2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Introduction
Not content that the Corolla is already one of the best-selling cars in America, Toyota plans to make the redesigned 2014 Corolla the most popular small car in the U.S. To do that, Toyota has injected the new 2014 Corolla with a big, fat dose of style while at the same time improving fuel economy, comfort levels, safety ratings, technology and more, all while keeping prices relatively low.
The target is the Honda Civic, current sales champ among compact cars, and because Honda has apparently put the Civic on a continuous improvement plan for three years running, the target is a moving one. I’ve driven the cars back-to-back, and even before the long list of 2014 model year upgrades to the Civic was made public, I voiced a preference for the Honda.
Now, I’ve just spent a week with a 2014 Toyota Corolla Eco, directly following a week with a 2014 Honda Civic EX-L. While this review isn’t a comparison test, my opinions haven’t changed, except that the Civic is also now the more advanced car from a technology standpoint. If Toyota wants to overtake the Civic as the best-selling small car in America, the automaker is not going to be able to sit still and wait for the usual mid-life refresh in 2017 to make improvements to the Corolla. Competition is brutal, eh?
Rather, the purpose of this review is to introduce you to the 2014 Toyota Corolla Eco, which is expected to represent one of every 10 Corollas sold. Unless you’re really interested in the Corolla S model’s sportier look, this is the version of the car you’ll want to carefully consider, as it is the most fuel-efficient, powerful, and mechanically sophisticated version of the new 2014 Corolla.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
Go to a Toyota dealer in search of a 2014 Corolla, and you’re going to find lots of LE models and lots of S models. Combined, these are expected to account of 80% of sales. The basic L model will be in short supply, which is probably just as well, and the LE Eco model will also be scarce. The reason the LE Eco represents such a small portion of the sales mix isn’t because Toyota doesn’t think Corolla buyers are interested in paying a slight premium for a slight improvement in terms of both fuel economy and power. Rather, availability of this most powerful, fuel-efficient, and sophisticated version of the Corolla is limited by global production constraints.
If you can find a 2014 Corolla Eco at your local dealership, prices start at $19,510. My test car, painted Slate Metallic, had Premium trim (16-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, Sof-Tex leatherette seats, 8-way power driver’s seat), carpeted floor mats, and a trunk mat. It also included a Driver Convenience Package (power sunroof, Smart Key entry with push-button ignition, premium audio system, HD Radio and satellite radio, navigation system, Entune App Suite, Entune Multi-media Bundle), bringing the total to $23,495. Given the level of equipment, the car’s size, and the fact that it comes with free maintenance for the first couple of years, that spells value.
But, as the saying goes, you don’t get something for nothing.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
In redesigning the new 2014 Corolla, Toyota wants to elicit a more emotional reaction to its bread-and-butter sedan, in the same way that stainless steel makes a refrigerator more appealing at the appliance store.
In my opinion, they’ve succeeded. This is a sharp looking car, well proportioned, seemingly free of styling compromises in the name of aerodynamics, the underlying engineering, or corporate ethos. The shiny 16-inch aluminum wheels, for example, are both attractive and aerodynamically tuned, a rarity in the car biz. The Corolla Eco also gets a tasteful rear lip spoiler, but not because it’s the sporty model. And I really love the Slate Metallic paint color.
Inside, the new Corolla is surprisingly roomy, with 5-passenger seating facing a slab of a dashboard that looks refreshingly retro at the same time that it makes the car feel bigger inside. Personally, I like the look and the layout, as well as the cool lavender glow of the gauges and other markings after dark, but by combining an old-school design approach with traditional Toyota parts-bin switchgear, the automaker has created a cabin that some critics find to be more than a bit stale.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
If you’re wondering how Toyota can sell a loaded 2014 Corolla LE Eco so inexpensively, the interior is one reason. My test car came equipped with Premium trim, which includes an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and Toyota’s Sof-Tex leatherette seat material. I find the Corolla to be quite comfortable, and the thick-rimmed tilt/telescopic steering is both appealing and nice to hold. However, you’ll notice that it’s not wrapped in leather.
Here’s another reason the car’s price is so competitive. The plastic on the front door panels is really unappealing, standing in stark contrast to the soft-touch stuff Toyota applies to the dashboard. Who fondles their dashboard and says: “Ooooh! Nice!” Nobody. That’s why the soft material belongs on the door panels, the door grips, and anywhere else the owner is likely to touch the car, like the steering wheel. Hard plastic is fine for a dashboard, as long as it isn’t glossy.
One of my favorite things about the new Corolla, aside from its styling, is the back seat. With the driver’s seat positioned the way I like it, and when “sitting behind myself,” I could easily cross my legs in comfort. Plus, the bottom cushion sits high off the floor and provides excellent thigh support. Really, the Corolla’s rear seat space and comfort level is a remarkable accomplishment in a car that competes in the compact class.
Unfortunately, Toyota doesn’t make the Corolla’s back seat functionally appealing. The plastic on the door panels is hard, glossy, and scratches easily. The cupholders that deploy from the back of the center console are flimsy and are likely to lead to spills. There’s no fold-down center armrest. And there’s nowhere for people to plug-in or charge up. I can’t see how it would cost much more in terms of sticker price to spruce things up back here.
