The 2014 Toyota Corolla S represents the top tier edition of Toyota’s most popular model, a compact sedan with such a strong following that even years of being left to lie fallow in the field hasn’t been enough to dethrone it as the segment’s sales juggernaut. The redesigned Corolla is a mix of the old and the new, a fresh platform wrapped around the still-beating heart of the 2013 edition’s engine, and one that has been massaged to blend in more gracefully with the modern crop of compact cars.
Because, you see, that’s exactly what the Corolla does best: disappear into a crowd. In a world where entry-level buyers are treated to high tech marvels like direct-injected, turbocharged engines and high-end infotainment systems, Toyota has chosen to cede the lead and take baby steps forward instead of leaping to the front of the pack. The new Corolla is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, but it leaves the ground-breaking duties to the new compact champions like the Hyundai Elantra and the Mazda Mazda3.
The 2014 Toyota Corolla is initially offered in L trim (MSRP $16,800), a loss leader that comes barely equipped with air conditioning, power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, LED headlights (an unusual inclusion in the Corolla’s class), and 15-inch steelies. Moving up to the volume-selling Corolla LE (MSRP $18,300) adds 16-inch steel wheels, power door locks, cruise control, the Entune touchscreen interface, an improved audio system, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, keyless entry, intermittent windshield wipers, heated mirrors, and Bluetooth audio, while the LE Eco (MSRP $18,700) installs low-rolling resistance tires and focuses on improved aerodynamics as well as special engine and transmission tuning that increase fuel efficiency.
The Toyota Corolla S (MSRP $19,000) is the best equipped version of the sedan, and it comes with exterior trim painted to match the body color, a rear spoiler, chrome around the grille, and fog lights, as well as interior touches such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, and sport seats. My test vehicle for the week came in S trim with the Plus package, which offers a sportier suspension setup along with 17-inch alloy rims and an optional sunroof. A Canadian-market car, the S Plus package that I drove featured a six-speed manual transmission, which is only offered on the base S in the United States, The total sticker price for my test vehicle came to roughly $21,500.
The 2014 Toyota Corolla S makes a bolder visual statement than in years past, adopting the prominent front fascia of the Furia concept that was unveiled last year in Detroit and drawing attention to the car’s wide lower grille, LED headlights, and short, tall hood. Along the sides of the car there’s little to catch the eye, while the rear offers a clean, almost hatch-like deck lid fitted with a brief spoiler. The attractive shade of blue adhering to my test vehicle’s sheet metal did much to improve the Corolla’s attitude, and I am not so sure that the model would look as good in the grey and silver that it will inevitably wear at your local dealer lot. Toyota has made sure to color within the lines in re-imagining the Corolla’s looks, and its an effort that will be appreciated by the car’s target demographic, which has traditionally favored non-expressive design.
The interior of the 2014 Toyota Corolla S shies away from the more plastic efforts of years past and instead mixes vinyl upholstery with glossy trim and softer materials than you might expect at the car’s price point. You can’t get leather in the Corolla, nor does the cabin live up to the high standards set by rivals from Hyundai and Volkswagen, but there’s nothing offensive or half-hearted about its composition or execution, with one exception: the vehicle’s console-mounted parking brake handle was so loose that several times during my time with the car it bounced out of the off position while I was driving with enough force to trigger the ‘brake on’ warning on the dash. This is uncharacteristic for Toyota.
The 2014 Toyota Corolla S makes the most of its expanded platform (longer, wider, lower) to bump rear passenger room up by a noticeable five inches. Those riding up front will also appreciate the additional space that they have been afforded in the new car, which manages to avoid feeling overly large from behind the wheel despite its new girth and near-four-inch wheelbase extension. The Corolla doesn’t fall into the same class of super-sized compact car interiors inhabited by the likes of the Nissan Sentra, but overall it’s a generously-proportioned arrangement backed by a useful-sized trunk (13 cubic feet). My Corolla S tester also featured sport seats, which were wrapped in what the company calls ‘premium vinyl.’ I can’t fault the material, but I didn’t notice much bolstering, as both forward thrones were more comfort than performance-oriented (as befitting the Corolla’s mission statement).
One of the areas where the 2014 Toyota Corolla S comes up short when compared to its contemporaries is its feature content. Disregarding the stripped-down L trim, which few buyers will ever encounter in a showroom, the Corolla line-up offers a good level of standard gear but not much to elicit 'oohs' and 'aahs' when it comes to intriguing options. My tester’s sunroof, heated seats, and Entune system represented the height of the Corolla’s concession to the modern age, which is somewhat lacking in an era of advanced driver displays, stunning graphics, and far-reaching mobile device integration.
