2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Introduction
With a knowing smile, the new 2014 Toyota Corolla’s chief engineer, Shinichi Yasui, explained that customers tell Toyota: “(The) Corolla is a good car, but not very exciting.” With the redesign of the 2014 Corolla, Toyota aims to change that, giving the car styling and driving dynamics intended to get compact car buyer hearts beating just a little bit faster.
These new traits enhance what Toyota considers to be the Corolla’s core DNA: Quality, Durability, and Reliability, or what the company calls QDR. The new 2014 Corolla will be sold all around the world, with minor styling differences and powertrains unique to certain markets, but the new car’s styling, interior space, and user-friendly controls were developed with North American buyers in mind while driving dynamics were tailored to European buyer preferences. As a result, Toyota says that it expects more people to want to buy a Corolla, as opposed to feeling like they should buy a Corolla.
If Toyota is successful in adding that kind of appeal to one of the most important models in its lineup, the Corolla is virtually guaranteed to remain a best seller, continuing a 45-year run as one of the most popular vehicles the automaker builds. If Toyota is not successful, people will probably go ahead and buy a Corolla anyway, just for its reputation for delivering QDR.
Now that’s what you call a win-win situation.
To find out if the new 11th generation Corolla sparks more emotion than the Corollas to come before it, I headed to San Diego for a day of driving the Corolla in the city, in the suburbs, in the mountains, and along California’s sun-drenched coast. The short story is this: Yes, this is a better Corolla than the car it replaces.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Lineup and Prices
When the 2014 Corolla goes on sale in early September of 2013, buyers will be able to choose between the L, LE, LE Eco, and S models. All versions except for the base Corolla L will be available with standard, Plus or Premium trim packages that group options together in order to make choosing a new Corolla easier. Additionally, each 2014 Corolla is equipped with Toyota Care, which provides free scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for the first two years or 25,000 miles of ownership.
Toyota expects the Corolla L model ($17,610 including the $810 destination charge) to account for 10% of total sales. Standard equipment highlights include air conditioning, power windows with express operation for the driver’s window, power mirrors, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and a 4-speaker stereo with a CD player, an auxiliary audio input jack, a USB port, and Bluetooth connectivity. Every Corolla is also equipped with LED headlights, LED running lights, and eight airbags. Buyers choose between a new 6-speed manual gearbox and a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The Corolla LE ($19,110) will account for 40% of sales. This model has larger 16-inch wheels, cruise control, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and upgraded interior trim. The steering wheel includes audio and Bluetooth controls, and the Corolla LE has an automatic climate control system, a reversing camera, and an Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display and Bluetooth music streaming capability. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also standard for this model.
Choose the LE Plus ($19,510), and the car includes 16-inch aluminum wheels and fog lights. The LE Premium ($20,210) adds heated front seats and Sof-Tex leatherette upholstery. Both of these models can be optioned with a power sunroof and a Driver’s Convenience Package with Smart Key passive entry, a premium audio system, a navigation system, and Entune App Suite technology.
The new Corolla LE Eco ($19,510) will comprise 10% of the sales mix, though I suspect that demand is going to outstrip supply because this model makes more horsepower and gets better fuel economy thanks to its unique Valvematic engine technology. To improve aerodynamics, the LE Eco rides on 15-inch wheels and has a standard rear spoiler.
Like the standard LE, the LE Eco is offered with Plus and Premium trim. The Plus model ($20,210) includes 16-inch aluminum wheels, an Eco driving mode, and chrome exterior trim. The Premium model ($20,910) adds heated front seats and Sof-Tex upholstery. Both can be upgraded with a power sunroof and a Driver’s Convenience Package.
The sporty Corolla S model ($19,810) will account for the rest of sales. It gets a restyled front end, heated exterior mirrors with turn signal indicators, unique instrumentation with an information display, sport-bolstered front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights, and a rear spoiler. Toyota says it has tuned the electric steering and suspension for a sportier feel, and while the wheel-and-tire size mirrors the LE, the Corolla S gets a unique wheel cover design. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a CVT optional. The CVT includes a Sport driving mode and paddle shifters.
Choose the Corolla S Plus ($20,510) for rear-disc brakes, black-painted 17-inch aluminum wheels with machined surfaces, a power sunroof, and a Driver’s Convenience Package. If you can’t operate a manual transmission, you’ll need the S Plus with the CVT ($21,210), which includes the rear disc brakes and the nicer wheels. However, for this model, the power sunroof and the Driver’s Convenience Package are options.
At the top of the lineup, the Corolla S Premium ($22,110) comes standard with the CVT, the 17-inch wheels, and the better brakes, and it also has heated front seats and Sof-Tex leatherette. A power sunroof and a Driver’s Convenience Package are optional for this model.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Styling and Interior
One of the main ways that Toyota is adding some spice to the Corolla lineup is through the car’s new Iconic Dynamism design language. In my opinion, the 2014 Corolla’s design certainly exhibits more character than any in recent memory. In particular, I like the tapered rear glass, which looks much like the new Lexus IS, and count me among the grateful that Toyota has evidently banished the swollen and silly-looking body kit from the Corolla S.
