By Larry Lark, contributor
Hatchbacks are all about versatility and fun.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE delivers on both counts.
Versatility comes with an enhanced space option that lowers the cargo floor, adding 6 cu. ft. of total capacity (to 23 cu. ft.) behind the rear seats. This option replaces the spare tire with a tire repair kit.
Like all Corolla Hatchbacks, XSE combines the athleticism of a robust platform, responsive multi-link rear suspension, and the 168-horsepower, 2.0-liter dynamic force engine. Combining high-revving energy with high efficiency, the 2.0-liter derives its gutsy personality and fuel-sipping behavior from a combination of a high compression ratio (13:1); combining direct injection and secondary port injectors; high-speed combustion; VVT-iE intelligent variable valve-timing on the intake side, and VVT-i on the exhaust.
The result is peppy, responsive acceleration, smooth shifts, and 38 miles per gallon fuel economy down the highway as estimated by the EPA. Paddle shifters and a sport drive mode are at the ready if a little more fun is required.
My XSE tester came equipped with a “Galactic Aqua” coat of enamel and aggressive styling, anchored by a curvy, muscular physique accented by chiseled character lines and simple, condensed three-dimensional highlights. Eighteen-inch machined alloy wheels complete the look.
Standard multimedia includes an eight-inch touchscreen; six speakers; Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility; Safety Connect trial; Wi-Fi Connect; Siri Eyes Free; Auxiliary audio jack and USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control; and AM/FM; MP3/WMA playback capability.
The top-of-the-line XSE, with the preferred package option ($1,600) adds premium audio that delivers a sonic knockout punch. A JBL eight-speaker, 800-watt system includes Clari-FiTM which analyzes and restores audio signals that were degraded by digital compression, making old Christmas standards sound better than new.
Other creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, leather trimmed and heated front seats, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, and LED headlamps.
As on the 2020 versions, all 2021 Corolla Hatchback models come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver-assist technologies:
Pre-Collision System with Daytime/Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, plus Daytime Bicyclist Detection
Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (CVT only)
Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
Automatic High Beams
Lane Tracing Assist (CVT only)
Road Sign Assist
That’s a lot of safety technology included in a compact, starter model. With the current price of gas, and electric infrastructure still years away, the Corolla XSE is a strong commuter alternative from a proven automaker.
Toyota’s 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles and corrosion with no mileage limitation.
Price As Driven: $25,885
Price As Driven: $28,154
Destination charge is included in base price. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturer. List price may vary at local dealerships.