Toyota’;s Corolla is a home run for its target audience
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: I’;m cheating and putting my notes in before those of my colleagues despite the fact that I had the car after them. Why? I think it’;s important that someone with a few years on Jake and Graham weigh in on what’;s in fact among the best basic commuter cars available today. Anyone who fancies themselves a car enthusiast is going to feel it’;s his or her duty to lambaste the Toyota Corolla as a transportation appliance for a focus-grouped median driving audience. Those enthusiasts are completely missing the point.
This newest Corolla fits into its traditional niche offering a slightly softer, less controversial alternative to the Honda Civic, a “safer” brand name than the Hyundai Elantra and a more traditional interior and powertrain than the Ford Focus. And the Corolla does all that while offering the unobtrusive styling its buyers like at an exceptional price point.
In other words, the 2014 Toyota Corolla is a homerun for its target market. It’;s an autonomous car you have to drive yourself — the thing almost vanishes from consciousness as soon as you start it, allowing people who really don’;t like driving to get it over with as unobtrusively as possible.
For all the hand-wringing and moans of yet another bland Toyota, a bit of perspective is in order: Enthusiasts don’;t want a Corolla and they never will (’;80s-vintage FX16 models aside). Average American drivers don’;t want a Scion FR-S. Guess who makes up the larger market? Sales of Corollas make it possible for Toyota to build cars like the Scion FR-S (and hopefully a new Supra).
Settle in, tune the satellite radio, put it in drive and autopilot your way to work. I don’;t advocate such behavior; I try not to engage in it, but it’;s what most of America wants to have happen. The Corolla delivers better than almost anything else in the segment.
Haters gonna hate. But if I were a Toyota salesperson, I’;d be feeling pretty confident putting a down payment on a boat about now.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: The Toyota Corolla is usually about as bland as it gets. I’;m sure the most popular color is triple beige. But, as much as I hate to say it, this new front end makes it more than just another forgettable Toyota — at least for a regular person. To the enthusiast, there still isn’;t much to be excited about.
The shape looks a little worse than the last generation; it now appears taller and narrower. The back and front ends both look a little too stubby. The new fascia I can appreciate; it’;s not exactly what I’;d draw if the pen was in my hand, but it’;s much better than past Corollas.
The interior is upgraded, too. I felt like the old Corollas were trying to look upscale, with fake woodgrain, Earth tones and chrome. This new car has more of a futuristic look, mostly black and gray, with digital readouts for important information. It doesn’;t pretend to be something it isn’;t. The small navigation screen worked great, both for maps and with my music player, and the speakers sound great. It has a shuffle button, right on the song screen, which is how I usually listen to my music, and a fast-forward button on the steering wheel, which is rare. But for the few times you need it, it’;s awesome.
The keyless entry and ignition were also nice, but I would have loved heated seats.
Speaking of those seats, they were only marginally comfortable, and I’;m not really a fan of this new material. It seems to be some sort of nylon blend and reminds me of a wetsuit.
I still dislike continuously variable transmission, but this car was not annoyingly slow. If you floor it, it gets going relatively quickly. It’;s loud, though, especially when trying to get on the freeway. The brakes were a little spongy, but it’;s hard to evaluate these press cars on stuff like that — who knows how it was used previously? The steering was equally hard to evaluate on our slippery roads, but it definitely seems tuned for ease of driving and not point and shoot.
No one can complain about the price, though. As boring as the Toyota Corolla is to drive, it’;s a ton of car for $ 22K.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There’;s not a huge amount for someone to grab onto and love in this fairly well-optioned CVT-equipped 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Plus (including that clunky name).
But there’;s not a lot to hate, either, especially when you figure that a lot of people want the automotive equivalent of that new nutritional beverage (creepily named “Soylent”): a low-intensity, low-effort prepackaged product that frees up time and energy for other pursuits.