Entune is straightforward to use, easily linking to my cell phone and responding well to voice commands, but its simplicity is at once a strength and a weakness. I liked being able to figure out how to use Entune without having to crack open the owner’s manual, but Toyota’s onscreen graphics seem dated, with clunky tiles and uninspired colors making up the bulk of the LCD display. This is endemic to the brand, for Lexus luxury models feature the same old-school graphics even on top of the line models. The feeling is carried over further to the gauge cluster’s driver info screen, which is a basic LCD affair offering some, but not all of the data I would have wanted to see concerning the car.
Again the 2014 Toyota Corolla S comes up short in the features department, only this time it’s a lack of advanced safety gear that is holding the sedan back. There’s no blind spot monitoring or lane departure warning system to be had with the sedan, and you can forget collision mitigation. The Corolla provides the basics: dual forward airbags, side impact airbags up front, and side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the cabin, along with an additional front passenger airbag and a driver’s knee airbag. Electronic traction control and stability control are present, but only the Corolla S can be had with rear disc brakes, which have to be specifically ordered. Most other compact cars offer far more extensive safety options than the Corolla does.
2014 Toyota Corolla S Crash Test Ratings: The new Toyota Corolla S scored a rating of 'Good' in all but the IIHS' small frontal overlap test, where it received a grade of 'Marginal.' The NHTSA awarded the Corolla S a five-star overall crash test safety rating.
Almost every version of the 2014 Toyota Corolla is outfitted with the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that pulled duty for the compact sedan last year. I say ‘almost,’ because the LE Eco trim benefits from a tweaked version of the motor that offers more power (140 horses and 126 lb-ft of torque compared to 132 ponies and 128 lb-ft of torque) and better fuel efficiency (30-mpg city / 42-mpg highway as opposed to 29-mpg city / 38-mpg highway).
Needless to say, the LE Eco is equipped with the Corolla’s new continuously-variable automatic transmission, a unit that is available on all but the base sedan (and which can be had with paddle shifters to access ‘virtual’ gear ratios). My tester came with a six-speed manual gearbox, which boasts an additional forward cog compared to the previous year’s model, and believe it or not, you can actually snag Toyota’s prehistoric four-speed automatic with the Corolla L if you are truly desperate. No car should offer a four-speed auto in this day and age, and it seems likely that it will disappear from the options sheet forever once stocks are used up in whatever museum / warehouse Toyota uses to store these units.
The conservative character and low feature count of the 2014 Toyota Corolla S are balanced out in large part by its surprisingly good driving character. The Corolla S is competent in ways that the model it replaces simply wasn’t, and this is especially true in the handling department. No longer is steering the Corolla reminiscent of injecting both hands with Novocain – instead, a relatively connected wheel transmits more than a little feedback to the driver and offers sufficiently direct input into the sedan’s direction. The Corolla’s ride is firm, but not rough, yielding enough to please the vast majority of buyers yet resisting body roll to the point where anyone who mistook the ‘S’ on the car’s trunk lid as standing in for the word ‘sport’ won’t be horribly offended. It pales in comparison to nimble handlers from Mazda and Ford, but you no longer have to shudder when your number comes up Corolla at the rental counter.
I haven’t had the chance to sample the 2014 Toyota Corolla’s CVT, but I can definitely recommend the six-speed manual to anyone seeking a bit more engagement from the compact automobile. The shift-it-yourself design has been adeptly paired so as to maximize 1.8-liter motor’s power delivery, and there are no dead spots when moving up through the gears on your way to highway speeds. Once, there, however, you’ll have to be ready to downshift if you want to overtake anyone – both fifth and sixth are dead zones from an acceleration perspective.
There’s no reason to doubt that the 2014 Toyota Corolla S won’t be able to maintain strong sales despite not challenging the most innovative and fun-to-drive models in the compact segment. This is a car with a built-in audience, and as such Toyota has been careful not to take too many risks with its design. Perhaps a little too careful? It’s hard to say. The Corolla ticks off all of the right boxes for the majority of buyers who want as painless a commuter car as possible, and with its affordable pricing and comfortable on-road manners, it’s the perfect appliance for drivers who’d rather be doing something else.
The wolves are at the door, however. With so many exceptionally good small automobiles flooding the market, playing it safe is no longer the most secure strategy for a car company. Once momentum is lost it can be difficult to get it back, and should the Corolla falter there are plenty of stylish, and more advanced compact models waiting to seize the opportunity to claw away Toyota’s sales crown.
Toyota Canada supplied the vehicle for this review