A worldwide best-seller gets a redesign
As much praise as we journalists give cars like the FR-S, the bread and butter models like the Corolla are what really allow Toyota to continue growing and possibly building more fun cars for gearheads like us.
The Corolla has been one of the staple nameplates for Toyota for decades. Dating way back to 1966, it managed to become the best-selling car around the world by 1974. It has seen many generational changes to fit the looks and styling cues that cars for the time needed: from period-accurate compact cars of the ‘70s to the angular boxes of the ‘80s, and the beige jellybeans of the ‘90s. My father actually owned a 1989 GT-S coupe of the AE92 generation. I always thought it was a pretty cool car for its time with its high-revving engine and light weight. In the past, Toyota injected many sporty elements into the Corolla – most of which have gradually disappeared to cater to a broader, much more general audience. By the late ‘90s, the Corolla became known for being a conservatively-styled A-to-B car that made no claims for being exciting or for offering anything in the way of performance. I was handed the keys to a 2014 Toyota Corolla S, painted in a modern Blue Crush Metallic, paired up with the CVT.
This new Corolla is an extremely important vehicle for Toyota. As much praise as we journalists give cars like the FR-S, the bread and butter models like the Corolla are what really allow Toyota to continue growing and possibly building more fun cars for gearheads like us. This is certainly not an easy task for Toyota, let alone any compact player in this segment. The outgoing Corolla kept up with sales volumes thanks to its rock-solid nameplate. Enthusiasts love to talk down and stereotype the outgoing Corolla for its obvious un-sporting attributes. Toyota has been doing reasonably well in trying to make their lineup more exciting and are definitely trying to shake this ultra-conservative (read: boring) image in their new 2014 Corolla.
First things first: the new Corolla is up to date inside and out. Its lines follow the usual Toyota styling language, with some modern touches but clearly staying away from anything too polarizing that would drive away its usual customer base. The first thing I noticed are the new LED low-beam headlamps that do a good job enhancing the front end. No more low-tech halogen reflectors here – these LED low-beams are standard across the board. I am always for better lighting for the masses, so making this available to all Corolla owners is great. One small detail: Toyota has strategically placed little aerodynamic bits to help manage airflow around the car. These can be found on the side mirrors, taillights, and just behind both rear wheels. The optional 17” aluminum wheels draw some of their styling cues from the Scion FR-S.
Inside, the interior is brought up to date with more soft-touch plastics and muted colour choices – again, a clean and inoffensive design. The blue accent running across the dash is a nice touch. The Technology Package brings Toyota’s SofTex simulated leather, among several other features to the interior. This material does a good job of looking and feeling like leather, while being more environmentally friendly and easier to manufacture. The wheelbase is 100mm longer than the outgoing Corolla, making for a decent increase in rear legroom. My loaded S-trim tester also came with a 6.1” touchscreen navigation system. While commonplace nowadays, when’s the last time you thought of opting for navigation in a Corolla? You get the full suite of connectivity, including Bluetooth streaming audio. While the overall fit and finish of the interior is greatly improved nearly everywhere, some of the touch-points are still cheap-feeling hard plastic, such as the door pulls. What didn’t feel cheap, however, is the noise-vibration-harshness control exhibited. Considering there is zero sound insulation applied to the underside of the hood itself, the Corolla always remains quiet, even when the motor is under heavy load. Toyota did an impressive job putting insulation in the right places to keep the overall experience refined.
Under the hood lives the familiar 1.8L four-cylinder engine that has served in the Toyota stable for several years. It produces 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. This is the only engine available if you choose the CE, LE, or S trim lines. If you go with the ECO trim level, a new 1.8L four-cylinder engine featuring VALVEMATIC technology is swapped in. This new tech provides greater control over, you guessed it, the valvetrain. Specific output numbers don’t change significantly, but efficiency is improved regardless. I expect this trim to be a low-volume seller as Toyota seems to be testing the waters first with this new valvetrain technology. Most Corollas sold will be paired up with Toyota’s new CVT, dubbed CVTi-S (CVT with intelligent & shift). This transmission brings some much-needed new technology to the Corolla and improves drivability and overall efficiency. My S CVT tester managed an average of 7.3L/100km with lots of city driving, and the tank will accept 50L of regular fuel.
Critics were quick to point out the largely carry-over powertrains seen in the new Corolla. Sure, the engine in all trims other than the ECO is the same as we’ve seen before, and the ancient four-speed automatic transmission makes an appearance again in the base CE trim. I think it’s important not to get too buried within numerical items on spec sheets, and focus on the results delivered. Most customers looking to purchase a car like this are often concerned with overall fuel efficiency. Even the basic Corolla CE achieves respectable efficiency ratings, right in-line with its competitors. Acceleration may suffer in some cases, but buyers with overall performance higher up on their list of priorities would probably look elsewhere. New technologies such as direct injection and turbocharging look great from a marketing perspective, but they have their own drawbacks. There has to be something said about sticking with something simple and proven, and this is one reason why the Corolla is so successful all over the world.
For many years, CVT transmissions have been dismissed by enthusiasts for going against the norm in terms of how performance should feel like. Early CVTs, when under load from the driver, would just pin the revs near the redline, making for all sorts of uninspiring racket. Automakers have learned to configure their CVTs to mimic some aspects from traditional automatic transmissions. Toyota is no exception here. In normal driving, I found the CVT plenty responsive to passing manoeuvers. One advantage of the CVT is their ability to keep revs lower under light load. Some cars, at highway speed, owing to their short gearing, can get a little loud. In the Corolla, around 2000rpm is the norm under light load at highway speeds. Again, this helps improve overall efficiency and keep noise down at speed. The S model also includes paddle shifters and a Sport mode, which reprograms the CVT for quicker response. One interesting tidbit: if you use the steering wheel paddle shifters to force “seventh” gear on the highway, then pin the throttle to the floor, the car will not exit “seventh” gear.
At the end of the week, I was able to conclude that the new Corolla is a car that can be recommended. It is relevant again in the areas that matter – namely the interior and exterior, while still delivering great efficiency without being horrible to drive. Toyota has continued the inoffensive theme, which will help them sell boatloads. Whether it wins in comparisons to its competitors is tough to say, so it’s important to get some good seat time in all candidates before making a decision. Enthusiasts probably will still shy away from it (it’s easy to gravitate to the FR-S in the showroom), but for people looking for a solid value, the new Corolla is pretty hard to beat.
2014 Toyota Corolla S Gallery