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2021 Toyota Corolla Review: SE Manual Specification

The Corolla is a mainstay of Toyota’s eclectic range, and we’ve tested out the 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan SE with the manual transmission upgrade, which is nice to see on a sedan in 2021. The 2021 Corolla is also still available in hatchback form, and the sedan comes with a FWD drivetrain, and a 2.0L engine under the hood. Our review revealed a lot to like, but also some areas it doesn’t have the edge.

Powertrain and Drive Quality

It was nice to find a modern sedan with an option for a manual transmission, and that definitely upgrades the status of the 2021 Corolla Sedan SE for those who like to feel absolutely in control of their drive. You actually have to pay extra for the manual though, which some may think strange, but in the realm of the modern sedan, a manual transmission is more of a novelty. The standard transmission is a CVT.

Paired with the 2.0L upgraded engine that outputs 169-hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, the manual transmission and the additional stiffened sport-tuned suspension and larger 18” wheels come together to create a pleasing drive quality. The Corolla even in 2021 may look fairly pedestrian when put next to its sportier and more stylish rivals, but it continues to deliver a pleasing quiet driving experience.

Reliably Reliable and Well-Stocked with Safety Additions

As you might expect from Toyota, the mechanics of the 2021 Corolla SE are quite superb. It is well crafted outside and in, with no signs of shoddy workmanship in any part of the car. This is the Toyota signature, of course. We’re confident that the 2021 Corolla SE will continue Toyota’s tradition of reliability and be a dependable steed for many years to come.


Another strength is in the safety features. Though it hasn’t been fully crash tested and certified by either the NHTSA or IIHS yet, if the 5-start ratings for the 2020 model year are anything to go by (which they are), drivers will not feel disappointed. The standard package is still Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which isn’t the very latest version, but still includes great standard features, including: forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan SE Manual: The Downside

Reliable, suitably good looking and with a pleasing and safe driving experience, for some the 2021 Corolla SE sedan might feel like enough car. If you “zoom out” a little, however and look at the wider marketplace, the Corolla feels like it’s falling behind in some really key areas.

First, the 2021 Corolla SE, despite its apparent claims to be a “sportier” model, doesn’t feel so premium or sporty on the inside. The interior can only be described as dated and tired. The materials feel a little cheaper than what you’d expect at the price point you’re offering for the SE with manual option.

This feeling is even more pronounced when you look at other offerings on the market, including the sleek Hyundai Elantra, the new Mazda3 and the also-long-standing Honda Civic. Toyota has to face up to the fact that their traditional policy of semi-elegant minimalist affordability won’t cut it in the cut-throat marketplace of automotive competition. They also really need to take a look at the way the rear of the 2021 Corolla Sedan model looks and ask themselves, “is that what people like in 2021?” We would say no.

Besides the looks, the multimedia system interface is also looking its age. It does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, and is Amazon Alexa compatible, too, which is still a plus. You can also upgrade to a JBL premium audio system.

Verdict: Unflinching in Reliability, but Lacking in Energy and Substance

It would be wrong to say that the 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan SE Manual is a bad car. It is nice to drive an efficient, reliable sedan with a manual transmission and many great options for buyers, especially around safety. The main issues with the car are primarily cosmetic and could be fixed with a facelift in 2022 or soon after. It remains a pleasant, if somewhat dated everyday driver.

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