The new Corolla is equipped with a 13 cubic-foot trunk, but it looks and acts like it’s got more space than that. Thanks to the big opening, the low liftover height, and its useful shape, the trunk is quite accommodating. You can expand it, too, by folding the rear seatbacks down.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
There are other problems in the 2014 Corolla. While I like the way the dashboard is designed because it’s not the usual angled, dual-cockpit style with a center control panel flowing into a console between the seats, there’s no denying that the Entune 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display suffers from lots of glare, rendering it unreadable on a regular basis. Also, when I open the center console storage area’s lid, it flexes so much that I would fully expect it to snap off the moment the 3-year/36,000-mile warranty expires.
I do, however, like the Entune system’s split-screen display that allows me to see what I’m listening to at the same time that I’m checking traffic conditions on the route ahead. When I can see the screen for the glare, of course.
Pairing a phone to the Corolla’s Entune system is easy, and once I figured out that my test car’s Entune Apps service wasn’t activated, it was easy to forgive the fact that none of the applications worked. Nevertheless, I was able to stream my iTunes library and Pandora Internet radio without issue, and programming a destination into the navigation system was easy.
Aside from the learning curve associated with the Entune infotainment system, the 2014 Corolla is exceptionally easy to drive. Everything is placed right where you expect to find it, is clearly marked, and operates intuitively. One thing I really wished for, however, was a set of automatic headlights. My “loaded” Corolla LE Eco test car did not offer this feature.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Aside from standard safety equipment, including eight airbags, the new 2014 Corolla is equipped with Smart Stop technology that makes it impossible for the to accidentally accelerate as long as the driver is stepping on the brake pedal. All versions of the car except for the base L model also come with a standard reversing camera.
Given the Corolla’s potential appeal to younger buyers, we would expect Toyota to offer its Safety Connect technology for this model. In the event of an airbag deployment, Safety Connect springs into action to help alert authorities and speed rescuers to the vehicle’s location. The 2014 Corolla also lacks programmable safety-related features, and can’t be optioned with any kind of collision-avoidance technology.
In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the new Corolla earned the highest possible overall rating of 5 stars. In tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Corolla earns the top rating of “Good” in all tests except for the difficult new small overlap frontal-impact assessment, for which it rates “Marginal.”
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
At the beginning of this review, I explained that the 2014 Toyota Corolla Eco model has the most powerful, most fuel-efficient, and most sophisticated engine offered in the new Corolla, and that’s exactly why I requested this specific trim level. My bet is that this engine, as supply shortages resolve themselves, will become the standard Corolla engine within the next year or two.
While the Corolla Eco has a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine just like other Corolla models, what makes the Eco version special is that it’s got new Valvematic technology designed to optimize the engine’s continuously variable valve timing feature. The result is better fuel economy, and 8 extra horsepower for a total of 140. A continuously variable transmission is standard, and the Eco model gets aerodynamic underbody panels and a small rear spoiler to bring the coefficient of drag down to 0.28.
From a consumer’s perspective, the point of buying the Corolla Eco is to get better gas mileage, right? The EPA says this exact car, the one with the bigger 16-inch wheels, gets 30 mpg in the city, 40 on the highway, and 34 in combined driving. I averaged 29.9 mpg, a disappointing result to say the least.
As far as the rest of the car’s driving dynamics go, it’s important to remember that this is not a sport sedan. Surprisingly, the Corolla Eco comported itself with grace as I flung it down a mountain road, one I’ve been travelling twice a week for 15 years. However, when hustling the Corolla in unfamiliar territory, the softly sprung suspension, body roll, and squishy tires can cause heart palpitations.
Neither is the 2014 Corolla particularly sophisticated, what with its solid rear axle suspension and rear drum brakes. During my evaluation drive, the Corolla’s brakes grumbled under duress and the rear of the car felt busy over broken pavement, but most people won’t notice much of a difference between this car and something with more modern and expensive engineering. They might, however, notice the car’s electric steering, which generally feels too heavy and disconnected even while it accurately points the Corolla where you want it to go.
On a positive note, the CVT is programmed to feel more like a traditional automatic, changing ratios when accelerating. Eco Mode aims to keep revs lower. Turn it off and move the transmission into Sport Mode, and the car feels livelier, if not exactly sporty.
Overall, the Corolla is a simple automobile designed to get people from Point A to Point B with as little trouble as possible. That might not be a terribly exciting mission, but it’s the reason most people buy most vehicles most of the time.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
With the redesigned 2014 Corolla, Toyota injects style where previously there was little. Plus, this car is very comfortable, has a huge back seat to accommodate families, offers a usefully-shaped trunk, has earned a 5-star government crash-test rating, and enjoys a long-standing history of delivering quality, dependability, and reliability, or what Toyota refers to as QDR.
However, there is room for improvement, especially if Toyota is looking to take down the Civic with this car. At a minimum, the interior needs an upgrade in terms of the details, and Toyota needs to make changes in order to nab a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS. It would also be nice if the Corolla’s EPA ratings and real-world fuel economy results were better aligned.
If Toyota can resolve these issues, it will become harder to fault a Corolla, and easier to recommend one.
Toyota provided the 2014 Corolla LE Eco for this review
2014 Toyota Corolla photos by Christian Wardlaw