Like its many best-selling forbearers, the 2019 Toyota Corolla sedan is a sensible choice for those seeking a budget-friendly, ultra-reliable small car. It’s almost synonymous with the concept and this version was certainly the best version to date. It’s more exciting to look at, there’s a huge number of standard features (even the cheapest version gets advanced safety tech) and there’s so much room inside that Uber and Lyft drivers should really take notice.
Ah, but you’ll note we wrote “was” certainly the best version to date. That’s because for 2019, an all-new Corolla Hatchback has debuted, bettering its sedan cousin in nearly every objective and subjective way besides interior space. It’s more refined, more fun, more powerful, more efficient and more luxurious inside with extra equipment too. Basically, it proves to be at least a match for competitors like the Honda Civic and the Mazda3 that have long been better choices than the Corolla sedan. Plus, we’ve now seen the next-generation Corolla Sedan and know that’ll it’ll adopt most of the Hatchback’s many benefits while keeping the current sedan’s superior back seat room and large trunk.
In other words, buying a 2019 Corolla sedan would not be a bad idea. However, waiting a few months for the new one to arrive definitely wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.
What’s New for 2019?
The Corolla Sedan carries over unchanged for 2019. The Hatchback is all-new, however, and next year sees most of its same changes applied to the sedan.
What We Like
Adult-friendly backseat; Eco trim’s excellent fuel economy; standard accident avoidance tech; comfy ride; superior reliability reputation
What We Don’t
Slow acceleration; inferior rear drum brakes (except SE and XSE); lower cabin quality compared to top rivals; dreary to drive; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
$18,700 — $22,880
All Corolla models except the Eco trim come with Toyota’s familiar 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. That’s not a lot, even for a compact sedan, and, as such, the Corolla is one of the slowest vehicles in its segment. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard, but a 6-speed manual can be specified on the SE trim level. With the CVT, this Corolla engine returns 28 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg in combined driving. The manual reduces those figures to 27 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined. That’s pretty thrifty, but more powerful competitors (and the Corolla Hatchback) outdo it.
The Corolla LE Eco gets a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder too, but it’s a different version with modifications that yield 140 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. So yes, it’s a smidgen more powerful, but more importantly, it returns superior fuel economy at 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/34 mpg combined. This goes down by 1 mpg when you opt for 16-in wheels.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Toyota Corolla is available in six trim levels: L, LE, LE Eco, SE, XLE and XSE.
The entry-level L ($18,700) starts with 15-in steel wheels with plastic covers, LED headlights, automatic highbeams, power accessories, air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, a backup camera, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning and steering assist, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth, a 6.1-in touchscreen, a USB port and a 6-speaker audio system.
The LE ($19,135) adds 16-in steel wheels with plastic covers, keyless entry, heated mirrors, automatic climate control and some nicer interior trim.
The LE Eco ($19,535) features the special 140-hp engine with improved fuel economy, aerodynamic tweaks (including a subtle rear spoiler) and eco-based tires, but otherwise it mostly shares the LE’s equipment roster. You can have it with 15- or 16-in tires, but remember that getting the bigger ones hurts fuel economy by 1 mpg.
The SE ($20,645) adds 17-in alloy wheels, unique styling, more aggressively bolstered front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, different gauges, and Normal and Sport driving modes. With the optional 6-speed manual transmission, it also includes a sunroof, passive entry and push-button start, and Toyota’s Entune 7-in touchscreen that includes a smartphone app-based navigation system and satellite and HD radios. These can be added to CVT-equipped SE Corollas by way of the SE Premium package.
The XLE ($22,135) reverts to the LE’s styling and interior, but adds 16-in alloy wheels, additional LED lighting elements, a sunroof, passive entry and push-button start, an 8-way power driver seat, SofTex vinyl upholstery, heated front seats and the 7-in Entune touchscreen.
The XSE ($22,880) essentially adds the XLE’s niceties to the SE.
A Premium package available on the LE and LE Eco add alloy wheels and the 7-in Entune system. A sunroof is included with that package on the LE Eco and can be added separately on the LE version. The XLE and XSE can be equipped with a full navigation system integrated within Entune.
The 2019 Corolla comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control, eight airbags (front, driver-knee, passenger seat-cushion, front-side and full-length side-curtain), forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic highbeams. Disappointingly, though, the Corolla continues to come standard with front disc and rear drum brakes rather than the 4-wheel discs featured on the SE, the XSE and most competitors.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the Corolla sedan earned a top 5-star overall rating along with 4-star frontal and 5-star side ratings. The Corolla got top marks from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, including an award of Top Safety Pick for last year’s mechanically identical car.
Behind the Wheel
Drive the Corolla back-to-back with a Honda Civic or a Mazda3, and we think you’ll find that Toyota’s compact sedan comes up short. It’ll be noticeably slower and less involving to drive, while lacking a certain solidity, serenity and sophistication in the way it moves down the road compared to those other sedans. It also falls short inside, as the quality of its materials are unremarkable in the face of the Honda and the Mazda’s surprisingly upscale environments.
Actually, there’s another competitor that all of the above applies to and you won’t even need to change dealerships to find it: the new Corolla Hatchback. Although its smallish hatchback cargo area won’t be for everyone, in most key areas it’s the superior car named Corolla. It’ll at least provide an excellent idea of what you can expect from the 2020 Corolla Sedan coming to dealers in the middle of 2019.
As for the Corolla sedan that’s the subject of this review, it’s one of the more spacious compact cars you’ll find. Large adults can actually sit back-to-back in its cabin, while its nearly flat floor means that the middle seat should actually be usable. We also like how much equipment you get in the Corolla in the most basic trim levels, although some fancier features as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Honda Civic — The car to beat in this class, offering a superb combination of space, fuel economy, performance, quality, feature content, comfort and driver engagement. It’s also available in sedan, coupe and hatchback body styles, plus the higher-performance Civic Si.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback — This all-new model is better in every way from the Corolla sedan with the exception of two elements: its smaller backseat and a disappointingly cramped cargo area. Otherwise, it’s a big-time improvement and a surprisingly fun car to drive, too.
Wait for the next-generation 2020 Corolla sedan or at least consider the new Corolla Hatchback. They’re quite simply better cars. If you need something right now, and still desire the Corolla’s variety of sensible attributes, we would opt for the LE Eco. For less than $1,000 over the base model, you get better fuel economy, a bit more power and worthwhile extra equipment like keyless entry and automatic climate control. We would also think twice about the SE and XSE — they’re all show and no go, with just some sportier trim and seats rather than actually adding performance enhancements as other Toyota SE trim levels do.