyota does offer a 6-speed manual gearbox with SE and SE Apex Edition trim.

Choose a Corolla L, LE, or XLE, and you'll get a tried and true 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine supplying 139 horsepower and 126 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine uses a simple CVT, and together the mission is to maximize fuel economy and last a good, long time.

For a more exciting Corolla driving experience, you want SE or XSE trim (and their derivatives). They come with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering 169 hp at 6,600 rpm and 151 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm. If you don't get the 6-speed manual transmission, this engine pairs with a Dynamic Shift CVT. It includes a physical first gear that helps accelerate the car from a stop, supplying quick response and a natural feel before switching to conventional CVT operation.

Of course, the Corolla Hybrid is another matter entirely. It's got the same gas-electric powertrain found in a Toyota Prius, which nets 121 combined horsepower. The critical component here is not the gas-fired 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Instead, the 53-kW electric motor is the star in this car, providing lots of immediate torque from a stop. Plus, at lower speeds under 25 mph, you can run it in EV mode until its lithium-ion battery runs out of juice.

Is the 2021 Toyota Corolla fun to drive?

The answer to this question depends on the version you get. If enjoying the journey is as important to you as the destination, choose from the SE and XSE family of Corollas.

Unexpectedly, the Corolla XSE is decent to drive, if not outright fun. There's enough power here to keep things interesting, but not so much that you're going to invite the suspension of your driver's license. The Dynamic Shift CVT is impressive for this type of transmission, successfully masking its internal workings most of the time.

Toyota builds the Corolla on its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). It was engineered from the start to provide more engaging driving dynamics through a lower center of gravity and greater torsional rigidity. 

Suspension tuning is compliant yet communicative. The Corolla rides on a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, and the SE and XSE trim levels add 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/40 tires. The result is decent grip, predictable ride and handling traits, and a confidence-inspiring tossability on a favorite back road.

Just stay out of the way of any Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra N, Mazda Mazda3 2.5 Turbo, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, or Volkswagen Jetta GLI that suddenly looms large in your rearview mirror. A Corolla SE or XSE is no match for them.

IS THE 2021 TOYOTA COROLLA A GOOD CAR? - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Based on verified Toyota Corolla owners' opinions, this car does not rank highly for quality, design, or performance.

According to the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), when it comes to quality, Toyota ranked below average. Here, the Corolla failed to rank among the top three highest quality compact cars.

As a brand, Toyota ranked almost dead last in the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study. The Corolla did not rank among the top three most appealing models in the compact car segment.

From an expert reviewer's point of view, the Corolla is better than its been in a long time. With SE or XSE trim, it has a sense of style. Though it's not outright fast, it is legitimately engaging to drive. It's relatively fuel-efficient and is safe, thanks to TSS 2.0 and its crash-test ratings. And Toyota delivers value in the form of free scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles in addition to generous free subscriptions to connected services.

But the Corolla faces stiff competition.

What is the 2021 Toyota Corolla competition? - Find the best Toyota deals!

If you're interested in checking out alternatives to the Toyota Corolla, the Kia Forte ranked highest in quality among compact cars, while the Nissan Sentra ranked highest in appeal. The Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Jetta also rank high in J.D. Power owner satisfaction studies.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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