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2012 Toyota Corolla: Introduction
The United States was introduced to the Toyota Corolla all the way back in 1968 when Woodstock was still just a quaint farm and long before most Americans took any Japanese automakers seriously as purveyors of quality automotive engineering. This is probably the same fate that will face the first Chinese-made cars that hit the U.S., if and when that ever happens.
Just realize however, that the little Corolla that everyone laughed at way back then went on to sell over 34 million units worldwide with that number growing each and every month. Although the Chevy Cruze enjoyed a five month reign as the best-selling compact car in 2011, that crown was recently snatched back from the bow-tie division by Toyota’s own Corolla. Both the Corolla and the 2012 Honda Civic enjoyed resurgent sales after Toyota experienced months of issues getting parts from earthquake/tsunami-torn Japan to its North American assembly plants.
Yes, from the outside it may not look like the most exciting vehicle that ever graced your driveway but the 2012 Toyota Corolla S we tested was easily one of the biggest surprises we had all year. No, it wasn’t the snazzy new tail light design that got us seeing why this efficient compact family sedan is so appealing to so many buyers. Simply put, the 2012 Toyota Corolla S looks sportier than your average LE model your aunt would buy. It also offered us the most precious gift to any auto journalist—a slick and light 5-speed manual transmission that made accessing what little power there is a very pleasant experience.
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No, this car isn’t a horrible nightmare that you can’t wake up from and we enjoyed it more than the 2012 Focus we were driving the very same week. We'd also probably buy one over a new Jetta, Elantra, or Forte. Really the Corolla's only competition comes from the Cruze, Civic, Mitsubishi Lacer GTS and Mazda3 from a fuel economy/driver enjoyment/true value perspective.
Sure, if our test Corolla S came equipped with the 4-speed automatic the outcome would have no doubt been a lot different. But it’s amazing how that one little addition could show true disbelievers that a Corolla could be much more than reliable appliance. This zippy little sedan has spunk, charisma and likes to play in the street like a hyperactive puppy who might need some Ritalin but will never get any as he truly brings out your simple joy of being alive. No, this is not a joke because a Corolla S is the compact car it was designed, engineered and needs to be per Toyotas “Keep it Simple Stupid” philosophy.
If the 2012 Corolla “Sport” has any sort of Achilles Heel, it's mostly comestic. The spoilers and body cladding can at times look retro in a late-80’s kind of way - much like shoulder pads in a "Dynasty" rerun. So fine, this Corolla S doesn’t really pull off sexy all that well but then, honestly, do you?
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2012 Toyota Corolla: Exterior
This is not exactly the Corolla’s strongest suit as to some the exterior design of the spoiler heavy S model may come off as too much of a “fast and furious wannabe” but in truth without all of that and the razor style 16-inch alloy wheels this sedan definitely becomes invisible. To be honest, Wonder Woman could probably trade in her invisible jet for a Corolla LE and no one would ever notice her even with the bulletproof bracelets, tiara and thigh high red boots ready-made for fighting crime.
Much like with the 2012 Toyota Camry SE, it is easy to notice the visual differences between the mainstream and sporting variants of the 2012 Corolla. First off the fog lamps are a different circular design, the S model comes with a thickly padded sport steering wheel with audio/Bluetooth controls, more metal trim is evident in the cabin and as we mentioned earlier the exterior gets a bit of a makeover.
We will be quite frank with you here because we were, in all honesty, dreading the thought of spending a week in a Corolla. But from the moment we approached our deep blue S model with a stick shift we suddenly realized—could we have always been misjudging this hot selling compact sedan? You don’t sell this much of anything without it having to be in some way inspired and this mere fact was about to do some serious damage to our auto journalist hipster cred. But here we go with the truth about our 2012 Toyota Corolla S as we experienced it in all its surreal and unexpected glory.
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2012 Toyota Corolla: Interior Design and Roominess
The Corolla’s interior is a paragon of interior design simplicity especially when you compare it with so many modern compact sedans with their complex digital dashboards. Three simple knobs control the climate and the audio system features huge knobs and buttons which make it easy to use the CD/iPod or even the Bluetooth audio streaming system.
The S model’s sport steering wheel is chunky and feels good in your hands with large, clearly marked audio, Bluetooth and cruise switches all easily accessible. The rear seat offers plenty of legroom for two adults to sit comfortably and the front seats afforded plenty of support on long drives. Even on drives we took just for fun. Yes, we are trying to convey to you here that we had fun driving this manual transmission 2012 Corolla S.
As you would expect, the interior materials were expertly assembled and appeared built to withstand a nuclear holocaust. But does that sort of thing need to be said in any Corolla?
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2012 Toyota Corolla: The Competition, Fuel Economy and Pricing
Even though the Corolla has been a top seller in this country since 2003 when it began its reign as the best-selling U.S. compact sedan, there has always been stiff competition mainly from its arch nemesis Honda Civic. Even the VW Jetta proved to be quite the sales success with new car buyers and rightly so given its abilities as a driver’s car. Recently, the Mazda3 put the “Zoom-Zoom” into the compact car segment and pretty much became the Jetta’s sporty replacement when that VW lost its mojo (but gained room for fat people) during the most recent generation’s introduction for 2011.
Then in 2011, the laggards in the compact sedan class like the Elantra, Forte, Focus and Chevy Cruze all made revolutionary and, dare we say, quantum leaps ahead. Some, like the Forte just got six-speed transmissions all around and a dressy interior along with a new 5-door hatch bodystyle. The Focus, while advanced and sexy looking unfortunately is suffering from a lot of quality issues at launch which is currently hindering sales.