Of the Corolla models available, my favorites from an exterior standpoint are the LE and LE Eco in Plus or Premium trim. I prefer their front styling treatment and 16-inch aluminum wheel designs to the Corolla S model’s goatee and its optional black-painted 17-inch wheels.
According to Toyota, customer reaction to the new Corolla’s interior was “Wow!” Adhering to emerging corporate design themes, the dashboard is horizontally-oriented and employs soft-touch materials, piano black and metallic trim elements, and in the LE and LE Eco models with Ash or Ivory interior colors, a 2-tone treatment. The 3-spoke steering wheel, instrumentation, and center control panel are new, but much of the Corolla’s secondary switchgear is pulled from the existing corporate parts bin. The new headliner is a big improvement, and it matches the material on the door panel and center armrest.
While Toyota has improved the look and feel of the Corolla’s cabin, hard plastic still panels much of the interior, looking inexpensive and appearing to scuff easily. The upper portions of the door panels are covered with the stuff, but the pieces are shaped in such a way that they did not cause pain when I crooked my elbow there while driving. Also, note that except for the center storage console, the Corolla’s storage areas lack rubber coatings to hold items in place or liners to quell vibration.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Comfort and Cargo
Longer and wider than the car it replaces, the 2014 Corolla is much more comfortable than the outgoing model. New front and rear seat designs are largely responsible for this, plus what Toyota calls “class-leading” rear-seat legroom. At 41.4 inches, the Corolla’s rear legroom measures within an inch of front-seat legroom, and is 3.5 inches greater than the Camry.
Up front, the Corolla’s new driver’s seat features standard manual height adjustment using a lever on the outboard portion of the driver’s seat. In the pre-production prototype models I drove, this lever felt flimsy and unrefined, so I’m hoping the production-spec vehicles are improved in this regard. A tilt/telescopic steering wheel is standard, featuring a 3-spoke design equipped with thumb rests in the 10-and-2 positions.
Choose the Corolla S model, and the front seats have larger bolsters, making them feel deeper and more supportive than the standard seats. In standard and Plus trim levels, the seats are finished in what Toyota calls “mixed media,” a combination of cloth inserts with Sof-Tex leatherette bolsters. I prefer these to the full Sof-Tex treatment in Premium models, because I find that on hot days simulated leather doesn’t breathe well.
The 2014 Corolla’s 5.1-inch increase in rear legroom and a bottom seat cushion that sits higher off of the floor accounts for what I find to be vastly improved rear seat comfort. Riding back here is no longer a penalty, thanks to cross-your-legs space, impressive thigh support, and a good view out. Some journalists on Toyota’s ride-and-drive program complained about tight rear seat headroom, but I’m six feet tall and wear pants with a 33-inch inseam, and I found no compromises in this regard.
If you need to carry a bunch of stuff, the Corolla’s trunk carries 13 cu.-ft. of cargo. That’s not class-leading space, but it’s in the same neighborhood as most competitors.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Safety and Technology
As this article is written, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have not performed crash tests on the new Corolla, but Toyota says it anticipates a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA and a “Top Safety Pick Plus” designation from the IIHS. Regarding the latter prediction, Toyota representatives said that the new guidelines for meeting small overlap frontal-impact test requirements came early enough in the Corolla’s gestation period that engineers were able to make changes designed to better protect occupants in such a crash.
Eight airbags, a new side-impact support beam running from one side of the car to the other beneath the rear seat, and federally mandated safety equipment comes standard on the Corolla. Toyota’s Smart Stop technology, which prevents the car from accelerating if the brake pedal is pressed, is also included.
In addition to making Bluetooth standard for all models, all versions of the 2014 Corolla except for the L model are equipped with next-generation Entune technology. Toyota’s next-generation Entune systems include a reversing camera and Bluetooth streaming audio capability, and feature the ability to deliver a split-screen view, provide touch expansion of screen views, and to swipe from one screen to the next. Toyota also says that the voice recognition system is improved, that the system provides limited text-to-speech capability, and that traffic and weather reports are available. Choose the LE Premium, LE Eco Premium, or the S Premium, and the system includes an upgraded audio system, a navigation system, and subscription-free Entune App Suite, now with Yelp and Facebook Places.
Pairing a smartphone to Entune is a snap, and the system allowed me to stream Pandora with no problem. A USB 2.0 port located just forward of the gear selector keeps phones charged while you’re on the go. Glare is sometimes a problem when trying to see the screen, and I occasionally found the buttons either unresponsive or too responsive. Thankfully, Toyota provides a traditional power/volume knob and a tuning knob to make fiddling with the radio easier.
Speaking of fiddling with the radio, a premium audio system is optional for this car, and recommended. In the Corolla S Plus I drove, it was really easy to overwhelm the standard speakers with bass – and that was with the bass at its middle setting. The optional system that is included with navigation and Entune App Suite is more satisfying.
