2014 Toyota Corolla Ride and Review By Thom Cannell
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
We have met the 2014 Toyota Corolla and it is a worthy car, one with
an interior that will be willingly compared to Audi’s trend setting
works, an exterior that can no longer be called bland, and powertrain
news that will excite some and disappoint a few.
Toyota sells Corollas like Nathan sells hot dogs; aplenty in a
market filled with Ford’s Focus, Hyundai’s Elantra, and
Chevy’s Cruze, VW Jetta, Mazda3 to name a few competitors.
Corolla’s reputation as durable, robust, and thrifty make it a family
staple. It is a sedan that, at its most extravagant, will cost a few
hundred over $20,000 with a starting point just under $17,000.
The newest, the eleventh generation Corolla features LED headlamps
in every car including the Corolla L, its most modest model. That car,
priced at $17,400 with automatic, shares a 1.8-liter four cylinder engine
with every other iteration. This value leader comes with either a new
6-speed manual or aging 4-speed automatic to reduce production costs. All
the others, with a lone exception, now feature a CVT or constant velocity
transmission. While not a novelty any longer, only Nissan has embraced
these powertrain maximizers with passion. Note that Toyota does not do
theirs the old fashioned way with just two variable pulleys and a belt, no,
theirs is designed to emulate the feel of a 7-speed automatic. Some, like
the top-of-the-line S model, also have a Sport mode that with the push of a
button drives the “shift” points to a more discernible
perception. That said, they are still CVTs and have some of the familiar
whine about them, though a raspy exhaust note often wins the race for
CVTs emerged as useful devices
in recent decades, but were not popular. The reason was simple, they
don’t sound like automobiles we’ve driven in the past. Instead,
their competence in running the engine up to its most efficient operating
speed and “changing gears” constantly just sounds wrong. Other
manufacturers have made them acceptable by emulating the feel of geared
transmissions as well: Toyota is not the first and call theirs CVT-i or
intelligent for its built-in shift points and they say it makes the car
sporty. If sporty is your true desire, the base L and top S models have
genuine steel gear sets with six row-it-yourself gears. Choices, yes,
There is no choice in engines, all are 1.8-liter double overhead cam
motors making 132 horsepower and 128 pounds feet of torque. There is one
variant as the LE Eco has a device attached to the cylinder head that
squeezes out 8 more horsepower through adjustable valve lift. Hmmm, that
reminds us of BMW, where adjustable valves overcome pumping losses and
improve fuel economy and lower emissions. Toyota’s black box does the
same. Toyota promises more availability “soon” but is currently
capacity constrained even though it began fitting those engines for Europe
and Asia in 2008. LE Eco squeezes out an additional 4-6 miles per gallon,
its price but can rise to over $20,000 if you equip it with fog lamps,
chrome, and Softex (Toyota’s trademark imitation leather) seats.
Interiors are the modern battle ground, perhaps more than graceful
and exciting exteriors. Toyota has done an elegant and thoughtful job of
creating a useful appliance. Don’t laugh at that, for many buyers a
car is more appliance than object of passion for speed and handling. But
the target market, ever more youthful in manufacturer aspirations and now
aimed at 35+, are generations that grew up with iDesign as well as Bauhaus
legacies. Toyota did its due diligence.
Entering, you will notice the door as an elegant thing with thin
colored band (they are keyed to interior colors) abutting a wider metallic
surfaced trim, itself joined to a leather-look padded surface. Even the arm
rest is tastefully covered in a tight hopsack fabric. That’s just the
door. That bright line tracing goes across the now-horizontal instrument
panel like a streak of neon.
On the panel a clear brightwork line separates up from down. Up
includes most of the air ducts, a clock, and instrument binnacle in front
of the driver. Below are the passenger’s airbag cover panel, audio
head end with the HVAC below, and below that (on most models) 12-V and
AUX/USB plugins plus the shifter and its console. Steering wheel controls
resemble familiar shapes, unlike those in their new trucks, which we
applaud. Note that some instrument panels house three gauges, others two.
The two-gauge S has an information display between, the others put the gas
gauge at the right and leave abundant blankness in that circle for check
lights. Overall, instruments are very legible.
Together with seat fabrics and colors most buyers will be interested
in the new Entune audio systems, now without subscription fees. Available
on all but L models, which offer Tech radios with BlueTooth calling and
limited voice control, the two Entune systems will have voice recognition
and BT calling, and have apps available (Yelp, Bing, Pandora, etc) that
will require downloading an Entune app for your iPhone/Android to make it
all work. Why would you want apps for Pandora or iHeart Radio?
Wouldn’t you rather use the steering wheel volume and change controls
than, unsafely, referring to your phone?
We played with the nav system on the road and it was difficult.
Later, using the traditional keyboard when stopped, it was much easier to
enter a destination. Voice entry was also more readily accomplished. The
difficulty was that using voice input for a destination required speaking
the correct address entirely, as in house number, street name, city, and
state instead of telling iPhone’s Siri “route me to Commons
Hotel”. It will take a few weeks to get used to.
The eleventh generation Corolla is not sheet metal alone, no, it is longer
(~2.9”), lower, has a longer wheelbase (+3.9”) for more
stability, and is a bit wider and shorter. Where you can’t see it the
underside is better braced, the body structure more rigid. Suspension is
slightly revised with new tuning for the MacPherson front struts and
redesigned rear torsion beam that delivers more lateral control.
We would be remiss to say Corolla is a sports sedan, it is however
more fun to drive than its predecessors, delivering very competent road
manners and excellent quietness at highway speeds. Our notebook has several
important comments starting in the front seat: “wow, it’s an
Audi, all slick, faux-aluminum, laser lines and Mercedes piano black
surfaces”, two notes from the back seat where a 6’1”
passenger found plenty of leg room—Toyota says there’s now over
41” of leg room—and that was with a 5’8 passenger ahead.
Another passenger described the back seat as shaped into buckets for
outboard seats, overall “roomy but not necessarily
comfortable”, possibly due to the new safety cross beam below that
seat. We also noted a lack of any power outlets (did we overlook
something?) in the rear, odd when Toyota says the Corolla will appeal to
Entrepreneurs, which we find amusingly faulty logic.
Safety has been a key selling point for Toyota and they continue
their STAR safety system with antilock brakes, electronic brake
distribution of braking force, brake assist to minimize emergency braking
distance, smart stop which reduces engine power if throttle, then brakes
are applied together over 5 mph, traction control, vehicle stability
control, and a VSC Off switch which you’d need if stuck in mud or
snow to allow wheel spin. Notably, in the recent IIHS small overlap test
the compact Corolla received a "marginal" score. The test is said to
emulate hitting a phone pole or guard rail straight on just at the
headlight. Child seat anchors, passenger occupant detection (kids) for the
passenger seat, seat belt pretensioner, 8 dual-stage airbags and new driver
knee air bags are all standard.
What’s our take? A far, far better car, one that needed to be
built, one that may outclass some rivals in interior refinement. Power and
powertrains put it solidly in the mix, as do fuel economy and the eye
catching all-new sheet metal. Viewed along side outgoing models, all
you’ll think is Whoa! Purchased with family needs in mind, or daily
for commutes where the Entune system shines, or as a second or third car to
back up your EV, Corolla is prepared to sustain its reputation for economy,
durability, and innovation and sell another 22 million.