Simplicity, reliability, economy = Corolla
Simplicity, reliability and economy were the building blocks and the revamped 2014 Corolla appears to continue that corporate line of thinking. There are no surprises here, except maybe that the compact sedan’s interior has been improved in look and feel, and its exterior rounded a bit more and given a sportier nose.
Beyond that, if you own the last generation Corolla you’ll feel the new one is much the same in ride and performance. It is a tad surprising that the ride did not improve more as the 2014 model’s wheelbase grows nearly 4 inches to 106.3 inches. That’s where most cars and crossovers begin to exhibit a more refined ride. This still feels like a small car.
Ironically too, this is about the size that Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords and Mazda 6 sedans were, just a few years back. All the compacts are growing in every dimension attempting to keep up with the expanding size of U.S. drivers. s plan in Mississippi, but some models also will be shipped over the border from Canada. Reportedly no Corollas will be imported from Japan.
My test car was the sportier S model, in fact the S Premium with a starting price of $20,400. It was an attractive metallic blue, something Toyota calls Blue Crush Metallic, with black leather interior, which is standard on the S model.
A base Corolla L still starts at a more modest $17,610, including destination charges and comes with a four-speed automatic, pretty old school.
The S came with Toyota’s new CVT, a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters behind the wheel that allow you to shift through simulated gears, giving the car more oomph. It needed it, but only in standard ECO mode, which the car defaults to every time it’s started.
In ECO mode the 1.8-liter I4 with intelligent variable valve timing feels puny. It makes 132 horsepower, about the same as my 13-year-old Camry that is similar in size. Yet the torque feels much less aggressive as the CVT is programmed to slowly ramp the sedan up to speed, reducing gas consumption.
Press the Sport button on the console and the Corolla jumps to life, the CVT shifting more aggressively and helping the car pull away from stoplights with more vigor. In ECO mode you’ll get stares (or worse) from drivers who pull out and around you wondering if perhaps Grandma Moses is at the wheel.
You could opt for the Corolla S Plus that has a 6-speed manual transmission to allow you to use the car’s power to better advantage. It’s rated at 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, while the tested S with CVT earns a slightly better 29 mpg city rating and the same 37 for the highway.
In a week of cold weather driving, I got 26.6 mpg in about 60% city driving, but had done better with a 2013 model tested last year. An LE Eco model retunes the engine to create 140 horses, but links up with a CVT to get a 42 mpg highway rating. It also rides on thinner 15-inch tires. The tested S model has 17-inchers.
Handling is good though as the car feels relatively light at 2,865 lbs., and steering effort is moderate. The car corners well and remains stable. It’s not sporty though, and I’d like to see the precision, especially in the S model, brought to a higher level. Toyota might want to study the Mazda3 or Ford Focus.
Ride, as I implied earlier, is more small-car like than expected. Toyota says it has slightly improved the rear suspension from the previous model, but all the designs remain basically as they have been for years in the Corolla, MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam in back.
Braking is fine with four wheel disc brakes. Lower level Corollas still feature drum rear brakes while many car makers have upgraded their smaller sedans to include discs front and rear.
Inside, the new Corolla really looks and feels more upscale than its predecessor. The black leather seats feature gray stitching and the black textured dash is stylishly flat with matte silver and gloss black trim across it, and the doors. The look extends to the center stack and trim around the shift lever on the console.
Gauges are simple with a round tach and speedo and digital trip computer info between them. These gauges have blue rings behind the white numbers and are easy to see day or night. All the buttons and dials are well arranged for easy use too, the climate control dial being large along with the directional buttons.
The one kink here is the 6.1-inch digital touch-screen that houses the radio and navigation. The small radio channel buttons are way too tiny and tough to use while driving. Often I would tap the wrong channel button, OR, even more annoying, the radio would scroll the channel selections (36 allowed) up or down. It’s virtually impossible to use this while wearing a glove, something many of us Midwesterners find ourselves doing 4-5 months of the year. On the plus side, the S comes with a back-up camera that operates through the screen.
Seating though is much improved from the last Corolla. These are comfortable and well contoured with the driver’s seat being powered. The S model also adds two-level heated front seats, run by buttons low on the center stack.
A plus for families, legroom has increased dramatically in back, about 5 inches. In fact legroom is reportedly better in the Corolla than in the Camry. For the record, the Corolla is nearly 3 inches longer than the previous model, but still 6.6 inches shorter than a Camry.
The rear seats split and fold down to increase cargo room, already a generous 13.0 cubic feet in the trunk. Note though that the seat back releases have been moved toward the center of the seat backs, so require a bit more of a reach to release.
My test car added a driver convenience package that gives the car a smart key w/push button start, adds the Entune premium audio system with CD & MP3 hookups along with 6 speakers, an auxiliary audio jack, USB port, hands-free phone capability and Bluetooth wireless along with an HD radio. That costs $1,510.
Another addition was a power sunroof for $850. Sadly while the roof slides, the sun visors do not, so blocking side sun can be precarious in winter when the sun assumes a low angle.
Bottom line? Add an $810 delivery charge and the S Premium model comes in at $23,570, a relatively moderate price considering the leather interior, back-up camera, larger tires and audio upgrades. Corolla is still available in a variety of trims for less than $20 grand, and that’s a big plus when you’re looking for simple, reliable wheels for the family.
But let’s be honest, there are a lot of worthy competitors these days, so shop wisely.
FAST Stats: 2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium
Hits: Sportier profile and styling, OK handling and good gas mileage. Stylish interior with good dash layout, well contoured seats with heated front seats, backup camera, big trunk.
Misses: Tiny hard-to-press touch-screen radio buttons, sun visors don’t slide, extremely low power in ECO mode and steering needs to be firmed up and ride smoothed more.
Made in: Mississippi or Canada
Engine: 1.8-liter, VVT-i I4, 132 hp
Transmission: CVT w/Sport mode
Weight: 2,865 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 13.0 cu.ft.
Base Price: $20,400
Dealer’s Price: $18,889
Driver convenience package (Smart key w/push button start, Entune premium audio w/navigation, CD & MP3, 6 speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB port w/iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability, Bluetooth wireless, 6.1-inch hi-res touch screen, HD radio w/Traffic & Weather, Sirius XM radio), $1,510
Power sunroof, $850
Test vehicle: $23,570
Sources: Toyota, http://www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Toyota