As simple and feature-rich as Entune might be, I can’t help but feel that Toyota missed a big opportunity to make the Corolla more appealing to parents who might be looking for a safe car for their kids. The company’s Safety Connect telematics system, which includes an SOS button, Automatic Collision Notification, and roadside assistance services, is not available for the new Corolla.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Engines and Transmissions
Heeding the adage that you don’t fix what isn’t broken, Toyota equips the new Corolla with the same engine that was installed in the old Corolla, a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine making 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.
For the LE Eco model, however, this engine is equipped with Toyota’s new Valvematic technology, which improves fuel economy at the same time that it increases horsepower to 140 at 6,100 rpm. Torque dips slightly to 126 lb.-ft., but it peaks earlier at 4,000 rpm.
If the LE Eco model’s engine is more powerful and more fuel efficient, why not make it standard for all Corollas? Glad you asked. Toyota cited three reasons:
1.) The Valvematic engine is more expensive, and would raise the price of all Corolla models by $400.
2.) Toyota wants to monitor customer demand for the new engine, and determine the appropriate mix moving forward
3.) This new Valvematic technology is offered around the world, and currently there are constraints with regard to the component supplier’s ability to deliver parts
My bet? This engine becomes more widely available as the supplier issue sorts itself out. Also, a Toyota representative told me that in addition to these two versions of the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, a Corolla Hybrid is under consideration.
A new 6-speed manual gearbox is standard for the Corolla L and Corolla S. The Corolla L is offered with an old-school 4-speed automatic, while the Corolla S can be equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a Sport driving mode, a manual shift gate, and paddle shifters. The Corolla LE and LE Eco include the CVT as standard equipment, but instead of a Sport mode and manual shifting, these models get an engine braking setting that helps reduce the need to use the brakes on long downhill grades.
Toyota designed to CVT to “feel” like it has seven gear ratios when the car is driven more aggressively, in the process satisfying the preferences of American drivers. In the Corolla S, when placed in the Sport driving mode, this trait is particularly evident.
Final EPA fuel economy estimates haven’t been published, but Toyota says the new Corolla will get between 27 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, depending on model, engine, transmission, and wheel size. I averaged 27.2 mpg during several hours spent driving the Corolla LE and Corolla S with the CVT, much of that in city and suburban traffic.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Driving the 2014 Corolla
Test-driving day put me in the Corolla LE first, followed by the Corolla S. As intended by Toyota, the two cars demonstrate slightly different personalities.
Though the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is the same as the outgoing model, it seems more refined from the new Corolla’s driver’s seat. Acceleration is adequate, and the CVT delivers perceptible simulated shifts when accelerating hard while otherwise behaving in an unobtrusive fashion when the car is driven normally. As revs climb, though, lots of noise penetrates the cabin.
In the Corolla LE model, the electric steering occasionally feels a little uncertain and disconnected. I drove the car across the tall bridge to San Diego’s Coronado Island on a windy day, and the car shimmied in its lane in seeming defiance to my feeble attempts to control its straight-line stability. In the city, the Corolla LE’s steering is light and, for the most part, natural in feel.
All versions of the Corolla have a MacPherson strut front suspension and a beam axle rear suspension. Drum brakes are standard on all models except for the S Plus and S Premium. These are tried-and-true components, even if they lack sophistication and dynamism.
In the LE model I drove, I didn’t notice a tendency for the brake pedal to feel dull and unresponsive or grabby, all characteristics of drum rear brakes. Also, the softer-sprung LE didn’t exhibit detrimental ride and handling, but keep in mind that compared to many parts of the country the pavement in San Diego is remarkably smooth.
Next, I drove the Corolla S Plus, which has modified steering calibration and suspension tuning for a sportier ride and better handling, a set of more sophisticated rear disc brakes, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with larger and more aggressive 215/45 tires.
Instantly, I noticed greater heft and on-center stability in the Corolla S model’s steering, the stiffer suspension tuning, the improved grip, and a brake pedal offering improved response and greater ability to finesse pressure application. Push the CVT’s Sport button, and the car accelerates with spirit, though it sure does get loud, and fast. The “shift” points feel more definitive in Sport mode, too. However, I did not find the S model’s paddle shifters to be particularly satisfying to use.
While the Corolla S does feel more dynamic to drive than the Corolla LE, I wouldn’t call it fun. A Ford Focus is fun, and has an independent rear suspension combined with tuning that absorbs bumps while keeping the car connected to the road. The Corolla S feels a little too stiff and jittery when, say, rounding a curve that is cresting a hill and which has wrinkles in the blacktop. This, combined with electric steering that feels a little uncertain on occasion, is not a recipe for good times.
2014 Toyota Corolla First Drive: Final Thoughts
During its presentation to the media, Toyota never said the new 2014 Corolla was better than its competitors, except with regard to rear-seat legroom, in which case the Corolla is better than all of its competitors. Instead, the company emphasized that its new compact car is better than its outgoing compact car. That much is true. This new Corolla is better than the old Corolla. Whether people feel like they want to buy one instead of feeling like they should buy one, enough to meet sales goals of 330,000 Corollas annually, remains to be seen.
The author attended a manufacturer-sponsored ride-and-drive event for the 2014 Corolla
2014 Toyota Corolla photos by Christian Wardlaw