It could haven been your mother, teacher, neighbor, boss, or whoever – but everybody knows somebody who's owned a Toyota Corolla. First hitting American showrooms way back in 1968, this evergreen Japanese compact has managed to become one of the best-selling cars and most recognizable nameplates available stateside. For 2019, the Corolla sedan soldiers on with styling that dates back to 2014, though an all-new hatchback model (covered separately) previews what the four-door's upcoming successor will resemble.

Best Value

For 2019, the Corolla can be had in one of six trim levels, ranging from the rental-grade L to the fancy-pants XSE. Despite the variety of choices on tap, it wasn't hard for us to pick out a favorite: the LE Eco. Costing just $400 more than a regular LE, the Eco variant manages the best gas mileage out of any Corolla, with the EPA rating it for an impressive 30 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway. Considering that the meager upcharge over a regular LE will be earned back in gas savings before the year's up, the Eco is a smart choice any way you slice it.

It also includes features that buyers in this class will be happy to have, such six-way adjustable seats, a 6.1-inch color touchscreen infotainment system, and a tilt and telescope wheel. Options-wise, we'd leave it as is. There's no real point in gussying up an economy car, and, as it stands, the Eco is a great deal right out of the box. Here's the Eco we'd putter off the lot with:

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla LE Eco
  • Engine: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder
  • Output: 140 hp / 126 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 30 City / 40 Hwy
  • Options: N/A
  • Base Price: $20,455 (including a $920 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $20,455

Performance

The Corolla has been known for a lot of things, but performance isn't one of them. With the comfort-tuned suspension and a lackluster four-cylinder, the latest Corolla is about as uninspiring as a monotone college professor.

With 1.8 liters of four-cylinder fury, the Corolla works hard to muster just 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. While there's only about 2,850 pounds of car for this little powerplant to lug around, the CVT that most examples will be hooked up to seems to struggle with this task. High engine speeds are requisite for any actual acceleration, and comparative to other compacts the off-the-line speed is adequate at best. Thankfully, lots of sound deadening keep the underhood cacophony from seeping into the cabin.

An available six-speed manual transmission makes things a little better, and certainly ratchets up the level of engagement. But it's only available on the SE trim, and the throws are long and vague. Don't expect this do-it-yourself gearbox to transform the character of the Corolla. It's more like adding a handful red pepper flakes to your otherwise plain white rice – a tad more kick, but still a bland dish.

All Corolla sedans ride well enough, with a comfort-tuned suspension that's sure to please buyers looking for everyday transportation. There's lots of travel to soak up bumps and undulations, and 6.7 inches of clearance lets it handle dirt roads and other rough surfaces with better manners than most other compacts might. Steering effort is light but vague, but as with the soft suspension, we imagine buyers will be perfectly happy with it.

Style

That's probably a product of it's dullness: something that doesn't have style to begin with can't ever go out of style. And indeed, there's few other cars on the road that are as generic and average-looking as the Corolla. Nothing here is unique, fun, or imbued with character; there's no racy roofline, styled fascias, or sculpted flanks to speak of. Instead, the Corolla is a achingly numb interpretation of the standard three-box sedan. Slab sides, tall roof, big glass, steep windshield and rear window, and defined end points. It's all highly functional and efficient, but devoid of any style. If you're the type who likes taking a glance back at your car after parking it and walking away, this isn't the car to buy.

It's also clear the philosophy which guided the outside was adhered to when crafting the cabin. Logically laid out and pleasingly ergonomic, the Corolla's interior is a case study in function over form. Front seats are comfortable, with a high seating position and a commanding presence out the windshield. Materials and fabrics used throughout are of good quality considering the price point. If you don't get a loaded-up version, though, be prepared for a sea of blank switchplates that'll constantly remind how you cheaped out with the options. It's a little too blatant than we'd like, and most competitors better hide the lack of features on their lower-spec models.

Trunk space is a decent 13 cubic feet, which is about on par for the compact sedan class. Inside, rear-seat passengers get an impressive 41 inches of leg room but just 44 inches of hip room. This narrowness is an inherent drawback of a compact car, so we can't get too upset about it. We'd just advise not to shove three adults abreast in the back if you want to stay in good standing with them.

The Best, the Worst

With up to 40 miles per gallon and a roomy interior, the Corolla is an enticing basic commuter car.

Unfortunately, those 132 ponies under the hood struggle to motivate this compact sedan with any verve or authority, and the utter lack of style is disappointing.

Right For, Wrong For

Anybody who needs cheap wheels for getting from point A to point B will be happy with the efficient, no-nonsense Corolla.

For those who want even a smidgen of style or performance, shop elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

Just as it's been since time immemorial, the 2019 Toyota Corolla is a practical compact that offers a strong value for those uninterested in any frivolous razzle-dazzle. With Toyota's reputation for reliability and longevity to back it up, it's hard for the left brain to say no to the affordable but depressingly average Corolla.