|1. A familiar 1.8L 4-cylinder making 132 hp is standard, while an optional engine of the same size makes 140 hp.
2. Three transmissions are available, a four-speed automatic, a CVT and a six-speed manual.
3. Depending on trim, the Corolla is officially rated at 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway on the low end and 30/42 mpg on the high end.
4. Pricing for the 2014 Toyota Corolla will ranges $16,800 and $21,300.
It’s safe to say it’s a pretty popular vehicle. Or at least it is with the car buying masses.
But ask a self-proclaimed ‘car person’ and chances are they’ll roll their eyes at the thought of a Corolla.
Toyota needn’t worry too much about this small demographic. Still, even the Japanese auto giant knows shedding the ‘beige’ image in favor of something (anything) more interesting wouldn’t hurt.
TIME TO TURN DOWN THE BORING
To do that, the 11th generation Corolla required a complete redesign from the ground up, and, for the most part, received it. A few months ago we first laid eyes at the new Corolla and it was obvious the 2014 model finally had a little style behind it.
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The front-end receives standard LED headlights and a large, gaping lower grill that adds an angry look to the car; a theme with compact sedans these days. The sportier S model receives an even larger, angrier grill as well two-tone 17-inch wheels. From the rear the design is admittedly less dramatic and viewed from that angle it could easily get lost in a sea of modern compact sedans like the Hyundai Elantra or Honda Civic.
Viewing it from a profile doesn’t do the Corolla any favors either, with vast amounts of wheel gap that throw the overall proportions of the vehicle off, even with the optional 16-inch or 17-inch wheels.
Still, the 2014 Corolla does exude a more upscale appearance thanks to revised body proportions that have the car slightly lower, slightly wider and nearly four-inches longer.
NOT SO COMPACT
Most of the new-found length in the Corolla comes courtesy of a stretched wheelbase. This not only adds a dollop of rear legroom, but also translates into a better ride down the road.
It’s softer over bumps than the old model and better composed on the freeway. Cabin isolation has also been increased and the new model matches-up well with the best of the segment for interior sound (or lack thereof).
Toyota also engineered a little more driver enjoyment into the new Corolla and claims to have made improvements to its handling and steering. We didn’t really notice any more ‘sport’, but did find the Corolla tracks straighter on the freeway than the outgoing model.
Apart from that, it basically drives like a Corolla. It’s predictable, easy to drive and is guaranteed to deliver hundreds of thousands of worry-free miles. It’s what the Corolla has based its reputation on for decades, so why change it now?
The same philosophy can also be found under the hood, where changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary.
SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING OLD
With the base L model, little has changed. The same 1.8L four-cylinder engine producing 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque is mated to an embarrassingly outdated four-speed automatic. At least a new six-speed manual is an option.
Finding a manual L trim Corolla in the wild is about as likely as snapping a photo of BigFoot, while the four-speed automatics will become the darling of nationwide rental fleets.
Toyota actually brought one of these four-speed automatic vehicles along, hubcaps and all, to the first drive event and we had the opportunity to drive one. In short, the L benefits from all the new Corolla’s improvements like a quieter interior and smoother ride, while the four-speed remains a bit slow to react, but inoffensive.
Opt for an automatic transmission in any of the other three trims, and the four-speed is shunned in favor of an all-new continuously variable transmission. The new CVT is designed to break up the dreaded engine drone that is synonymous with these transmissions thanks to simulated gear changes. Drive the new Corolla hard or soft, and the CVT will make sudden rpm drops at predetermined points to simulate an upshift.
A CVT THAT DOESN’T ACT LIKE ONE?
When first rolling away from a stop, there is a noticeable power delay, which gets worse when Eco mode is engaged. Once the rpms rise and the CVT is in motion, however, the engine does come to life. But with so little power, the Corolla never feels all that quick and is noticeably slower than a Ford Focus or Mazda3.
Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with this CVT. It is constantly adjusting rpms in a predictable, seamless fashion, something neither Nissan nor Subaru have been able to achieve with the gearless transmissions installed in the Sentra and Impreza.
Since a CVT is limitless when it comes to gear ratios, the LE and LE Eco trims of the Corolla feature an ‘ECO’ button that has the transmission keep the rpms lower and ‘shift’ earlier to improved fuel economy. On the flip side, the sportier ‘S’ trim has a sport button in place of the ECO button that allows the transmission to rev higher before performing a ‘gear’ change.
The S also includes steering wheel mounted paddles shifters that run the transmission through 7 pre-set gear ratios.
Surprisingly, S models also come available with the six-speed manual transmission.
NOT JUST A CARRYOVER ENGINE
There is also a new engine – sort of. While displacing a similar 1.8-liters, the Corolla’s optional four-cylinder features Toyota’s new Valvematic variable valve timing technology. This engine boost’s horsepower and fuel economy by five-percent, bringing total engine output to 140 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque – a just-passable number.
The least efficient Corolla in the lineup will be the four-speed automatic L version, which is still rated at a respectable 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. We had a chance to drive both the LE and LE Eco with the CVT, and the power difference as well as engine behavior between the two 1.8-liters is negligible.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE INTERIOR?
Inside, the new Corolla’s makeover is just as drastic as the exterior’s. A new multi-level horizontal center stack dominates the dashboard and looks more modern and more upscale than the outgoing model; not a hard feat since the old Corolla’s dash was woefully out of date, but Toyota did succeed in designing an interior capable of competing with anything in this class. The front seats are comfortable and there is a huge upgrade in interior material quality. Most surfaces are now soft touch and most of the switchgear feels premium.
Of course the Corolla is available with all the latest tech options like smart key, push button start, heated front seats, navigation and a rear view camera. It’s also offered with three different audio systems, including two versions of Toyota’s Entune system with App Suite. This highly customizable infotainment unit should please tech loving consumers and can be loaded with apps like Facebook places, iHeartRadio and Pandora.
The rear seats now sit three-inches further back from the front seats compared to the old model and Toyota has installed thinner front seat backs to further increase rear legroom. The total balloons to a limo-like 41.4-inches, which is roughly the same as the Camry; a car regarded as having a spacious backseat in its own-right. Trunk space is a reasonable 13 cu-ft.
Pricing for the base 2014 Corolla L gets a slight bump of $570 up to $16,800, while the range topping S Plus six-speed manual version will come in at $21,300.
As much as Toyota wants to find new, younger buyers with the 2014 model, the manufacturer needs to ensure current customers are not alienated; Corolla owners do love their Corollas after all, and many are repeat buyers.
The good news for Toyota is that current customers should be more than happy with the new car.
Will it bring in a new crop of buyers? Yes, though perhaps not the ones Toyota intends. Rather than draw-in those looking for a sportier compact sedan, the 11th generation Corolla should find fans amongst those looking for advanced technology as well as a more sophisticated ride and look. Oh, and let’s not forget, legendary reliability.