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2021 Toyota Corolla: Choosing the Right Trim

It’s hard to argue with the worldwide appeal and sales success of the 2021 Toyota Corolla. While it may not be exciting to drive, the Corolla’s reputation for dependability and value make it the go-to small economy car for buyers everywhere.

This year’s Corolla comes to showrooms with welcome enhancements across all trims, including the addition of Android Auto compatibility as well as Apple CarPlay. On the infotainment front, all Corollas now have SiriusXM available with a 3-month free trial period.

Rear side airbags are added, bringing the total airbag count to 10, and all models are fitted with an automatic engine shut-off system, which activates after a set period if the car is left running.

2021 Toyota Corolla LE (starting at $20,475)

For a modest $450 increment over the stripped-down base L trim, the Corolla LE adds some useful features. These include heated side mirrors, 16-in steel wheels (up from 15-in), heated outside mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, automatic climate control, 8-in touchscreen (versus 7-in), and remote keyless entry. The LE has also the option of a convenience package that includes blind-spot monitoring, a popular safety feature.

As with the L trim and the XLE grade above it, the LE is powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, producing an unexceptional 139 horsepower. The power is routed to the front wheels – all-wheel drive (AWD) is unavailable on any Corolla – via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). While CVTs can improve fuel economy, we dislike them because under full acceleration, engine noise becomes intrusive.

Note that a very fuel-efficient Corolla hybrid model is also available.

All Corolla models include Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver aids. This reassuring collection of safety features includes a pre-collision warning system that detects other vehicles, pedestrian and bicycles. Adaptive cruise control is also part of the suite, as are lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane following assist, and road sign assist (this system recognizes signs and displays relevant information in the instrument panel).

Overall, we would judge the 2021 Corolla LE as the trim choice for the most value-conscious buyers.

Adding in the $995 destination fee, the Corolla LE sticker comes to approximately $21,500. Given 3% financing over 60 months and no down payment, that would produce a monthly payment of $369. Find a Toyota Corolla LE for sale

2021 Toyota Corolla LE includes: 

  • CVT transmission — good for economy, but noisy
  • Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 — full suite of active safety systems
  • LED head and tail lights -– superior to old-school halogen lights
  • 60/40 fold-down rear seat – more versatility for transporting cargo

2021 Toyota Corolla XLE ($24,425)

 For a sizeable jump in price, the Corolla XLE trim adds some nice to have but not essential standard features. These include 16-in alloy wheels, a power/tilt sunroof, heated front seats, power adjustable driver seat with lumbar support, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and a larger 7.0-in instrument panel display.

One available package on the XLE is a premium audio/dynamic navigation system. The audio system comes with 9 JBL speakers including a sub-woofer, while the embedded navigation system comes with a 3-year free trial.

If we stick with the same 60-month loan at 3% financing as used for the LE, a Corolla XLE would cost an extra $50 per month. Find a Corolla XLE for sale

2021 Toyota Corolla XLE includes: 

  • 16-in alloy wheels -– better looking than base 15-in steel rims
  • Heated front seats –- a definite plus in colder climes
  • Available embedded navigation –- can be more sophisticated than phone nav.

 2021 Toyota Corolla SE ($22,475)

The big news on the Corolla SE trim is the upgrade to a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower. This boost in power is welcome, as is the availability of a 6-speed manual transmission (for an extra $700 over the CVT version), and the step up to 18-in alloy wheels.

For anyone wishing to wring at least a modicum of driving pleasure out the Corolla, we would recommend the SE trim equipped with the manual transmission.

Inside, the SE gains premium sports seats, which are 6-way adjustable on the driver side, 4-way for the passenger.

For CVT-equipped SE trims, there are several packages available. These include a premium package with blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, push button start, and power/tilt moonroof.

There is also a connectivity package with 8-in touchscreen, 6 speakers, plus USB media and charge ports. An enhanced connectivity package upgrades the audio system with 9 JBL speakers.

For 2021, the SE is available with an exterior trim package called Nightshade. Priced at $23,175, the Nightshade edition comes in 3 color choices: white, silver or pearl. The model is decked out with blacked-out alloy wheels, black bumpers, rear spoiler, and other distinct trim cues.

With destination fee included, the SE trim (with CVT) will cost around $23,500, for a monthly payment of close to $400. Find a Corolla SE for sale

2021 Toyota Corolla SE includes: 

  • Bigger, 2.0-liter engine -– extra horsepower over LE is welcome
  • Optional 6-speed manual transmission -– much more fun than the standard CVT
  • Available blind-spot warning –- can be a big help in avoiding accidents

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE ($25,925)

At the top of the Corolla food chain sits the XSE. Standard features on the XSE include 8-way power adjustable driver seat and power lumbar support.

The audio plus system with 9 JBL speakers that is optional on the SE trim is made standard on the XSE.

The XSE also offers the same premium audio/dynamic navigation package as the XLE.

Both XSE and XLE offer an advanced lighting package that includes ambient lighting and an adaptive front lighting system, which helps visibility at night by pointing the lights during cornering.

A 6,000-unit limited edition version of the XSE and the SE trim, called Apex, is offered with more aggressive styling cues, tuned suspension, and available summer tires that provide more grip than all-season tires. Just 120 of the SE Apex versions will be offered with the 6-speed manual transmission, as opposed to the CVT.

Prices on the Apex models start at $25,460 for the SE 6-speed manual (up by $2,385 on the standard SE 6-speed). The XSE Apex, which only comes in CVT form, is $28,210.

The Corolla XSE costs $26,920 including the destination fee, which works out at $462 a month in payments over 60 months, about $60 more than Corolla SE. Find a Corolla XSE for sale

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE includes:

  • JBL speakers –- your ears will appreciate this standard upgraded audio system
  • Available Apex edition –- to make your Corolla stand out from the crowd
  • 8-in touchscreen  bigger, more sophisticated center screen will please high-tech buyers

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