2021 Toyota Corolla SE vs. XSE: Which Is Better?

The 2021 Toyota Corolla SE vs. XSE: It’s the battle of the Corolla’s two sportiest trims—see which one comes out on top!
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Offered as either a sedan or a hatchback, the 2021 Toyota Corolla SE and XSE are sportier versions of the base-level trims. Both the SE and XSE have the same performance specifications, but the XSE gets you a more luxurious experience and additional features for roughly $3,000 extra.
So, what’s the difference between the 2021 Toyota Corolla SE and XSE? Mostly the optics, as these sporty Corollas boast the same engine and performance specifications. They’re both available as either a sedan or a hatchback, and both the SE and XSE boast Toyota’s renowned dependability.
But if you’re really interested in digging through the differences between the 2021 Toyota Corolla SE and XSE, you’ve come to the right place.
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If you’re unsure whether to pony up the extra cash to make the Corolla XSE your ride, that’s understandable. Here’s what it will cost to purchase either the Corolla SE or the XSE:
2021 Toyota Corolla SE
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE
If you’re a real driving aficionado who will only drive a car with a manual transmission, it was available on the 2021 Corolla for an extra $700. 
It’s always worth looking at how much your car will cost you over time. The Corolla SE and XSE’s true cost of ownership mirrors their original MSRP, as there's a roughly $3,000 difference between these two models over a five-year period. 
According to Edmunds, the 2021 Corolla SE with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) has a true cost of ownership of $29,831 over five years. An SE with manual transmission has a true cost of ownership that’s slightly higher, adding up to $30,604 over the same timeframe. As for the XSE with CVT, it adds up to a true cost of ownership of $32,087 over five years. These figures include insurance, coming in at $4,692 for
Toyota Corolla SE insurance costs
and $4,542 for
Toyota Corolla XSE insurance costs
Unfortunately, Edmunds does not have data on the true cost of ownership for the Corolla XSE with manual transmission. 
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Performance-wise, you’ll get the same experience with the SE and XSE, as they have identical CVTs and engines which boast more power than the base Corolla L and LE. Splurging for the 6-speed manual transmission gives more driving thrills than you’ll get with the automatic SE or XSE.
The SE and XSE feature a CVT paired with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that gets you 169 horsepower.While paltry acceleration is a problem across the Corolla line, the SE and XSE benefit from a sport-tuned suspension that gives both considerably more agility than the L and LE. Additionally, if you ante up for the 6-speed manual transmission, you’ll have a much livelier and more fun ride.
Both the SE and XSE offer solid steering, good body control, reliable brakes, and the ability to absorb most bumps easily. However, like the rest of the Corolla line, the SE and XSe are plagued by noisy and uncouth-sounding engines.

Fuel efficiency

While both the Corolla SE and XSE have the same powertrains, fuel efficiency can vary depending on whether your Corolla has manual transmission or CVT.
Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined)
2021 Toyota Corolla SE CVT
2.0L four-cylinder
31/40/34 mpg
2021 Toyota Corolla SE Manual
2.0L four-cylinder
29/36/32 mpg
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE CVT
2.0L four-cylinder
31/40/34 mpg
2021 Toyota Corolla XSE Manual
2.0L four-cylinder
31/38/33 mpg
As is the case with most manual transmission vehicles, both the Toyota Corolla SE and XSE have slightly lower fuel efficiency ratings than their CVT or automatic cousins.
MORE: Every Toyota sports car you should know


The technology offerings are where the 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE starts to distance itself from the SE. Both the SE and XSE offer standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and both can be upgraded with a subscription-based WiFi hotspot.
However, the XSE offers more bang for your buck. You’ll get a larger touchscreen, remote keyless ignition, blindspot monitoring, and an upgraded driver information display.
Both the SE and XSE can be upgraded with a JBL sound system and wireless charging pad.
Toyota’s Safety Sense™comes standard on both models, featuring forward collision monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.


Toyota is highly regarded for its vehicles’ reliability, and that extends to the Corolla. While specific reliability figures aren’t available for the 2021 Corolla SE and XSE from either JD Power or RepairPal, the Corolla line has a history of robust reliability ratings. RepairPal gives the Corolla an excellent 4.5/5 overall reliability rating and ranks it first amongst 36 compact cars for reliability. 


With the 2021 Corolla SE, you’ll get a well-designed dashboard and soft interior materials along with ambient interior lighting, dual-zone climate controls, and sport front seats. If you opt for the XSE, you’ll get all that and a lot more. The XSE’s sport front seats are heated, power-adjustable, and feature simulated leather upholstery. A sunroof is also standard on the Corolla XSE. 
If you opt for the sedan, you’ll get 13 cubic feet of cargo space on both the SE and the XSE. That number rises to 17.8 cubic feet on the hatchback version. If you remove the spare tire and replace it with a tire repair kit, you’ll get an extra six cubic feet of cargo space on the hatchback version of both the SE and XSE.
Toyota Corolla SE/XSE Sedan
Toyota Corolla SE/XSE Hatchback
Cargo volume
13.1 cubic feet
17.8 cubic feet
Headroom (front seats)
38.3 inches
38.4 inches
Legroom (front seats)
42 inches
42 inches
Headroom (rear seats) 37.1 inches
37.6 inches
Legroom (rear seats)
34.8 inches
29.9 inches
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The final word

Unlike the slight difference between the Corolla L and LE, there is a significant financial gap between the SE and the XSE. You get solid value with the SE, as it's one of the sportier Corollas—it has a sport-tuned suspension and 2.0-liter engine, unlike the base models. If you can spare it, spending the extra $3,000 or so for the XSE is worth it. You get a nicer interior, more technology upgrades, and extra safety features. 
How to find cheap car insurance for a Toyota Corolla 
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Both the XSE and the SE sedans are the same size, both measuring 182.5 inches in length. The hatchback SE and XSE are both a bit shorter, measuring 172 inches in length.
Ultimately, this will depend on your Corolla’s transmission. A CVT SE or XSE will have a slightly better fuel rating than an SE or XSE with manual transmission.
Yes, the Corolla XSE is more expensive, starting at $26,950, compared to the SE, which starts at $23,500.
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