2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
Continues the tradition of efficient, comfortable more-than-basic transportation, now with styling panache
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide
The 2014 Corolla is the eleventh generation of Toyota's ever-popular compact sedan. The Corolla has gotten ever larger since its debut back in 1966, and has been at or near the top of the worldwide sales charts since 1974. Toyota must be doing something right.
With the exception of the AE86 of the early 1980s, with a then-unusual fuel-injected dual overhead cam engine plus being one of the last rear-wheel drive Corollas, the Corolla has never been an aspirational car. It was and is just basic transportation done right, with a good mix of space versus size, economy versus performance, and a fine example of why the term "transportation appliance" is not a bad thing at all.
Compared to the previous generation, the newest Corolla is about three inches longer on a four-inch longer wheelbase. It, and its immediate predecessor, are both larger than the original early-80s Camry. Toyota is hardly alone there, as growth seems to be what happens to almost all cars… The 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower engine carries over, and yes it has dual overhead cams just like the AE86 -- and VVT-i on-the-fly variable cam phasing and lift control, which was rocket science 30 years ago. It has four valves per cylinder, not merely two, and the S model has four-wheel disc brakes. All of which are no longer exotic and no longer excite interest… times change and yesterday's exotic is today's commonplace.
So even the Corolla S is not being marketed as a sports car, just a small family sedan with sporty looks, thanks to the small-car interpretation of Toyota's latest design language. There are two items of technical interest in the new Corolla lineup. though. First is the LE Eco model, which uses a modified version of the regular engine. "Valvematic" valve control further optimizes efficiency, as does a slightly higher compression ratio, 10.6:1 up from the standard 10:1. Power is up a bit at 140 hp and torque down to 126 lb-ft from 128.
Second, Toyota has joined the ranks of manufacturers using a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) for the automatic choice. Compared to a regular torque-converter automatic, a CVT is lighter and more efficient. But it can be disconcerting, as there is no shifting, and it is sometimes possible to be accelerating uphill while engine revs are actually dropping. Toyota calls its CVT the CVT-iS, "i" for intelligent (as in computer control), "S" for Shift. Discrete shift points are built into the control software, so it feels like a familiar torque-converter automatic.
Trim levels are L, LE, LE Eco, and S. Other models have rear drum brakes, while the S gets four-wheel discs. It also gets 17-inch alloy wheels and a "Sport" shift mode. The L comes with a four-speed torque converter automatic; others get the CVT-iS.
My Corolla S test car was a pleasant not-so small car with plenty of power for dealing with everyday traffic situations, good brakes, and little appetite for unleaded regular. It didn't seem to matter what I did, be it errands around town, backroads, or highway driving, the average was always between 31 and 32 mpg. The new styling is distinctive, and more visually interesting than previous models. With the availability of navigation, connectivity, and streaming audio systems, it also can have features that were once province of the luxury class at a price that is far below that.
APPEARANCE: Why should a small sedan look frumpy? Toyota calls the Corolla's styling theme "Iconic Dynamism", and it develops visual cues seen first in larger Toyotas such as the Camry and Avalon. As is common in small sedans, the passenger cabin -- greenhouse -- is proportionally larger compared to the hood, trunk, and overall length than in larger siblings. While still technically a three-box design, the Corolla's well-raked windshield and read window give it a profile that would have been described as "coupe-like" not long ago. All models share bright headlights, with LED low and halogen high beams, with a long, low grille cleverly made from a gap between the front of the hood and the top of the bumper fascia between them. Other models have an upside-down trapezoidal lower opening incorporating a black-finished front bumper. The S gets a more complex shaped piece, with chrome trim surrounding a gloss black finish. LED foglamps are set into faux brake vents, but the "splitter" at the front, small spoiler at the trailing edge of the trunk, and a near-full undertray do help decrease aerodynamic resistance for that extra bit of fuel economy. Sharp character lines are used on the sides and at the rear to banish visual boredom.
COMFORT: Don't be looking for cheap-looking textured hard plastics in here! Toyota got the message, and the Corolla S gets "stitched" soft-touch material for the instrument panel top and upper portions of the doors. Multiple textures and materials in a pleasantly conservative, functional design give an upscale look to the interior. Yes, that's real leather on the steering wheel rim. And the wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach, and has audio, phone, and information system controls on the front of the horizontal arms, with shift paddles behind. Cruise and light controls are on stalks. The moderately-bolstered seats are covered with "SofTex" leatherette. The driver's is power-adjustable, the passenger's is manual. Front seat cushions have two-level heating; the automatic climate control system works quickly to heat or cool the interior. The backlit instruments are easily read in any light. The premium convenience package on my test car equipped it to what would have been luxury-spec not long ago, with pushbotton start/stop and proximity un/lock, and audio and connectivity with the full suite of choices. A rearview camera is standard in all Corollas, good for Toyota for doing that. The rear seat is spacious for the Corolla's size and not highly contoured. That and a low central tunnel makes it okay for three people, if they aren't too large. Trunk space is also good for the size, and there is a space-saver spare under the trunk floor.
SAFETY: As do all current Toyotas, the 2014 Corolla comes standard with the Star Safety System™, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), traction control, antilock braking (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist. It also has the Smart Stop Technology brake over-ride system and an electronic tire pressure monitoring system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Extensive use of high-strength steel results in a relatively light weight for the newest Corolla's unibody structure. Additional bracing improves rigidity compared to the previous generation. The suspension is the class-standard, with MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle in the rear. Design changes improve response and ride quality compared to the previous version, and the S model gets firmer springs with matched shock dampers and bushings. It's more sporty than sports, with no loss of comfort. Electrically-assisted steering is more efficient than hydraulic, if a bit numb -- like most such. The S's four-wheel disc brakes are a good improvement over the standard disc/drum setup.
PERFORMANCE: By today's standards this is no hot rod, but the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine serves its purpose well, and with minimal thirst. Like most all Toyota engines, it's a four-valve per cylinder design with dual overhead camshafts, both with VVT-i variable phasing and lift, with aluminum alloy block and head. Like all Toyota engines, it proves that such a design can indeed have good low- and medium-rpm torque. Its performance and economy are assisted by the CVT-iS, when even in D never feels like a CVT. Because of the engine's power characteristics and the car's character, there is never any real need to use the manual shift mode, but that does work well. The typical Corolla buyer is likely more interested in mpg than mph, and at around 32 overall no matter what, it does well for a not so small gasoline-powered sedan. Acceleration is good enough to deal with everyday traffic.
CONCLUSIONS: The latest in a long line of Toyota Corollas continues the tradition of efficient, comfortable more-than-basic transportation, now with styling panache.
2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium
Base Price $ 20,400
Price As Tested $ 23,570
Engine Type 16-valve DOHC aluminum alloy 4-cylinder with Dual VVT-i cam phasing and valve lift control
Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.
Horsepower 132 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 128 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission CVT with programmed "steps"
Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 183.1 in.
Curb Weight 2865 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 22
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P215/45R17 87W m+s Firestone FR740
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed
29 / 37 / 32
0 to 60 mph 9.5 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Driver Convenience Package -- includes: Smart Key system on front doors and trunk with pushbutton start/stop, Entune premium audio -- includes Entune Multimedia Bundle with Navigation and App Suite, AM/FM/XM radio (90-day trial) CD with MP3 and WMA playback, jack, USB 2.0, and iPod connectivity, hands-free phone, phone book access, and music streaming capability via Bluetooth, 6.1-inch high-resolution screen $ 1,510
Power tilt and slide moonroof $ 850
Delivery Charge $ 810