Your choice of body styles. Not every manufacturer offers compact cars these days, with Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge having recently exited the market. Those that remain generally offer just one body style, a sedan, although the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda Mazda3, and the Hyundai Elantra are among the exceptions.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla is another.
It returns to its roots somewhat by offering more than one body style for the first time in over a decade. In 2019, a hatchback rolled out, followed by a redesigned sedan the following year. There's even a Corolla Hybrid, although we review that model separately.
Clearly, Toyota believes there are plenty of customers left in the segment to justify a larger Corolla family, and that makes sense, as the compact model has been a best seller for most of the past 20 years.
There are some differences between the two styles. The hatchback is sportier looking, and it offers a much-needed storage alternative to the sedan's 13.1 cubic feet of space, delivering 18 cubic feet – and that's before folding down the rear seat. Count on the hatchback if you have a crossover in mind but aren't quite ready to cut the tie to a car.
Hints of performance. The Corolla has never been a street maven. That's not its purpose. Yet, with loads of sporty flair, the current model hints that something more may be at work. Or at least receiving serious scrutiny from Toyota brass as they shape the Corolla's future.
Benefiting the current models are a more rigid body and multilink suspensions. The two combine to supply a more composed drive with steering precision that punches above what you'd expect in this model. The electric power steering is an unexpected joy, as it operates effortlessly and follows the road without much wander.
Two engine choices are on tap – a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque won't wow anyone. It isn't designed to do that. Instead, it works diligently to make good on its 33 miles per gallon combined fuel economy rating, according to the EPA.
Also available is 2.0-liter four-cylinder, offered with every trim having an "S" in its lettering sequence. This includes some sedan trims and the two hatchback trims. It has 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque on tap.
That doesn't make for a zippy model, and the best you'll do is 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds. We hope Toyota surprises us some day with a model that matches the performance glory of the Honda Civic Si.
As for the hatchback, it benefits from a standard six-speed manual gearbox that's a slick performer. You can even activate rev-matching, something enthusiasts crave.
Safety is its forte. You have to hand it to Toyota. Soon after battling safety issues a decade earlier, the company took a hard look at its entire model line and made some drastic changes. They haven't let up, and the brand has arguably the best standard features list in all things driver assist.
Add this to its stellar Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS, and the Corolla is easy to recommend based on its safety credentials alone. This year, Toyota adds two more airbags and makes blind-spot monitoring more widely available.
Every 2021 Corolla with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite, which is comprised of lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, and automatic high beams.
The adaptive cruise control is especially welcome, a feature that's typically a spend-up option in competing models and even with some luxury makes. What you won't find is a surround-view camera system or a head-up display. These features are reserved for costlier models (read: Toyota Camry).
Finally, Android Auto. Toyota trailed its competitors in offering smartphone compatibility with Apple CarPlay arriving first followed by Android Auto just this year.
The reason, as told to us by Toyota, was to ensure that proprietary information in its systems remained free from third-party scrutiny. It took a few years longer for Toyota to adopt this popular duo, but you'll find both for 2021. And they're included with the base model, something we applaud.
Every trim also comes with Bluetooth and audio streaming. A 7-inch screen is standard, but most models have an 8-inch touchscreen display. Most trims come with a six-speaker audio system, but a nine-speaker JBL package is available. Navigation is available, but we prefer the smartphone apps to take us there.
Final thoughts. We'd easily recommend the 2021 Toyota Corolla XLE sedan or the standard hatchback trim. Both come well equipped and cost you under $25,000.
But we'd be remiss if we didn't suggest an examination of the Corolla Hybrid, as it offers outstanding value. The base model is in the same cost range and delivers an outstanding 52 mpg combined.
Check prices for the 2021 Toyota Corolla »