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2021 Toyota Corolla L Manual: Quick Review & Essentials Guide

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Auto123 test drove the manual-equipped 2021 Toyota Corolla L. Here's what you need to know.

The Toyota Corolla hasn’t needed an introduction in our market for many, many moons. The world's best-selling vehicle (no less), the Corolla has been snapped up 1.6 million times by buyers in Canada. Launched in 1966, it arrived in Canada in 1969; fifty-two years later, it's still sold here, and surviving in a generally car-hostile world. We drove the base L version with a manual transmission, which comes in at a very attractive low price for a Japanese car.

What's new for 2021?
There are a few equipment additions mostly in the hatchback models, and there's really nothing new for Corolla sedans in 2021.

See also: First Drive of the 2020 Toyota Corolla: En Route to 50 Million Sold

Although the L version is a base model, that doesn't stop it from going all out when it comes to safety features. The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite is standard, and it includes features like collision avoidance and/or mitigation and vehicle/pedestrian/cyclist detection.

Android Auto and Apple Carplay are also available on the first trim level. Plus there are automatic high beams, four windows with automatic up/down and adaptive cruise control.

But one thing that surprised us at the beginning of our week-long test drive was being handed a real ignition key, just like they used to do. Where’s the push button?

2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, profile
Photo: Auto123.com
2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, profile

The versions
There are five models for the 2021 Corolla and 13 different combinations when you include the option packages.
 
The Toyota Corolla L ($21,539) includes:

- New 7-inch screen audio system with 6 speakers including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers
- 4.2-inch multi-function display in front of the driver
- Cloth seats
- Standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 and dynamic cruise control with radar (at high-speed only)
 
Toyota Corolla LE ($24,279) adds:

- Electronic parking brake
- 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers
- Heated front seats and premium cloth seats
- 8-inch screen audio system
- Toyota blind spot monitor for added safety
- Automatic climate control
- Standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 Suite augmented with full-range dynamic radar cruise control (high speed on manual transmission) and lane keeping assist (automatic transmission only)
 
Toyota Corolla LE with Upgrade Package ($26,279) adds:

- New heated leather-wrapped steering wheel
- New Toyota Smart Key system with push-button start
- Sunroof
- Wireless charging

2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, front
Photo: Auto123.com
2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, front

Toyota Corolla SE ($24,779 with manual or $25,779 with CVT) adds:

- New 2.0Lr TNGA 4-cylinder engine with 169 peak hp
- New sport-tuned suspension
- Premium cloth sport seats
- Exclusive 16-inch alloy wheels
- New 8-inch screen audio system with 6 speakers
- Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 Suite

 With the SE, there are also three option packages to choose from:

- SE Upgrade for an additional $2,980, includes

o Sunroof
o Wireless charging
o 18-inch wheels
o Audio Plus with Remote - includes Remote Connect (one year trial), Safety Connect (one year trial), Service Connect (up to 8 year trial)

- Nightshade Edition for an additional $3,760, you'll find the SE Enhanced features plus:

o Black front spoiler
o Lower body moldings
o Darkened components here and there

- Apex for $4,310 you'll get in addition to what's present in the SE Enhanced some:

o 18-inch black fluoformed wheels
o Sport exhaust
o Performance calibrated front and rear sway bars
o Black rear spoiler
o Distinctive bronze-colored Apex elements on the front and rear of the vehicle.

The Toyota Corolla XLE ($29,639) adds:

- Heated front and rear seats
- 8-way power adjustable driver's seat
- Toyota Premium Audio connected services with integrated navigation, destination assist and safety connect
- Leather-wrapped, power-adjustable, heated steering wheel
- Power sliding/tilting sunroof
- 7-inch digital speedometer
- SofTex-covered seats
 
The $31,139 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE adds:

- SofTex-covered seats
- New ambient lighting
- Heated front and rear seats
- Toyota Premium Audio connected services with integrated navigation, Destination Assist and Safety Connect
- 7-inch digital speedometer

2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, rear
Photo: Auto123.com
2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, rear

The powertrain

In our entry-level version, a “budget” engine is bolted under the hood. The 1.8L, twin-cam 4-cylinder generating 139 hp at 6,100 RPM and 126 lb-ft of torque at 3,900 RPM was sufficient for the task, but no more than sufficient. Acceleration is far from dazzling, the sound is nothing to write home about, and fuel consumption during our week-long test wasn’t even that frugal. We ended our week with an average of 7.0L/100 km, and honestly we would have expected a little more. The manual gearbox is precise despite its long throw.

The interior

The interior exudes plastic. Everything you might come into with other than the seats is made of hard plastic. The seats are a bit short in length and become uncomfortable before long. Fortunately, the fabric upholstery is of good quality and you can tell right away that it will last as long as the vehicle.

The ride

Let's face it, there's nothing exciting about driving a Toyota Corolla. This is not news of course -  automotive journalists have been coming to that same conclusion for years and years. But let's take a step back and ask the right questions. Are customers who want a Toyota Corolla looking for excitement behind the wheel? No. They want a reliable vehicle that can get them from point A to point B safely and won’t cost them a fortune in gas and other expenses. The Corolla excels at this. When you drive it, you know that this car is built to last. It will do the job for many years to come. It will transport the family safely and if you give it a little love, the Corolla can be your children's first car once they get their license.

The competition

Mazda 3
Honda Civic
Kia Forte
Nissan Sentra
Subaru Impreza
Volkswagen Jetta
Hyundai Elantra

2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, intérieur
Photo: Auto123.com
2021 Toyota Corolla L manual, intérieur

Specifications

..2021 Corolla L manual 
 Transmission6-sp manual
 DrivetrainFWD
   
 Fuel consumption (city)8.0L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (highway)6.0L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (combined)7,.1L/100 km
   
 Engine 
 TypeGas
 Output139 hp
 Torque126 lb-ft
 Cylindres4
 Cylindrée1,8 litre
   
 Capacities 
 Cargo space371 litres
   
 Dimensions 
 Length4630 mm
 Width1780 mm
 Height1435 mm
 Wheelbase2700 mm
   
 Warranty3 yrs/60,000 km
   
 Pricing$21,539 to $31,139 CAD

 

A real key!
Photo: Auto123.com
A real key!

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