It’;s not that most people hate cars, it’;s that they just don’;t want to think about them. Hence, we have the Toyota Corolla.
We call a lot of small, cheap cars “flingable,” even if they’;re not especially fast. The Corolla isn’;t really fast, but it’;s not really flingable, either. Goose the accelerator. The transmission moans unconvincingly but ultimately gets to you where you want to go, and not all too slowly. “S” mode theoretically makes things quicker but you’;ll have to weigh that against the increased noise.
This really isn’;t a performance car, though — not that you could ever mistake it for one. The front end is light and steering somewhat uncertain under moderate acceleration; the suspension is probably the single oldest and cheapest-feeling part of the car, transmitting bumps and road imperfections with only moderate damping.
Fine. Whatever. The best way to enjoy the Corolla is cruise-controlling along at legal (and responsible, taking into account prevailing traffic and weather conditions) speeds, “eco” mode engaged for maximum fuel economy, the mind free to devote as much of its capacity to imaging its somewhere other than the morning commute.
Enthusiasts tend to forget that this is precisely what many car buyers want, and why autonomous cars are going to be huge.
The Corolla is OK inside; didn’;t mind the seats, though they lacked the infinite power adjustability it’;s so easy to get used to. Toyota tends to do weird things with hard plastics on their less expensive cars, but it again opted to shoot for the middle with this volume-seller. It’;s simple and, barring the fake molded stitching on the edges of the soft dash, clean. The infotainment system is likewise clean and straightforward. Screen resolution and response times are better than those in current Jaguar/Land Rover products. What does that tell you?
Unfortunately, there’;s an ever-present feeling of lightweight cheapness that Toyota really needs to iron out. The Ford Focus and Mazda 3 don’;t have doors that sound quite as tinny when you slam them, for example. And their cabin noise levels seem to be better contained at cruising speed.
Outside, the insectoid front fascia is a little strange when isolated and examined, but on the car it sort of fades into the background inoffensively — much like the car itself.
The Corolla is really not bad. Its biggest sin is that, while it’;s perfectly adequate, it’;s also totally forgettable. For $ 22,570, there are worse things to be, but there are also better cars to buy.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: So this is the all-new, much-ballyhooed Toyota Corolla? It does look nice, nicer than any Corolla before it. Sharper creases in all the lines make it stand out from some of the more rounded shapes in the class like, uh, like the previous Corolla. It looks downright attractive. Yet I wonder if the shape will attract new buyers, but alienate the traditional appliance-seeking Corollistas?
The sculpted exterior has a purpose; with a coefficient of drag that Toyota claims is 0.28, aided by numerous undertray panels that you’;ll never see.
Another efficiency is the new drivetrain. While the LE Plus test car we had out here in California didn’;t get the Valvematic treatment that increases efficiency of the intake cam, it does have VVT-i. Combined with a CVT transmission, it’;s good for an EPA rating of 29 city/38 highway/32 combined. The LE Eco trim levels have Valvematic and returns 30/42/35. For the LE Eco models that have 16-inch wheels like the test car back in Detroit, they get a rating of 30/40/34.
And, yes, I said CVT. Now don’;t panic. Toyota lays out a line of advertising about the CVT, saying it’;s a CVTi-S, where “i” stands for intelligent and S is for sport. That CVTi-S is not like other CVTs, many of which feel downright slippery, like a wet rubber band. This one felt almost like a regular automatic. It is nowhere near as awful as most CVTs. It doesn’;t resort to artificial-feeling “steps” to make you think it is shifting gears. But neither does it wail at the top of the rev range when you ask for power. Toyota says it added steps to the CVT’;s operation but they’;re barely noticeable. When you’;re driving around town and maybe being a little sporty–but not hammering on the throttle–it’;s more like this CVT trusts in its torque and so doesn’;t have to tell the engine to wail at the top of the tach. This is a CVT that might not drive you crazy. No guarantee, though.
