Driving Impressions – March 2014

Toyota’s new Corolla comes dressed for the party: 2014 Toyota Corolla S

By Greg Cavanaugh

There’s no hiding the fact the Toyota Corolla hasn’t been the most, shall we say, passionate of cars out on the out road (to say the least!).  As an everyday driving appliance, the Corolla seemed to scream, “I’ve just graduated from college and got my first real job . . . so I bought something sensible.”  No offense to those of you that actually did buy a Corolla fresh out of the college, because your father steered you well in purchasing a reliable, efficient, completely un-offensive first ride.

Toyota, on the other hand, seemed to be feeling the squeeze on its market share in the compact car segment from other contenders with sexier waistlines and visions of athleticism. In a rather atypical move for Toyota, a company renowned for its penchant for incremental improvements and styling changes, Toyota went for left field when designing the new for 2014 Corolla and it has little, if any, resemblance to the last version – and this is a good thing.

With a somewhat Dodge Dart-ish profile and look, stylistically the new Corolla has stepped considerably forward from last year’s model.  My test drive was the Corolla S, which stands for “sport” and goes further than the other Corollas for a more aggressive look.  With black wheels, carbon fiber trim pieces, a unique front end treatment and other S-specific styling cues, the S does a lot to give the sense of sport.  On the interior, the S garners you some nice silver over piano black accents, two-tone seats with attractive stitching and sportier trim pieces. All new Corollas follow the precedent set by the Prius C with a rather low, flat and straight dashboard pushed all the way to the firewall.  Personally, I like the overall design aesthetic a lot, as it gives the Corolla a very roomy feel and lots of storage without being intrusive or overly futuristic.  I wish more automakers would consider this as it makes these compact cars feel much bigger.

And indeed they are.  Compared with mid-size cars of a decade or two ago, the new Corolla could have easily been labeled mid-size.  Similar in size to my last test drive, the Buick Regal, the Corolla is a nice balance of space and overall dimensions/maneuverability.  For a family of 4 (or less) the Corolla is likely plenty of space.  The rear seat has excellent head, leg and foot room, although the high beltline, canted C pillar and dark interior do make it feel a bit closed in.  The rear seat is nice and flat, as is the rear floor, making the center spot less of a punishment. The trunk is ample and could likely hold 5 carry-on-sized pieces of luggage.  In fact, the trunk may carry more luggage than the cabin can carry people.

The defining driving characteristic of the Corolla S is efficiency.  While the S does make some attempts at sport and dynamics, it’s more of a styling package than an all out hot-rod model.  Using the same 1.8 VVTi four as the rest of the Corolla lineup, making 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque, and now mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Corolla returns great fuel economy of 29 city, 37 highway and 32 combined mpg, albeit in a rather slow and unenthusiastic manner.  Toyota’s switch to a CVT makes sense as the mpg numbers have become the veritable arms race for the segment. It does, however, need some sorting yet as it tends to groan and undulate in everyday driving.  It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it’s hard to miss.  The S model trim has paddles behind the steering wheel to allow for manual “shifting” of the transmission as well as a sport button below the gear selector that makes the CVT behave a bit more like a traditional automatic.  Road and driveline noise are present, but as is with all modern cars, carrying on a conversation is not a challenge.

At just under 21K as tested, the Corolla no longer needs to be viewed as a starter car.  Large enough and comfortable enough for many buyers, the Corolla has grown up and matured while still being affordable for modest incomes.  The beauty here is that in the new 2014 Corolla, a buyer no longer has to choose between Toyota sensibility and attractive styling.

SPECIFICATIONS

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
PRICE AS TESTED: $20,986 (base price: $19,700)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct injection
Displacement: 110 cu in, 1798 cc
 Power: 132 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shifting mode
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 183.1 in
Width: 69.9 in Height: 57.3 in
 Curb weight: 2910 lb
FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city/highway driving: 29/37 mpg/32 combined

**Thanks to the guys at Amigo for this month’s test drive!
***Check out the new Corolla in action on my YouTube channel: GallupJourneyTestDrives.

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