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The Corolla sedan takes a backseat this year as Toyota introduces a new and hunky-looking hatchback model. (Toyota

What we're driving: 2018 Toyota Corolla

What do you get for $20,000 these days? How about a Toyota Corolla—one of the most proven and reliable compacts whose nameplate stands on over 40 million units sold to date. While this year’s big Corolla news focuses on the “new” iM hatch—essentially the European 5-door version—it’s been a while since I’ve spent time in the sedan, now graced with its own version of the Toyota front fascia that from some angles greatly resembles a wide-mouth bass.   

Fellow SAE editor Paul Seredynski and I co-piloted the Corolla from Detroit to Pittsburgh on business, covering more than 500 miles roundtrip. A Camry or even Prius would have been more suitable for interstate travel, we agreed. But the latest Corolla surprised us mightily for much of our journey. Toyota engineers have significantly improved Corolla’s cabin NVH, to the point of near invisibility. It’s not whisper-quiet at 75 mph, but at one point in central Ohio we both remarked at how natural our voice levels had been for most of the trip.

Score a big one for interior refinement, despite base-level trim and materials. Ride and overall chassis and steering dynamics are calibrated for comfort; we applauded the tuning on the heavily-pocked Midwest roads. There was little boom from the 1.8-L 4-cyl. and wind noise was nicely checked. The car’s Aisin-sourced CVT emitted a fair degree of belt-slipping tonality during launches; I prefer the stepped-gear feel of Jatco’s CVTs in various Mazda and Nissan products.
A bit more stylish, much more refined, the 2018 Corolla is good value for 20 grand.
2018 Toyota Corolla
Base price:        $20,495
As tested:          $22,925
Highs:                 Big leap forward in refinement   
Lows:                  Low-budget interior materials                  
The takeaway:  Solid value and a bit more style
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