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2014 Toyota Corolla Review By Steve Purdy


By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

I missed the launch event last fall for the new 2014 Corolla but colleagues who attended had good things to report. The launch of this mainstream compact might be second in importance to Toyota after the best-selling Camry. Both lead their ultra-competitive segment of the market. Corolla needed this redesign to keep up with some mighty stiff competition and is one of the last models to get the full treatment.

Just look at the competition in the compact class – Elantra, Focus, Cruze, Forte, Stanza, Impreza, Jetta, Mazda3 and a few others. Nearly all have been updated or completely redesigned in the last couple years and enhanced not just with fresh modern styling and upscale ambiance but with more content and efficiency as well. I never cease to be amazed at the intensity of the competition.

The new Corolla made an excellent first impression on this not-too-jaded reporter. Exterior dimensions change slightly adding more length and width and lowering the roof a tad. Visually it will turn more heads than the last version – not a large hurdle to be sure. A more aggressive, stylish look with swoopy details, LED headlights and crisp lines particularly around headlight and taillight assemblies gives a decidedly less white-bread appearance. As with previous generations of the Corolla it looks like a smaller Camry, a theme that has always served it well.

Inside we see the most change. Everything within the cabin appears vastly improved. The dash is no longer one big plastic casting, rather it is comprised of lots and lots of pieces of better quality plastics, metal trim, some faux wood and even a stitched line the full width of the brow. I couldn’t quite tell (a good thing) if the stitch line was molded into material or actually stitched. The front door armrests sport contrasting stitching. The overall design of the dash and instruments is much more interesting and attractive than the uninspired design of the last Corolla. We found it easy to manage all the functions and the design pleasant to live with.

The new Corolla’s extra length and width allows for a more usable back seat adding about 5 inches extra legroom and making it easier to use kid seats back there. We had some rear seat passengers this week who said they were entirely comfortable. Big or tall folks might have a struggle since this is, after all, a compact. The lower roofline will make it a bit tighter for ingress and egress.

Powering the Corolla is a 1.8-liter eco-friendly 4-cylinder engine without a lot of extreme technology but with great EPA ratings. The new version of the CVT sees to that with a 37 mpg highway rating and 28 mpg in the city. A specially tuned version called LE Eco claims best in class mileage with 42 on the highway and 35 combined. Fortunately they’ve programmed into the CVT some shift points that make it feel like a conventional automatic transmission. A fuel tank holding a bit more than 13 gallons means we can expect a cruising range easily over 400 miles.

Our test car was a Corolla LE Plus showing a base price of $18,700. That base car is as well equipped as most anything in the class though some basics may vary. We have 15-inch alloy wheels, integrated fog lights, power heated outside mirrors, automatic climate control (single-zone), Entune Audio with App and Data suite, 6.1-inch touch screen, remote keyless entry, and the full Toyota “Star Safety System.” This test car also has the $1,510 Driver Convenience Package that includes navigation, premium audio system and some other stuff as well as a power tilt/slide sunroof that costs $850. With the $810 destination charge we’re looking at $21,870 on the sticker’s bottom line.

Corolla comes in twelve trim levels (see specs for all below my review) with one engine. The Eco model’s engine is tuned a bit differently with a tad more horsepower and a little less torque. We can have a manual transmission in the bottom level “L” or the top level “S” cars and that would add considerably to the fun quotient. A conventional 4-speed automatic is available on the L but all others get the CVT.

The driving experience is decidedly inoffensive. It is comfortable (even for a big guy like me), convenient and quiet with good performance overall. Suspension is firm enough to feel in control without any harshness on bad roads. We don’t expect a car of this size to float over really bad roads but the Corolla is softer than many of its ilk. We indulged in a few full-throttle launches and some dry-road pushes through the corners without triggering any adrenalin. In most cases you’ll manage to get to freeway speeds if you push it. And, we guess most Corolla buyers will probably only indulge in full-throttle starts when absolutely necessary.

The navigation system’s map is not sufficiently detailed. Zooming out looses detail much too quickly. We’ve found that to be a problem on other Toyota products. I use the map much more than the other navigation functions so I am probably more attuned to that. Otherwise the touchscreen control functions are good.

My daughter’s first car was a 1980s Corolla we bought for a song when it had nearly 200,000 miles. She named it “Skippy.” It continued to serve her well through college with minimal repairs. In those days Toyota led the league in dependability and while they continue that well-deserved image it seems everyone else has caught up now. So it becomes tougher and tougher to differentiate one from another on the basis of that criteria.

We expect the new Corolla will be as successful as its many progenitors because Toyota has kept with the formula of providing an inexpensive, pleasant, up-to-date, compact car that one needn’t be ashamed of driving. It is certainly the most attractive, content-rich and efficient Corolla yet. But, that’s what it takes to just keep up in this tough market.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved