The Toyota Corolla may be with us forever, judging by its past performance.
The Corolla has the reputation as among the world’s most reliable, durable cars. There’s no reason why the 11th generation 2014 Corolla can’t maintain it.
With some 40 million (and counting) Corollas sold globally, this front-drive compact is considered the world’s best-selling car. Actually, it’s the world’s top-selling nameplate. That’s because other automakers have changed the names of their entry models through the years, while Toyota has wisely kept the Corolla nameplate. That, although the car has undergone many changes while keeping its quality, durability and affordability.
Toyota had to make major changes to its 11th generation Corolla because its sales have been pressured in the past few years by increasingly better Korean cars such as the Hyundai Elantra and a revised Japanese Honda Civic. No to mention newer U.S. rivals such as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.
Then there’s Toyota’s formidable in-house gas/electric Prius—the country’s top-selling hybrid car. Still, the Corolla substantially outsold the Prius in 2013.
Being an entry level Toyota, the automaker has given the 2014 Corolla sharper, more-aerodynamic styling partly to attract younger buyers. It still looks like an economy sedan, but is the most modern-looking Corolla ever. Good aerodynamics and sound insulating measures help give it a quieter interior.
Importantly, the new Corolla gets a long-awaited roomier rear seat—thanks to a wheelbase stretched 3.9 inches.That also gives the car surer stability and a smoother ride.
Corolla list prices go from $16,800 to $21,300. Models begin with the “L” and go to the better-equipped L, LE, LE Eco and S. The LE Eco is a new trim level that uses improved aerodynamics, a more efficient valvematic–equipped 1.8-liter four-cylinder and the CVTi-S tuning to help it offer an EPA-rated 42 miles per gallon highway (30 city).
The 42 miles per gallon highway rating gives the LE Eco the highest fuel economy rating in the class for a vehicle with an automatic transmission (excluding electric vehicles, hybrids and diesels).
The base L has a standard six-speed manual (up from a five-speed) transmission. But the optional four-speed automatic offered for the L model is dated. Automatics for other Corolla versions are modern continuously variable transmission (CVTs).
The L’s standard features include LED headlights with LED daytime running lights,
Bluetooth connectivity, front Whiplash-Injury-Lessening seats and eight air bags, including a new driver’s knee air bag and passenger seat cushion air bag.
The sporty S is available with a manual transmission or the CVT with paddle shifters to manually actuate sequential 7 speeds, which act and feel like separate gears but actually have artificial ratio steps as a CVT has no set gears.
Toyota says the 2014 Corolla is all-new, but it has a carryover 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine—although Toyota says the engine has been made “more efficient.” You can get that engine with modifications that give it 140-horsepower, but a little less torque. The 140-horsepower version actually provides better fuel efficiency than the 132-horsepower version, but there’s reportedly little performance difference between the two.
City and highway performance is decent with either engine, which are generally smooth and sophisticated. The CVT automatic operates very efficiently.
Aside from the carryover 1.8 engine, the Corolla has enough new features to loosely be called “all-new.” They include slicker styling, a roomier, more upscale interior, a more rigid underbody and an improved suspension.
The S (Sport) model is the most fun, with unique suspension tuning for its available 17-inch wheel package, sport gauges and supportive sport seat. It has an aggressive lower front grille with a piano black finish and chrome surround. The ornate, piano black instrument panel doesn’t really come off as very upscale because all Corolla interiors have lots of hard interior plastic.
The electric power steering is quick and accurate, and brake pedal action is linear. There are available four-wheel disc brakes, although some Corollas have less-effective rear drum brakes.
Corollas long have been known for having an above-average compact car ride, and even my test Corolla’s wider 45-series tires with narrower sidewalls didn’t affect its supple ride.
All Corollas are fuel-stingy. The base L with the manual, which has crisp engagement but long throws, provides an estimated 28 city and 37 highway and delivers almost the same with the automatic—27 city and 36 highway.
I tested the $20,400 Corolla S Premium with the CVT transmission and effective paddle shifters. It provided an estimated 29 city, 37 highway. I averaged 29.1 miles per gallon during an even mix of moderately hard city and freeway driving.
The S Premium has lots of standard goodies, including automatic climate control, backup camera, heated front seats, 6.1-inch touchscreen and cruise control.
Roadability was helped by my car’s 17-inch alloy wheels and 45-series tires. Also helping stability while taking a few curves very quickly were vehicle stability and traction control systems. The effective anti-lock brakes had a brake-assist feature for surer stops.
My test Corolla’s options included a $1,510 Driver Convenience Package that contained remote keyless entry, pushbutton start, remote trunk release and upscale sound system. It also had an $850 power tilt/slide moonroof. With an $810 freight charged, the bottom-line price was $23,570.
The Corolla’s trunk has a low, wide opening for fast loading and decent cargo room. Split 60/40 rear seatbacks flip forward for added cargo room, but don’t sit entirely flat.
Despite all the changes, the Corolla continues as an “honest” car that doesn’t promise more than it can deliver and should still continue to satisfy many buyers. With its new styling, roomier interior and sharper handling, it promises to attract more young buyers.
Pros: Sleeker, Roomier. Improved interior. New transmission. Sharper handling. Fuel-stingy.
Cons: Carryover engine. Hard interior plastic. Base version has old-style automatic.
Bottom Line: Still basic, economical, reliable transportation.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews and interviews with automotive industry experts, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.