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Review: The Toyota Corolla is sleek, modern, and costs $20,000. It’s the perfect budget commuter car.

  • The Toyota Corolla is one of America’s most popular cars. In 2021, Toyota sold 249,000 of them.
  • The Corolla starts at $20,425, meaning it’s an affordable ways to access the perks of a modern car.
  • I drove one for a week, and I’ll never stop thinking about how much I enjoyed it.

As I drove past a group of neighborhood kids recently, their eyes latched onto my car: a $300,000 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, with shiny white paint and headlights that looked like crystal glassware. They’d barely yelled “Is that a Rolls-Royce?” before I had my blinker on, dipping into a nearby parking lot to turn around and show it to them.

They circled it in awe, taking photos of its quilted blue seats and videos of me pressing a button to retract its black roof. They asked if it was mine, and I told them it wasn’t. Bentley just loaned it to me to write a review.

“So you do this a lot?” they asked. “What car are you getting next?”

“A Toyota Corolla,” I said. And I couldn’t wait.

The Toyota Corolla lineup, including sedans and hatchbacks

The Toyota Corolla lineup, including sedans and hatchbacks.


The Corolla has long been one of the best-selling cars in the US, with annual sales in the hundreds of thousands. Even as crossovers and SUVs replace small vehicles as the popular car choice for Americans, the Corolla remains near the top of the charts.

That’s because the Corolla is an affordable and reliable way to access a modern car with modern perks, like backup cameras and better headlights. Backup cameras are now mandatory on all new cars in the US no matter the price, and the Corolla’s bright, white LED lights replace the dim yellow halogens economy cars had a decade ago.

(Not all of the new Corolla’s headlights have great safety ratings, though. You can do your research by trim level here.)

A blue 2022 Toyota Corolla.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE.

Alanis King

For 2022, the Corolla starts at $20,425 and comes with an array of options. Your car can have a fully gas-powered engine or a hybrid, be a sedan or a hatchback, focus on sportiness or utility, and come with a transmission you shift yourself or one you don’t.

The car Toyota loaned me recently was all about utility. It came to $25,319 after fees and two optional features — a $500 black roof and $249 carpet floor mats — and its six-speed manual transmission only cost $700 more than the standard car.

The Corolla SE is striking, especially for its price. My car’s paint was a step between royal and navy, and when I picked it up, it glowed under the ghastly lights of the airport parking garage. Every other car there was a shade of gray, white, or black.

The front-end design of the Corolla is simple but sleek: Its sharp, triangular headlights angle up and out, with a lobster-claw shape framing each side of the car’s large black grille. Equally pointy taillights frame the rear, as does a large panel of fake black “mesh” over the exhaust pipes. The fake mesh is the only real downside of the styling — it just looks like a big wall of black plastic.

The blue and black seats in the 2022 Toyota Corolla.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE.

Alanis King

But even in the dim lighting of the parking garage, the Corolla’s interior was polished. Cloth black seats with blue stitching sat under a deep black headliner, otherwise known as the fabric that covers the ceiling of a vehicle. Many economy cars have a light-gray headliner no matter the color of the interior, and a color-matched one is a luxury often not reserved for the $25,000 price point.

I popped open the Corolla’s huge trunk for my tiny carry-on suitcase, then got in the front seat. Up there, I had a small moonroof and a simple dashboard with an eight-inch touchscreen and a basic driver-information cluster showing things like speed, outside temperature, and fuel economy. In the back, there was a fold-down armrest with cupholders for passengers.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE (pictured with a gray interior, not black and blue)

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE (pictured with a gray interior, not black and blue like our tester).


I hooked my phone up to the car and put my hotel address into the navigation, only to sit there for an extra 10 minutes trying to figure out why the voice giving me directions wouldn’t come through the car’s speakers. Phone calls worked just fine, but anytime I tried to listen to the navigation, all I got was silence.

The black interior of the 2022 Toyota Corolla SE.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE.

Alanis King

I flipped back and forth between audio sources, but every time I selected my phone, it tried to play that U2 album Apple put in everyone’s music folder in 2014. I eventually gave up and disconnected my Bluetooth, opting to blast the navigation from my phone speakers instead.

Ten minutes behind but not deterred, I popped the Corolla into reverse. Cars with manual transmissions often have little tricks for doing that, which is a safety measure that keeps the driver from accidentally throwing a car into reverse when they mean to select one of the forward gears.

One such trick involves pulling up a little ring on the shifter, and that’s what you do in the Corolla. When the ring is up, it goes into reverse. When it’s back down, it stops the shifter short of the reverse gear so you can push it up into first instead.

But when I tried to put the car in first gear after backing out, my backup camera kept popping up. It wasn’t going into first; it was still going into reverse — even with the ring down.

After about 90 seconds, the shifter finally recognized that the ring was down and went into first. This happened almost every time I got in the car, and I eventually learned to forcefully hold the ring down each time.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE (pictured with a gray interior, not black and blue)

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE (pictured with a gray interior, not black and blue like our tester).


Rather than having harsh, defined gates, the Corolla’s shifter just flowed from one gear to the other. It felt kind of like stirring soup.

The pedals had a similar lack of feel. Releasing the clutch with my left foot and adding gas with my right to engage first gear was effortless, and it made me realize this was the perfect car for a manual novice: The hardest part about learning to drive stick is getting nervous when you feel the clutch failing to engage, because you know the car is about to stall.

In the Corolla, there’s none of that. You just release the clutch and go, without fear of what may happen. It’s impossible to kill the car because you’re never worried you will.

The Corolla is comfortable to drive, and a modest radio volume is enough to cover road noise on the highway. If I owned it, I’d be proud to show all my friends the reasonable purchase I made — once I got my navigation settings dialed in, of course.

A blue 2022 Toyota Corolla.

The 2022 Toyota Corolla SE.

Alanis King

The Corolla isn’t fast or flashy. No one screamed at me as I drove it down the road like they would in a $360,000 Bentley, yet I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I parked the car at the airport and flew home a few weeks ago.

I think it’s because I love a good, usable economy car. They remind me that the act of driving is spectacular in itself, even if the car isn’t trying to drop my jaw. Even the Corolla’s manual transmission — a dying feature of cars, often reserved for people who want the manual to feel sporty or challenging — is there for utility alone, and that resonates with me.

The Corolla simply wants to get you to your destination, not wow you along the way. In the words of my dear friend and fellow car reviewer Kristen Lee: “It isn’t trying too hard to impress you.”

It’s just trying to serve you, and that’s what makes it so charming.

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