This sort of unemotional shopping experience is how I suspect people decide to purchase the Toyota Corolla. It's a perfectly fine appliance, and to a good number of people in the world, the bond between a car and a driver is no more important than the connection I feel to my toaster. Does it seat four people relatively comfortably? Does it get decent fuel economy? Is it easy to drive? Reliable? Safe? The Corolla checks all of these boxes, and because of that, Toyota managed to sell just under 300,000 Corollas in 2012.
The BasicsSticker price: $16,800-$21,300
Invoice price: N/A
U.S. Engine: 1.8 liter inline-four-cylinder
Power: 132 horsepower/128 lb.-ft torque
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Cargo: 13.0 cubic ft.
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city/37 mpg highway
Exterior DesignThe most noticeable shakeup with the new Corolla is how it looks – it's rather handsome, even in base trim. Customers told Toyota that the current model "lacked the excitement" they desired, and the new "Iconic Dynamism" design language certainly fixes that. All S models like the car pictured here feature piano black accents on the front fascia and rear lip spoiler, and the optional 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in P215/45R17 Firestone FR740 tires – available only on S Plus and Premium trims – definitely give off the impression that the new Corolla has a sporting bone or two in its body.
The 2014 Corolla is longer, wider and lower than before. The wheelbase has been stretched by almost four inches, overall length has been increased by 3.3 inches, width is up by half an inch, and height has been reduced by four-tenths of an inch. It's not a very heavy car, either, with a curb weight ranging between 2,800 and 2,865 pounds, depending on trim.
InteriorThe Corolla is easy to live with, though, with a rethought interior that's designed to be functional above all. Despite having a relatively high beltline and tall dash setup, it looks good inside, with totally acceptable plastics and cloths used throughout. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel on the S model tilts and telescopes, and behind it is an attractive set of sport-face gauges not available on lesser trim levels.
Unusually and rather impressively, seven different interior color themes are available, ranging from the usual beiges and grays to black materials with attractive amber or steel blue accents. All of the controls are easy to locate and operate, though the center console seems to be positioned in a way that makes it easier for the front passenger to manipulate everything. Depending on your wingspan, there may be occasions when you'll have to lean forward and fully extend your arm to reach buttons on the right side of the infotainment display.
Passenger And CargoThe front Softex cloth seats are perfectly comfortable and decently supportive, and for folks confined to the rear seats, a full 5.1 inches of rear seat legroom have been added for 2014. It's a pretty good place to be. Trunk space is adequate with a net to keep your grocery bags upright.
Driving DynamicsAll 2014 Corollas are powered by a naturally aspirated, 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine, mated to either the four-speed transmission, six-speed manual (L and S Plus trims) or new continuously variable transmission that Toyota calls CVTi-S. This CVT has seven programmed "shift points" that the driver can work through via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters on S models. The really surprising part? I gave this paddled setup a concerted whirl and, honestly, it's not bad. Frankly, it's hardly noticeable under everyday driving conditions. I dare you to give it a try.
The L, LE, and S trims use a version of the 1.8-liter engine that's tuned to produce 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Eco model, however, produces 140 hp at 6,100 rpm and 126 lb-ft of twist at 4,000 rpm.
Eco models are equipped with Toyota's new Valvematic system that optimizes fuel economy, and this technology results in a small increase in horsepower, as well. Toyota says that initial production of the Valvematic engine is limited, and because of this, it's earmarked for use exclusively on the LE Eco, which is expected to account for just 10 percent of Corolla sales.
Those fuel economy gains are the real deal, too. EPA fuel economy estimates for the LE Eco sit at 30/42 miles per gallon (city/highway) with the base model's 15-inch steel wheels. Moving to the less-aerodynamic 16-inch alloys reduces those figures to 30/40. For contrast, the base Corolla L with a six-speed manual is expected to achieve 28/37 mpg, and the top-end S with 17-inch wheels and CVT will do slightly better with 29/37 mpg.
Driving DynamicsThe electric power steering is pretty terrible. Its on-center numbness carries all the way through to each end of the rack, with very little driver feedback in the process.
There's a lot of tire noise that comes into the cabin, and the Corolla often felt crashy over San Diego's pretty standard pavement irregularities. Worse, the tires are quick to give up when you're trying to push even semi-enthusiastically through a corner, and the rear suspension can get hoppy at times. Braking feel and execution is fine, but nothing to write home about – remarkably, Toyota still employs rear drums on non-S models.
The Corolla was designed to have "easy handling," according to the automaker, and that's an incredibly apt descriptor. The car goes, it stops, it turns and it parks. Easily. We can pretty much guarantee the vast majority of Corolla buyers aren't interested in sporty dynamics, and for them, driving this new Toyota is a non-event, just like its predecessors. Want something more involving? Direct your attention to the sleek newMazda3. Or a Ford Focus. Or even a Honda Civic.
Tech And InfotaimentOn the infotainment front, Toyota offers its Entune suite of apps – including optional navigation – housed inside a 6.1-inch touchscreen. Here, too, everything is intuitive and the display is well-organized with modern graphics. It's not as pretty as MyFord Touch, but it's certainly easier to use. That, right there, is what the whole Corolla package comes down to: ease of use. Nothing about this car jumps out as being particularly emotive, and that's by design.
Bottom LineWhen the Corolla goes on sale in early September, four versions will be offered, with the L grade starting at a super-low $16,800, not including $810 for destination. The Corolla lineup's bread and butter will be the LE model, starting at $18,300. From there, an LE Eco model that features different engine tuning (more on that in a moment) starts at $18,700. The range-topping S commands $19,000 and a fully loaded S Premium with optional goodies like a sunroof and navigation tops out just under $24,000. That's inexpensive – in the good way. Toyota believes that the S and LE grades will account for 80 percent of purchases. It even expects a full 60 percent of 2014 Corolla sales to be conquests for the brand, which seems incredibly optimistic given the depth of talent in the segment today and Toyota's already-large slice of the pie.
From a business perspective, the Corolla is a massive winner, and so to no one's surprise, Toyota hasn't rocked the boat too much in the creation of its eleventh-generation 2014 Corolla. It seats four people comfortably. It gets decent fuel economy. It's easy to drive. It's (predictably) reliable. It's safe. And hey, it sort of looks good now.
The new Corolla is actually a whole lot nicer than its predecessor. But it still doesn't, shall we say, toast my bagel.