Shockingly, the best of this group comes in the form of the handsome and lavishly equipped Hyundai Elantra sedan and incredibly efficient Chevy Cruze which we always kept over the 30 mile per gallon average mark which is something because our 2011 Elantra returned 21 miles per gallon. Where’s that 40 miles per gallon that they were advertising?
It’s okay, though, as our 2012 Ford Focus tester also recently returned just 21.4 which admittedly must have been down to a faulty 6-speed double clutch automatic transmission. We aren’t sure what happened with the 2011 Elantra, however, which just had a normal 6-speed automatic that gave no outward signs of trouble. As a contrast, our blue 2012 Toyota Corolla S not only stole our hearts but it also blew our minds with an excellent 32.4 mile per gallon average during one week. Corolla S EPA estimates run at 28 city/35 highway.
We remind you that this S model of the Corolla came equipped with a 5-speed manual and a less than competitive1.8 liter 132 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder and we drove this car more aggressively than a car thief or someone using it as transport during their frat buddies to Daytona Beach at Spring Break. The Corolla’s engine loved to race all the way to redline and given the smiles per miles ratio an owner will see with this vehicle, the 2012 Toyota Corolla S we tested had a very moderate $20,199 MSRP with destination and even a power moonroof.
S trim for the Corolla also gets you a pleasingly chunky sport steering wheel, sport seat trim, air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control, stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel mounted audio controls/Bluetooth, XM satellite radio, an alarm, floormats, halogen headlamps, chrome tipped exhaust tips, numerous body spoilers and an AM/FM/CD audio system with 6-speakers, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth music streaming.
Base model Corollas start at just $15,900 with mid-level LE variants starting at $17,600 to the S model’s $17,775 asking price to start. Now this may go some way towards explaining why the Corolla has been a hot seller all of these years. It is simple to get along with, is affordable, roomy and can even surprise you with a little fun from time to time.
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2012 Toyota Corolla: Driving Experience and Safety
It may come as a shock to you given how long this particular basic Corolla body style has been on the market but it still continues to rank as a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS much like its much newer peers. Toyota has really gone the extra mile with the 2012 Corolla as it features the highly respected “Star Safety System” that the company pioneered a few years ago which uses a number of advanced technologies to save people’s lives in accidents. Multiple airbags, advanced brake assist and traction systems, a tire pressure warning system, active headrest and more are all part of the package no matter if you buy a base, LE or S model Corolla.
The biggest shock to us, however, was how much we found we enjoyed the driving experience in our S model with its slick shifting and precise 5-speed manual which was a joy to row as we revved out the 1.8 liter 132 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine to its redline. Honestly, given the Corolla’s staid reputation we were also shocked to find how adept it was at dancing as we cornered at higher than expected speeds and wrung the neck out of the eager, smooth and willing four banger.
Now, the 1.8 liter engine doesn’t pump out headline grabbing figures but there is a joy to be had from pushing such a zippy powerplant. Yes, we just used the word zippy because it is the best way we can think to describe the driving experience when piloting the 2012 Toyota Corolla S with the manual transmission. So if you love shifting for yourself, the Corolla S makes for a highly fuel efficient and affordable commuter that you will also find to be a whole lot of fun. Yes, we just called a Corolla fun. Sue us.
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2012 Toyota Corolla: Conclusion
Not only is the 2012 Toyota Corolla S tested here a great bargain given its low sticker price and reputation for bulletproof reliability, but it also makes a solid business case for itself— thanks to a new free maintenance program that the company offers all buyers for the first two years/25,000 miles of ownership. Honestly, after selling 34 million copies of a car that has become a worldwide quality institution, there really isn’t a whole lot to worry about when buying a Corolla. But you already knew that.
The thing that surprised us the most during our week with this 2012 Toyota Corolla S was how much we enjoyed driving it, how comfortably laid out the interior was making it perfect for long drives and why we were seriously thinking that if we were in the market for a car like this that we would be sorely tempted by this Corolla. Yes, being an auto journalist or mere car enthusiast means you should never admit to being caught having “feelings” for what many have called an “automotive appliance.”
Well, if you hand us the keys to a 2012 Toyota Corolla S and you find us coming back from driving for a few hours with a huge grin on our face just consider this—even a Frigidaire refrigerator needs to be loved and appreciated. We do doubt, however, that something meant to keep your perishable foodstuffs cold or frozen would be too much fun to drive. But what do we know? We assumed the wrong this about this Corolla S and even though it means we were mistaken, our time with this compact car reminded us of what we loved about automotive simplicity in design and the magic of an efficient 4-cylinder matched to a crisp 5-speed manual transmission. In that formula lays the heart and soul of the 2012 Toyota Corolla S.
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What we Loved about the 2012 Toyota Corolla S:
- The Fuel Efficiency
- A characterful standard 5-speed manual that gives this car a soul
- Despite age of design, it still ranks as an IIHS “Top Safety Pick”
- Pleasingly tactile S model sport steering wheel that also returns excellent turn-in and feel
- Interior controls simple to use with Bluetooth Audio easy to hook to in-car audio face plate
- The hungry growl and eager rev noises coming from the standard 1.8 liter 4-cylinder at redline.
- A rather soft and squishy suspension that is still somehow fun around corners.
- What we Loathed about the 2012 Toyota Corolla S
- It may have too many spoilers but the S trim is at least visible to other drivers
- Trunk isn’t exactly huge at 12.3 cubic feet but rear seats fold 60/40
- Optional (and not recommended) is a geriatric four-speed automatic
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