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2015 Toyota Corolla S Premium with 2016 Updates Review +VIDEO

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Toyota Corolla sets the pace for the small sedan class


            • SEE ALSO: Toyota Research and Buyers Guide

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If it seems that Toyota Corollas are ubiquitous, that's only because they are. Over 40 million have been sold since it debuted in 1966, and the current generation, the eleventh, is the most-sold nameplate worldwide. The Corolla has been at or near the top of the charts for over 40 of its nearly 50 years.

But although it occupies the same "inexpensive small sedan" niche as ever, today's Corolla is a much different vehicle from that of the distant past. Most obviously, it's much larger -- as, it seems, are all cars. It uses engineering technologies that were exotic or non-existent back then, or even much more recently. And despite the increase in size, today's Corolla is likely more fuel-efficient and much quicker than any of the past. And definitely more spacious.

The current generation debuted for model year 2014 with L, LE, LE-Eco, and S grades. Changes since then, unsurprisingly, have been minimal. The Premium trim upgrade adds a SofTex® leatherette seating with cushion heat and power-adjustment for the driver's side, a moonroof, Smart Key pushbutton start/stop and door un/lock, the Entune audio system with navigation and phone-integrating apps, and a rear-seat armrest with cupholders showed up late in the model year and continues. The Plus upgrade, alloy wheels and foglamps. The biggest change for 2016 is the Special Edition, based on the S. It's cosmetic, with unique alloy wheels, red-accented interior, and exclusive paint colors.

All Corollas have a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. While the L has the choice of a six-speed manual or four-speed torque converter automatic, the most common transmission is and will be the CVT offered as the only choice for the LE and LE-Eco, and as the automatic for the S, which may also be specified with a six-speed stick. Unlike most other CVTs, this one, called CVT-iS with "i" for (computer) intelligence and "S" for "steps", simulates discrete gear ratios in order to lessen the "rubber band" feel that can make a CVT feel just wrong. This one usually feels like a familiar torque converter automatic.

My test car for the past week was a 2015 Corolla S with the CVTi-S. Differences between it and a 2016? MSRP is up from $22,905 to 23,065, and the delivery charge is up from $825 to $835, as of this writing. Option prices are the same. So the bottom line increases $170 from $24,659 to $24,829. On paper, at this time. It's a pleasant not-so-small car, especially inside, with good power for everyday life and a minimal appetite for unleaded regular at a 34 mpg average for the week. More visually interesting than older Corollas, and with a much better interior experience, it's far better than average at a price that is far less. (average new car transaction price being somewhere around $30,000 today) And if it doesn't seem all that sporty by today's standards, it would be interesting to compare it against a stock and unmolested example of the early-80s AE86, last of the rear-wheel drive Corollas, and the first twin-cam. I suspect the legend would not be happy…

APPEARANCE: No changes this year, and no problem with that. While the "Iconic Dynamism" styling was developed from the larger Camry and Avalon, and the Corolla's smaller size dictates a proportionally larger passenger greenhouse compared to its hood and trunk, it doesn't have the "baby" proportions of many other small sedans. Its well-raked windshield and rear window give a profile that would have been called "coupe-like" not long ago. The S gets a unique front clip, with a more complex shape to its grille and a sportier look. 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.

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COMFORT: Toyota got the negative message regarding cheap-looking interior materials, so the newest Corolla, especially in S Premium trim, looks almost like an entry-luxury car inside. Yes, the seating material is SofTex leatherette, not real leather, but the steering wheel rim is stitched leather. 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. Here, the moderately-bolstered front seats have heatable cushions and the driver's is power-adjustable. The climate control system works very well, and quickly, even in triple-digit temperatures. Instruments are easily seen in all lighting. Premium trim means pushbutton start/stop with proximity un/lock and the full suite of audio choices from AM/FM/and SiriusXM radio through CD, USB and jack, and streaming audio. A rearview camera was standard long before it was mandated. 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 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. TRD sway bars are a dealer-installed accessory, not installed on this car, if you like the S but want a bit more in the handling department. 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: As is the Toyota way, the Corolla's engine has an aluminum alloy block and head and dual overhead cam actuation for its 16 valves. Models other than the LE Eco use the VVT-i variable phasing and lift system to produce maximum 132 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 128 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm). (The -Eco engine uses the Valvematic variable intake valve lift system and a slightly higher compression ratio to produce 140 hp and 126 lb-ft, with gains in efficiency in low-load operation and a re-mapped CVT to further enhance economy.) Low- and medium-rpm torque and power are strong. Performance and economy are assisted by the CVT-iS, when even in D rarely 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 34 overall no matter what, it does well for a not so small gasoline-powered sedan. In a similar Corolla S last year, I "only" got 32. Acceleration is good enough to deal with everyday traffic. A six-speed manual is available and could be interesting.

CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Corolla sets the pace for the small sedan class.


2015 Toyota Corolla S Premium

Base Price $ 22,905 ($23,065) 2016

Price As Tested $ 24,659 ($24,829) 2016

Engine Type aluminum alloy 16-valve DOHC inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable valve lift and timing

Engine Size 1.8 liters / x cu. in.

Horsepower 132 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 128 @ 4400 rpm

Transmission CVT

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 FR70

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 / 34

0 to 60 mph 9.5 sec


Paint Protection Film $ 395

Illuminated Sill Enhancements $ 309

Carpet Floor and Trunk Mats $ 225

Delivery Charge $ 825 (835)