Corolla’s newest generation combines style with legendary practicality

Posted Friday, Feb. 14, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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2014 Toyota Corolla

The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan.

Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2014, the Corolla is Toyota’s long-running, top-selling compact sedan. Besides having great new styling and decent fuel economy, this is a roomy and comfortable vehicle that seems more like a small luxury car than the affordable compact it is.

Negatives: No engine upgrade offered at least for the S (Sport) version.

Engine: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder.

Transmission: Six-speed manual (L and S grades), four-speed automatic (L grade) or continuously variable automatic (LE and S grades).

Power/torque: 132 HP./128 foot-pounds (L, LE, S regular models); 140 HP./126 foot-pounds (LE Eco models).

Length: 182.6 inches.

Curb weight range: 2,800-2,865 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock (L, LE, LE Eco models); disc/disc, antilock (S model).

Trunk volume: 13 cubic feet.

Air bags: Front; driver knee; front seat-mounted side; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 13.2 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/37 highway (manual); 30/42 (CVT, LE Eco); 30/40 (CVT, LE Eco Plus/Premium); 29/38 (LE CVT); 29/37 (S CVT).

Major competitors: Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Dodge Dart.

Base price range: $16,800-$21,300, plus $810 freight.

Price as tested: $22,870, including freight and options (S Plus CVT).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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The Toyota Corolla, one of the industry’s all-time favorite little cars, got a much-needed complete overhaul for 2014, creating the best generation yet of this popular compact sedan.

With the redo, the Corolla entered its 11th generation. It’s been on the market for 47 years, and is the best-selling car nameplate in history, with more than 40 million sold over its lifetime (beating even the venerable Volkswagen Beetle).

Assembled at Toyota plants in Mississippi and Canada, the newest Corolla has a starting price of $16,800 (plus $810 freight) for the base L model with a six-speed manual gearbox, or $17,400 with a four-speed automatic.

Prices range as high as $21,300 for the sporty S Plus model with the six-speed manual, or $20,400 for the S Premium with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, the fanciest version with an automatic. There’s also an S Plus model with the CVT (base price $19,700), which we tested for this report.

This newest Corolla has a more-stylish exterior as Toyota moves away from the plain design that has characterized the vehicle for most of its history. The competition is strong in the compact segment, and buyers in this class have shown that they appreciate compelling and attractive designs, even though practicality is still the leading attribute consumers seek.

The new exterior is intended to be less stodgy and more modern, with a look that’s enhanced by shorter overhangs, a more-athletic stance, flared wheel arches, and sculpted surfaces.

With the re-do, the Corolla looks more like its big brother, the Camry, with flowing lines, curves and trim that move the car well away from its fundamental past (not that there was ever anything wrong with that).

The car is nearly four inches longer than the 2013 model, at 182.6 inches, and it’s more than a half-inch wider, at 69.9 inches. Height is 57.3 inches, less than a half-inch lower than before.

It also has a longer wheelbase (at 106.3 inches, it’s nearly four inches longer than that of the previous generation), which helps give the car almost three inches more rear-seat leg- and knee room. That also helped improve the ride.

The roomier interior provides decent space for up to five people. I found it to be as roomy inside as some very recent generations of the larger Camry.

We loaded up our S Plus tester with three adults and two mid-teens for some sightseeing and dining out, and had no real complaints from anyone. But, as in almost any car, the middle position in the back seat might not be all that comfortable for a long highway trip, especially for an adult.

In between the L and S models is the LE grade, which also comes in “Eco” versions. The regular LE CVT model lists for $18,300, and the manual gearbox is not available on any LE model. There is an LE Plus CVT model for $18,700, and the LE Premium CVT is $19,400.

The Eco versions have mechanical and aerodynamic features that give them a highway mileage rating of up to 42 mpg, putting them on par with some hybrids. The Eco models begin with the LE Eco CVT at $18,700. Others are the LE Eco Plus CVT ($19,400); and the LE Eco Premium CVT ($20,100).

The L, LE, and S grade models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with intelligent variable valve timing, rated at 132 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque. In the S (Sport) model, the CVT has a manual-shift mode that simulates a conventional seven-speed automatic transmission.

The LE Eco models come with a more-efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 140 horsepower and 126 foot-pounds of torque, along with a more aerodynamic exterior and low-rolling-resistance tires. EPA ratings are 30 mpg city/42 highway for the base LE Eco, and 30/40 for the LE Eco Plus and Premium versions.

With the base L model and manual gearbox, the EPA ratings are 28/37; with the four-speed automatic, 27/36.

The CVT improves on that. Our S Plus CVT model was rated at 29 city/37 highway.

A variety of alloy wheels and wheel covers are offered, ranging from 15-inch steel wheels to 17-inch alloys. Aero wheels are used on the Eco models.

Our S Plus was equipped with the 17-inch alloy wheels and P215/45R17 tires. It also had the Sport drive mode for the CVT, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Inside, the car was as impressive as outside, with a more upscale look that gives the Corolla a spacious, premium feel. The instrument panel has piano black surfaces, metallic accents and decorative pinstriping. Soft-touch materials are used throughout the interior.

To help keep the cabin quiet, insulation has been placed along the fenders and cowl and behind the dash panel.

At highway speeds, carrying on a conversation at a normal volume was easy, even with the backseat passengers, and there was no harsh vibration and very little noise from the road. Wind noise was minimal, as well, except for some around the optional moon roof.

The Corolla’s unibody – with body and frame combined in a single unit -- is made of mostly lightweight, high-strength steel to help keep the car’s overall weight below 2,900 pounds to aid fuel economy. The steel also makes the chassis more rigid, helping to give the car a more sport-like driving feel.

Standard are LED low-beam headlights, a first in the compact class. Also included on all models are eight air bags, along with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming.

Among available options are a touch-screen audio system, smart key with pushbutton start, power moon roof, rearview camera, and a rear-deck spoiler.

For the S models, standard features include automatic climate control, cruise control, fog lights, color-keyed power mirrors, SofTex bolstered front seats with fabric inserts, six-way manual driver’s seat and four-way manual passenger seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and an integrated backup camera that shows the image on the dash touch-screen display.

Our tester came with the moon roof ($850) and the Driver Convenience Package ($1,510), which added the smart key system and the Entune Premium Audio system, with navigation and App Suite connectivity features, a 6.1-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary inputs, and satellite and HD radio with weather and traffic.

Standard is electric power steering, with a manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel; either front-disc, rear-drum or four-wheel-disc (S models) antilock brakes; electronic stability control with traction control; and electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Tire-pressure monitoring is included, as well.

The 132-horsepower engine paired with the CVT offered decent power in our test vehicle, although it would be nice to have an engine upgrade available for the Sport model.

Still, we had no trouble getting up to traffic speed on uphill freeway ramps, and the car handled well on the back roads we like to test our cars on.

Toyota provided adequate interior storage in the new Corolla, with map pockets/bottle holders in the doors, dual cupholders in the front of the center console, and two cupholders that pop out of the back of the front console for rear-seat passengers.

The trunk has 13 cubic feet of space, which is fairly roomy in this class of vehicle. The rear seatback has a 60/40-split/fold-down feature, with a knob on the top of each seatback section to release it. This allows for hauling longer and bulkier items.

Overall, I had no complaints with the new Corolla, and was quite impressed with its styling, interior design and practicality. Our tester had the pleasant Blue Crush Metallic exterior paint.

With freight and options, the total sticker price of my Corolla S Plus CVT was $22,870.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

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