Flooring it with the Racelogic box suction-cupped to the windshield, I got a 0-60 mph time of 9.9 seconds, which I think you could probably do on a skateboard. It is dog slow. Maybe even cat slow. And when you stomp on the throttle and really mean it, or even when the revs are only at 2,000 rpm or higher, the engine is loud and thrashy, a little like it is trying desperately to tear itself apart because it just can’;t stand this crud anymore. So overall, there’;s not much fun coming from under the hood.
Which is fine, really. The Corolla is a transport pod for people who don’;t want to think very much about cars. These people make up a huge segment of the market. Toyota sold 302,180 Corollas in the U.S. last year, which included some of these new models. That’;s more than Ford Focus, Ford Fusion and Ford Fiesta; twice as much as Volkswagen Jetta, Nissan Sentra and Kia Optima; 3 times as much as the Mazda 3 and almost as much as Honda Civic, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. So the thing sells, man.
You can’;t look to this car for performance and its buyers don’;t. When asked, they recite the mantra that they want a reliable car to get them from Point A to Point B, they don’;t want to have to worry about it, and they want good gas mileage. This is the perfect car for those people. For you, the Autoweek reader, you want a Civic, Mazda 3 or a Focus. Or spend a little more and get a Focus ST, Mazdaspeed 3 or Civic Si. Those are the cars in this class that you want. The Corolla is the one you recommend to everyone else.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: There’;s a lot of car in here for $ 22K. The LE Plus model that Mark and I drove out here in California grants you navigation, satellite radio, keyless entry and a backup camera. Not a bad load of kit. Those are the features that a first-time buyer might gush over — especially if they view driving as a disdainful task.
The car feels like it is working much harder than it should, but feels faster than what the speedometer actually says. On the other hand, most new cars tend to give the drivers the opposite idea. Reactions are slow: languid throttle response is typical for eco-mindedness, while steering is numb. Road bumps are pleasantly filtered with little body motions, but road noise is straining. Do not inadvertently engage engine braking mode (B on the shifter) with the CVT, unless you enjoy the sound of feral caterwauls.
The value is there, but the smoothness isn’;t. Factors like road noise and steering can grate on you, and newer compacts do a better job imparting the idea that you deserve something pleasant for your money (even if you don’;t spend too much of it). If anything, my own darling of the “around-$ 20K loaded compact” segment is still the Kia Soul , which shows that you can stuff your car with plenty of features and still have a pleasant driving experience.
Despite Toyota’;s more-than-annoying insistence that every major youth movement of the past 5 decades has somehow involved a Corolla, this latest one doesn’;t launch any spontaneous dance-offs. Here’;s another idea: When the latest Yaris came out, a cheeky, clever ad campaign playing upon Toyota’;s blasé appliance status by proclaiming: “It’;s a Car!”
Well, Americans don’;t like hatchbacks. So that campaign needs to “elevate” itself to the Corolla. It’;s a car with a trunk that can fit a decent amount of stuff (13 cubic feet worth) for when their owners go places sometimes and leave places other times. But with one annoying exception — there’;s no handgrip to close the trunklid. After enough grocery store trips I find myself wanting a simple plastic molded handgrip screwed to the mouse-fur trunk lining more than all the keyless navigating satellite camera radios in the world.
Base Price: $ 20,250
As-Tested Price: $ 22,570
Drivetrain: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 140 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 126 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,855 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 30/40/34 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 31.2 mpg
Options: Driver convenience package including smart key system on front doors and trunk with push button start, remote keyless entry system with lock, panic and trunk-release functions, Entune premium audio including the Entune, multimedia bundle with navigation and app suite, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA, playback capability, 6 speaker, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, hands-free phone capability, phone book access and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, 6.1-inch high resolution touchscreen display with HD radio with traffic and weather, SiriusXM radio ($ 1,510); power tilt/slide moonroof, sliding sunshade ($ 850)
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