2021 Toyota Corolla Head-Scratcher: Why in the World Did It Make This List of the Fastest Cars Under $20K?

The Toyota Corolla is world-renowned as a practical car. Though the Corolla may not be the flashiest or prettiest on the market, it checks many boxes. One of those is reliability. The 2021 Toyota Corolla is rated not only one of Toyota’s most reliable cars but also one of the most reliable compact cars overall.

Reliability and affordability are synonymous with the Corolla. But U.S. News placed the 2021 model on a surprising list.

The 2021 Toyota Corolla at a glance

The front-wheel-drive compact car is available in a whopping nine trims. According to Toyota, the base L trim comes with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine capable of 139 hp. The LE is the next highest trim, featuring a larger touchscreen, automatic climate controls, and remote keyless entry. Both of these trims get 33 mpg combined. The XLE is the highest trim available with this engine and gets 32 mpg overall in fuel efficiency.

If you’re looking for a reliable, affordable, and eco-friendly option, the 2021 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid is a solid choice. This model offers many of the features that come with the LE model but packs a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder hybrid engine capable of 121 hp. The LE Hybrid gets 53 mpg in the city and 52 mpg on the highway — 15 mpg better than the previous model year.

The higher trims include the Corolla SE, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder capable of 169 hp, and the XSE, which has the same engine. Both the SE and XSE get 34 mpg. Also, SE Nightshade and Apex performance packages are available for the SE and XSE.

The 2021 Corolla earned excellent reviews 

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Consumer Reports‘ reviewers loved the 2021 Toyota Corolla, rated second in compact cars. The Corolla received a perfect 5 out of 5 in predicted reliability and 4 out of 5 in predicted owner satisfaction. Car and Driver also rated the 2021 Corolla highly, scoring it an overall 8.5 out of 10.

The 2021 Corolla rates highly thanks to its great fuel economy, smooth drive, impressive controls, and standard advanced safety features. Also, Car and Driver praised the 2021 Corolla’s spacious backseat. Another benefit is that the Corolla is among the last remaining models offering a manual transmission.

However, critics knocked the 2021 Corolla for its noisy engine, limited cargo space, and below-average acceleration. 

A mind-boggling pick 

Car and Driver might’ve said it best: The 2021 Toyota Corolla isn’t the most exciting car. That’s why its inclusion in U.S. News‘ “The 10 Fastest New Cars Under $20,000 for 2021” is confusing. Even U.S. News admits the Corolla “doesn’t urge you to head to the nearest racetrack.” Yet, it earned a spot on the list.

Both U.S. News and Consumer Reports criticize the 2021 Corolla’s acceleration. It managed a ho-hum 0-to-60 mph split of 10.4 seconds. According to Car and Driver, the Corolla’s top speed is 118 mph — not too shabby for a practical little car.

And Consumer Reports gives the 2021 Corolla points for its well-weighted steering, great suspension, and effective handling. These features allow it to perform relatively well. 

Still, when we think of the Corolla, “fastest” is probably the last thing that comes to mind.