The Toyota Corolla has been the butt of many automotive jokes for the past 15 years. While it’s always been a reliable and affordable vehicle, it’s generally lacked eye-catching style and exciting performance. But maybe, that’s exactly why it was so popular.
“The Corolla was being purchased mainly for brand reputation and previous experience with Toyota,” explains Alexander Edwards, automotive product analyst and President of Strategic Vision.
With past models being considered an appliance in the automotive world, the 2014 model has emerged looking sexier than anything bearing the Corolla nameplate in recent memory. Toyota is also claiming to have upped its sporty credentials with a more engaging vehicle to drive.
While the new model certainly looks more enticing, is it possible that the radical new styling will scare away Toyota’s core audience and hinder the usual sales success that the Corolla is used to enjoying?
“In general, vehicle styling remains a strong selling point that can be a double edged sword for automakers,” explains IHS analyst Peter Nagles. A car can suffer from being too stylish, but nagles explains that there are some positives to offering style over everything else.
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“I would point to the Hyundai Elantra as an example of a vehicle that appears ‘overstyled’ yet continues to sell above automakers expectations as vehicle design in general has moved in their direction,” says Nagles.
Edwards echoed Nagles thoughts on the success of the Elantra’s styling.
“Those who are buying in this segment and have added demands on styling, an Elantra is currently more often purchased,” he said. It seems then that the Elantra’s hot styling has been a key reason for its above average sales performance. A car that looks nothing like the boring compacts from the past 10 years, the Elantra puts an emphasis on high-class looks over all other traits. The new Corolla could be following in the Korean automaker’s footsteps.
“For the new Corolla to be successful it will have to offer the right mix of pricing, styling, reliability and fuel economy to maintain and even grow sales,” says Nagles.
Past Corollas have offered three of those four elements, and one new factor could be sporty performance. Is Toyota’s newfound focus on sportiness misguided?
The core compact car segment isn’t known for being sporty or exciting to drive, but there are a few surprises out there.
“For those who are looking for added performance and fun, the Jetta is more often purchased,” said Edwards. The Volkswagen Jetta has a European focused suspension, a wide range of engine options and a quick shifting dual clutch transmission, traits that the new Corolla likely can’t compete with.
With the same 1.8L engine that’s been used for the past 13 years and an ancient four-speed automatic transmission, the Corolla isn’t taking any risks in that field. The only big under-the-hood change is a new CVT and variable valve timing, which are offered to those looking for better fuel economy. Perhaps by making just a few mechanical changes to the new Corolla, the car can retain its well known reliability, and still attract new customers with new styling.
It’s clear that Toyota is taking a few ideas from the competition with its latest Corolla, looking to blend longstanding qualities of affordability, fuel economy and reliability while injecting some much needed style in an effort to ward off newcomers.